dimanche 12 septembre 2010

Clean Up!

I'm sorry for slow trickle of posts lately--Bien manger Bien etre is going under construction! I decided that it's time for this blog to get a new look and a new attitude...over the next couple weeks I'll be changing the design and features, and tweaking the content. So go cook some end-of-summer meals and let me take care of the dishes around here, and I'll see you back in a few!

vendredi 27 août 2010

Quinoa Salad with grapes, carrots, and feta

Quinoa, a grain-like plant originating from South America, is our most complete plant source of protein; it contains a high amount of protein as well as a balance of essential amino acids, and it is gluten-free. In addition to the nutrition value, cooked quinoa is a very light grain (as opposed to the density of cooked pasta or rice), so it weighs less heavily on the stomach, which is certainly nice in the summer.

It’s a perfect vegetarian food for a healthy plant-based protein, or for anyone who would like to diversify their protein sources.

Quinoa can be compared to couscous in texture and to rice in preparation (you can make it in a rice cooker); basically it can be used as a substitute in any dishes calling for rice, also including pilafs, salads, and breakfast foods.

For a light and refreshing salad, combine the following ingredients:

2 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled
½ cup red grapes, halved
½ cup carrots, sliced or diced
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
a drizzle of olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt, pepper

lundi 23 août 2010

Fruit Pizza

A birthday party classic, and one of my favoritest summer desserts . . . look how pretty it is! For those who have never yet had the good fortune to partake of a fruit pizza slice--there is nothing pizza about this, it's actually a big sugar cookie with cream cheese and fruit topping.

For my U.S. readers, fruit pizza requires exactly 2 store bought items plus fruit.

1) one tube of sugar cookie dough. cut into slices, arrange in circular fashion on a cookie sheet, and roll out until you have one smooth sheet of cookie dough. Even out the edges of the circle with a knife. Bake the big cookie according to the package directions and let cool.

2) one container of cream cheese fruit dip. Spread evenly over the cooled cookie.

3) Wash and slice your fruits of choice and arrange prettily (or randomly) over the cookie base. Ta-da!

If you don't have access to sugar cookie in a tube or cream cheese fruit dip, follow your favorite sugar cookie recipe to make the dough. Cream cheese fruit dip can be made as follows:

Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or lemon juice

Whip all ingrediants together until smooth.

mardi 17 août 2010

Bamia et Soupe aux Lentilles

Je remercie une fois encore Safi pour deux recettes de plus; il me gâte! Voilà une soupe aux lentilles et un plat syrien fait avec des gombos qui s'appelle Bamia.


Une boîte de Bamia (500 g de Bamia : 2 personnes) (indispensable)
Sauce tomates (indispensable)
De l’ail (indispensable)
Oignon (indispensable)
Huile d’olive

On chauffe une petite quantité d’huile d’olive dans une casserole, on rajoute un oignon bien coupé (en très petits morceaux), on le cuit un peu et on rajoute la Bamia (déjà cuite) avec un tout petit peu d’huile d’olive dessus. On ne chauffe un peu, et pas besoin d’attendre que la Bamia soit chaude.

On met du sel dans la sauce tomate, du poivre, un peu de citron, du Harissa mais surtout des gousses (3) d’ail bien coupées (elles doivent être coupées pour faire sortir leur saveur dans le plat). On verse la sauce dans la casserole (où il y a l’oignon et la Bamia), on couvre la casserole ou on attend un bouillonnement de 2/3 minutes.

Le plat est servi avec du riz, ou on peut le manger seul avec du pain.
Soupe aux lentilles

Lentilles rouges
Un oignon
Une baguette

Une tasse de lentilles rouges (la quantité varie, si on veut la soupe légère ou pas), normalement c’est une tasse de thé. On le met dans une casserole, on la remplie d’eau et on le rejette (pour nettoyer les lentilles, sinon le plat ne sera pas réussi), on remplit et rejette de l’eau plusieurs fois (ça peut atteindre jusqu’à 15 fois), on arrête quand l’eau qu’on met dans la casserole est très sereine.

On ajoute un oignon bien coupé (en très petits morceaux) et on remplit donc les trois quarts de la casserole avec de l’eau. On ajoute du sel à volonté, on ferme la casserole et on laisse bouillir jusqu’à ce que le mélange constitue un ensemble cohérent (quand il y a plus de lentilles), ça devrait prendre 30 minutes. Après on ajoute du citron (demi) et du beurre. Dans la soupe on peut tremper des morceaux de baguettes ou bien les jeter dans la soupe.

jeudi 12 août 2010

Cake, French style

« Cake » in French is not the same as « gâteau », which is the French translation for “cake.” A “cake” in France is actually a savory loaf, often with olives, ham, cheese, tomatoes, or other savory ingredients. Confused? So was I, until I ate some, and the wonderful taste inscribed forever into my memory the difference between cake à la française and a sweet American cake.

This cake combines olives, red peppers, and Swiss cheese in a moist eggy batter. A slice of this paired with a salad would be a perfect light summer lunch. You can also prepare the same batter and bake as savory muffins.

Cake with olives, red peppers, and Swiss

1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
swiss cheese, cut into small cubes
black olives
diced red bell pepper

1. Mix the oil, wine, and eggs. Add the flour, then the baking soda. Lastly add the olives, peppers, and cheese.
2. Bake in a loaf pan 30 to 45 minutes at 350 F.

samedi 31 juillet 2010

Chili Dipping Salt for Fruit

Southeast Asians like my mother have no qualms about dipping into spicy and steaming food in full summer heat. There’s something cleansing and refreshing about sweating both inside the body and out.

If you can handle the heat, try dipping fruit slices in a salt and chili pepper mixture. Finely mince fresh red chilis and add to sea salt or regular salt, then crush further if needed. The salt enhances the sweetness and tanginess of the fruit and the chili adds some unexpected bite.

My mother’s favorite is pineapple—try also peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, or grapefruit.

lundi 26 juillet 2010

Quiche with gruyere and chives

Quiche is the fanciest-sounding easy French thing to make. It’s a pie crust filled with a delicious fluffy mixture of egg, cream, and anything else you wish to add. The only restriction in my book is not to get carried away with fillings—the egg should really be central to the dish, not just a binding for a load of vegetables and proteins. Thus I present to you a simple quiche with just grated gruyere cheese and chopped chives.

Cream and egg sounds a bit heavy, but this is a French dish, after all, and a French pie at that (quiche is often called a “savory pie” (tarte salée) in French). Don’t add milk instead of cream, ever. Not only do you sacrifice on taste and texture, but the extra liquid from the milk will make the pie crust soggy.

Cultural note: quiche is never eaten for breakfast in France, as the French don’t eat eggs for breakfast (anecdote: I’m teaching a lesson on meals to my 5th grade class, and we’re making a list of foods we eat at each meal. One student raises his hand: “Madame, there’s a mistake under “breakfast”—no one would eat eggs for breakfast!”). The point is, don't limit your options; a quiche paired with soup or a small salad is more than substantial enough for a good dinner.

Cultural note: to be called une quiche in French is a mild insult, something like a nitwit.

Quiche with Gruyere and Chives

Pre-prepared or frozen pie crust
About 4 eggs, or enough to fill the crust
¾-1 cup heavy cream
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
handful of chives, chopped
salt, pepper

1. Beat the eggs with a whisk in a mixing bowl and add the cream, beat until smooth.
2. Add the gruyere, chives, salt, and pepper.
3. Pour mixture into the prepared crust and bake at 350 F for about 35 minutes, or until the top is firm and a knife inserted into the center of the quiche comes out clean.

mercredi 21 juillet 2010

Banana Cake

Did I mention that I hate bananas? Always have. The texture is gross, the form repellent, and the odor unspeakably unpleasant. The worst part of the fruit is the stub at the bottom end, the bananus. Unlike other fruits, here you’re expected to eat the anus. Disgusting.

But, I have also mentioned my quest to overcome dislike for individual edible plants and food substances. Therefore, I’m taking a deep breath, holding my nose, jumping in the deep end and tackling bananas.

I can ease my way in with banana baked goods. The mushy texture lends itself well to baking, giving moistness and sponginess to the dough, and the taste is more subtle and can be cut with other flavors.

I'll admit that this banana cake is easy and pretty darn good, for something with bananas in it. It would work equally well in muffin form.

Banana cake with chocolate chips and golden raisins

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 medium bananas)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup golden raisins

1. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and bananas, beating thoroughly.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to creamed mixture and mix well.
3. Spoon batter in to a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

jeudi 15 juillet 2010

Temaki-zushi (home sushi party)

Temaki-zushi literally means handmade sushi; that is, sushi that is do-it-yourself instead of bought and served at a restaurant.

Sushi in western countries is generally thought of as trendy in-crowd food, the kind of restaurant you take a date to and try to impress by explaining the menu before the waiter can. It’s expensive and exotic. In Japan, however, people often make a much more casual kind of sushi at home and for parties. The sushi is not prepared beforehand; instead the rice, nori wrap, sauce, fish, and other fillings are laid out buffet-style for the guest to fashion her own roll.

The advantages to this are numerous: it’s quick and easy to prepare, it’s much less expensive, and it pleases everyone’s tastes. You lose out on impressing your date by how much money you blow and how many urchins you can eat at one meal—but who wants to date someone who’s impressed by that anyhow?

If you really want to impress your date, first know what sushi actually means: the word sushi refers not to “raw fish” (this is sashimi) but the kind of rice used (short-grain rice flavored with rice vinegar). That means that, contrary to popular belief, anything at all served on the sushi rice is legitimate sushi, including avocado and cream cheese (this is popular in Japan), eggplant, eggs, canned tuna, or corn and mayonnaise (also a favorite in Japan).

Maki is sushi in a roll, wrapped in the nori (seaweed) paper and sliced into sections. Nigiri is the individual ball of sushi with topping. While maki is much more commonly eaten in the U.S., a combination of different nigiri is the popular way to go in Japan. I find that sushi in the U.S. differs from sushi eaten in Japan not in terms of quality, but in style. I enjoy both kinds. In restaurants, Japanese sushi highlights the quality and the freshness of the rice and the fish; raw tuna, salmon or other fish are considered the cream of the crop sushi. As a result strong flavors are never added to the sushi, apart from a quick dip in the sushi dipping sauce (similar to soy sauce) mixed with wasabi. Americans, however, prefer not to consume raw fish or much seafood; because of this the sushi in the U.S. often contains cooked fish, tempura-fried seafood, or other raw vegetables. These flavors being more robust and less delicate (and because Americans are suckers for salty-sweet flavor explosions), sweet sauces are drizzled over the rolls, salty fish roe added on top, or potato chip crumbs sprinkled in for texture. It’s a far reach from the simplicity of flavor and form that highlights Japanese cuisine, but it’s good in its own way.

Back to the sushi party: The essentials are the prepared sushi rice, wraps (nori sheets or lettuce leaves), sushi or soy sauce and wasabi (ginger optional), and various bowls of toppings. Here I will give suggestions for a buffet of Japanese sushi fillings that is faithful to what is eaten in Japan while still being accessible to the Western home-cook. I am not including raw cuts of fish in the spread, but don’t worry—the disappointment of your guests at not seeing “real sushi” will quickly be forgotten once they start to eat.

Temaki-zushi buffet

1. Cook sushi rice in a covered pot (a rice cooker is better, of course, if you have one), measuring equal parts rice and water. When the rice is tender drain any excess liquid and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Immediately pour rice vinegar over the sushi and mix well, enough to wet the entire batch but not to leave it soaking. Leave the rice to absorb the vinegar, adding more vinegar as the rice dries out. When the rice has absorbed enough vinegar to stay moist after half and hour, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the dishes. Set out a plate of nori wrap and/or large lettuce leaves. Toppings can include:

• Canned tuna with chopped onion or spring onion
• Corn and mayonnaise
• Surimi and cream cheese
• Avocado slices
• Raw cucumber, carrot, or bell pepper slices
• Kim chi
• Grilled eggplant or mushroom, sliced
• Omelet or boiled eggs, sliced
• Cooked shrimp

3. Take out the cooled rice just before serving. Serve with sushi sauce or soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger. The sauce should be mixed in individual bowls with a dab of wasabi to taste (start small!). Ginger is eaten between rolls to clean the palate.

4.To roll the sushi, don’t fuss. Grab a half sheet of nori or a lettuce leaf, lay a spoon of rice on top, and add the toppings. Roll into a cone for less mess and more style.

mardi 13 juillet 2010

Spring Rolls (gỏi cuốn)

When it’s too hot to turn on the stove, operate the microwave oven, or summon the energy to walk to the utensil drawer and withdraw a knife and fork, how do we do when we want to make good food?

Answer: prepare a fresh raw vegetable salad, in convenient utensil-less roll form: Vietnamese spring rolls, gỏi cuốn.

These spring rolls are very popular items at summer parties. Don’t get discouraged that the whole batch will be gone in less time than it took you to roll one measly roll. They don’t keep overnight, so they’re better off being eaten than hoarded.

The ingredients in a spring roll, like any salad, can be adjusted to taste. However, a spring roll is not Vietnamese without cilantro and mint inside. Besides this, the classic fillers are lettuce, sliced cucumber, sliced carrot, bean sprouts, green onion, and either shrimp or pork. Shrimp is prettier, and if you buy pre-cooked shrimp, doesn’t require cooking. I don’t use vermicelli noodles in my spring rolls because I find it to be tasteless bulk, as the rice paper is already there.

The best sauce to serve the rolls with is a peanut sauce; alternately a sweet Hoisin sauce with crushed peanuts mixed in or sweet chili sauce can be used.

Spring Rolls
Makes 16-18 rolls

1 pound small shrimp, pre-cooked and peeled
1 head butter lettuce, ribs removed
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves
1 cucumber, thinly sliced into strips
3 carrots, thinly sliced into strips
16-20 garlic chives or Chinese chives
1 package rice paper (banh trang)

1) Fill a medium bowl with warm water and submerge a piece of rice paper into water. Wait one minute for the rice paper to soften, then take it out and spread on a cutting board.
2) Place a lettuce leaf at the lower end of the rice paper. Add mint, cilantro, cucumber and carrot.
3) Roll the rice paper over the filling and tuck it underneath. Add shrimp with the sliced side facing up. Fold the sides inwards and add a chive over the shrimp with 1 inch sticking outside of one side for a decorative effect. Continue rolling while keeping tension on the rice paper for a tight roll. The roll will seal itself.
4) As you are rolling, place a damp paper towel over the finished rolls to prevent them from drying out.
5) Serve with peanut Hoisin dipping sauce.

Peanut Hoisin Dipping Sauce
makes 2 cups

1 cup water
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon whole soybean sauce, crushed
3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
4-6 tablespoons peanut butter
2-3 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or diced chilies to taste
1 ounce dry roasted peanuts, chopped

1) In a small sauce pan, add water and garlic. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.
2) Add soy sauce, crushed soybean sauce, Hoisin sauce, 4 tablespoons peanut butter and chili garlic sauce. Stir until peanut butter is dissolved and the sauce thickens. Add additional peanut butter until desired thickness (like mustard) is obtained. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish sauce with chopped peanuts.

lundi 5 juillet 2010

Greek Salad

An easy summer salad means a bowl full of fresh, flavorful ingredients—no cooking required. This mixture is my favorite. The tomatoes are sweet, the cucumber crunchy, the olives salty, the red onion bites, and the cheese hold its all together.

Greek Salad

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and extra for garnish
3 tomatoes
¼ red onion
½ cucumber
4 oz (120g) feta cheese
16 kalamata olives

1. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, the red onion into rings. Stripe the cucumber with a peeler and chop into half-moons. Cut the feta into cubes.
2. Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano in a small bowl, then add the dressing to the salad.
4. Garnish with a little freshly ground black pepper and fresh herbs if on hand.

samedi 3 juillet 2010

Fatté de Damas

Encore un plat délicieux grâce à mon pote Safi. . .

Ce plat s’appelle Fatté de Damas (le verbe fatta en syrien –ou en arabe- veut dire couper avec la main (mais pas les papiers) ; le mot Foutat signifie les miettes du pain ou ce qui tombe pendant qu’on mange une baguette.

Fatté de Damas

Première étape
- 1 kilo de Yaourt turque
- Tout petit peu d’eau (la quantité d’une tasse de café) et on remue bien le yaourt avec de l’eau ajoutée.
- 2 grosses gousses d’ail écrasées ou 4 si petites et on remue l’ensemble
- Assez de sel
- 2 cuillères de Tahina et on remue encore
- Demi-citron, à remuer aussi avec l’ensemble
- Beaucoup de cumin : deux grande cuillères
- Du piment moulu
Ce mélange reste froid en attendant de finir les autres choses.

Deuxième étape
500 grammes de pois chiches cuites, à chauffer dans l’eau jusqu’au bouillonnement. Mettre les pois chiches (sans l’eau) dans un plat. Y ajouter du citron, du cumin et du piment moulu.

Troisième étape :
Couper trois galettes de pain oriental en petits morceaux et les frire dans de l’huile végétale (comme les pommes de terre) jusqu’à ce que les morceaux deviennent craquants. Mettre le pain frit dans le même plat (sur les pois chiches).

Dernière étape
Verser la sauce (du yaourt) sur l’ensemble (les poids-chiches et le pain) et mélanger bien. On ajoute encore du cumin et du piment moulu. Le plat est servi avec des tomates coupées en tranches ou morceaux moyens, des feuilles de menthe fraiche ou autres sortes de légume.

vendredi 25 juin 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

On a recent visit to France, my father and brother thoughtfully brought a third member of the family with them—a block of extra-sharp Wisconsin cheddar. The gift was greatly appreciated. Being Americans and Wisconsinites, you could say that melted cheddar runs in our blood.

French people, pretending they know everything anybody ever needs to know about cheese, snub their noses and purse their lips at this suspiciously colored, pleasantly odored, non-runny susbstance; “That’s not cheese.”

I tell them, “Hey—just because it’s orange doesn’t mean it’s not real cheese.” More cheddar and crackers for me—they can have their smelly camembert.

But you can trick a French person into liking cheddar by making it into a sauce. Specifically, in the supreme American specialty Mac N’ Cheese. That is, if you're willing to share your precious cheddar that was smuggled across customs from the US. It'd take more than one cheese fondue, in my opinion, to make up for that.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 (8-ounce) package dried elbow macaroni or favorite pasta (about 2 1/4 cups, uncooked)
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1 (8-ounce) package shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)

Topping (optional):
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Cook pasta, drain and set aside. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat; add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn heat to medium; gradually whisk in milk, and cook over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in pasta, mustard, and next 4 ingredients, stirring just until cheese begins to melt.
3. Pour pasta mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with more grated Cheddar. If desired, top with fresh breadcrumbs, and drizzle evenly with melted butter.
4. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

mercredi 16 juin 2010

Soupe aux fèves, à la syrienne

L’autre soir j’ai eu le plaisir de gouter à quelques plats de la cuisine syrienne, grâce à Safi, un ami syrien. Le meilleur était une soupe aux fèves—pourtant je le dis avec de la difficulté, voit que tous les plats étaient excellents.

Les épices sont indispensables à la soupe et les salades, ainsi que le fromage syrien, qui est sec et très salé.

Prenez un verre d’Arak suite à votre repas ; c’est un alcool fort avec un gout d’anis qui ressemble au Pastis.

Soupe aux fèves :
- Prendre une boîte de fèves…
- Avant de chauffer le contenu, écraser de l’ail (2-3 gousses) et les chauffer ensemble jusqu’au bouillonnement.
- Ajouter une bonne quantité de cumin (mélanger pour voir si la couleur du cumin domine)
- Ajouter de la harissa et du piment moulu (mélanger aussi)
- Un citron
- De la Tahina (pas indispensable et la quantité est au choix, moi je mets une grande cuillère)
- Juste avant de servir, verser plutot beaucoup d’huile d’olive sur la soupe

La salade qui l’accompagne :
- 2 tomates (à couper en très petits morceaux)
- Un oignon (à couper en très petits morceaux)
- Beaucoup de cumin sur l’ensemble (les tomates et l’oignon)
- Assez de sel
- Demi-citron
- de l’huile de l’olive
- Du concombre mariné (pas indispensable)

Salade aux olives (servir avec du Hommos et des sandwiches de fromage)
- Demi-tomate coupée en très petite morceaux
- Des olives coupées en petite morceaux
- Du piment moulu sur l’ensemble
- Beaucoup de thym
- Assez de citron (moins qu'un demi-citron)
- Un peu d’huile d’olive
- Concombre mariné (pas indispensable)

vendredi 11 juin 2010

Pan Bagnat

Pan Bagnat is a speciality of Nice but is found in pretty much any boulangerie (bakery) in France. It’s a tuna sandwich with a vegetables based off of the classic salad Niçoise.

Hollow out a baguette or a round loaf. Fill one hollow with canned tuna packed in water or tomato sauce (as in the picture).

Add lettuce, thinly sliced red onions, thinly sliced green pepper, sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. You can add a few anchovies if you like them.

For the sauce, drizzle on balsamic vinegar and olive oil, with or without mustard.

If you added all the ingredients I mentioned, the sandwich will be stuffed to bursting. Squash it down hard or put it under a weight for a few minutes. Then proceed to transfer the stuffing from sandwich to belly.

dimanche 6 juin 2010

Radishes with salt and butter

Summer in France means eating outside on the terrace, a bowl of pink and white radishes on the table, accompanied by a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt.

Eat the radishes raw with your fingers, softening their bite with a bit of sweet butter and salt. Perfectly refreshing for a small snack--and so cute too!

samedi 5 juin 2010


Chartreuse is both a green-yellow font color and a French herbal liquor of the same hue. The liquor came first, first distilled in the early 17th century, and all of the world’s current supply originates from La Grande-Chartreuse, a monastery in the Chartreuse mountain range in the French Alps, about 20 km north of my house.

Chartreuse is the most famous product that comes from Grenoble itself, and we are proud and hardy Chartreuse drinkers, despite the 55% alcohol content and ‘particular’ plant taste. There are two kinds of Chartreuse, green and yellow, the yellow being less strong and much sweeter. Both kinds are made from a combination of plants (130 different plants for the green), and the recipes are TOP-SECRET. That’s not top-secret in the way that Coca-cola’s recipe is top-secret. Supposedly, only 2 monks at La Grande-Chartreuse know the recipe, and they collect and sort the plants themselves, transport the plants to the distillery in Voiron where the liquor is fabricated, and regulate the temperature and aging of the liquor held in the cellars. Meaning that the production of all the Chartreuse sold in over 100 countries the world over is entirely in the hands of two monks from Grenoble. If that doesn’t make for a special liquor, I don’t know what does.

Fascinated by this story of reclusive woodland monks and their zealously guarded secret brew, I had plenty of questions for the poor tour guide at the Chartreuse distillery. What is the difference between green and yellow Chartreuse? How long is it aged? Are all the plants from the region? How much money do the monks make?

Each time I got, “I don’t know, Madame. The recipe is unknown.” Perhaps a strategic marketing tactic on the part of the monks, as this made me even more fascinated by the shimmery green liquor and I ended up buying a bottle in the gift shop.

Even without the story behind it, Chartreuse is a delicious liquor. It’s a beautiful color, is quite strong, and the taste is distinctive and fresh. It’s best served on its own, so chilled that it smokes, over a single ice cube.

But if you have a taste for a cocktail, try one of these:

Green Chaud
This is a popular alternative to hot chocolate on the slopes in the Alps. Add a shot of Green Chartreuse to your hot chocolate.

Orangina Chartreuse

1 part Green Chartreuse
1 part vodka
3 parts Orangina

Shake the glass a bit before serving to create foam.

Chartreuse Tonic

1 part Green Chartreuse
4 parts tonic water
lemon slice garnish

lundi 24 mai 2010

Moules Frites

Ask most Americans what French cuisine is and you’ll probably get the following responses:

Cheese, wine, and bread
Frog legs
Saucey dishes in expensive restaurants

Apart from going to France, all we can know about French cuisine what is exported to the US, and unfortunately most of the cuisine exported from France to the rest of the world is gastronomic cuisine that is, like in the US, confined to restaurants where you have to have a reservation (i.e. restaurants that I don’t go to). The homey French cooking, the food of the working classes, the recipes that are passed down from grandmother to mother, the cheap and easy recipes—are sadly skipped over.

Moules frites, or “mussels and fries” is one of those dishes. It’s a rather working class meal (think sloppy joes), and eaten happily by French kiddies at school cafeterias. The mussels come in a bowl of sauce of your preference, the classic one being Moules marinières, which doesn’t mean marinara sauce but refers to sailors. Apparently French sailors ate mussels with a white wine, garlic, and shallot sauce. Classy. Fries are the mussels’ steadfast companion, served on the side.

Moules frites is a sans-silverware eating experience, a tremendous advantage. Use the empty shells like pincers to pick out the mussels and spoon up the broth-like sauce. Don’t neglect the sauce by all means—dip your fries in, sop it up with bread, eat it like soup, whatever, but don’t send it back with your dirty napkin floating on top, please.

Moules Marinières

3 pounds of fresh mussels, scrubbed as well as you can and beards removed
1/2 bottle of dry white wine
3-4 shallots, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 cup parsley

1. Put the wine, garlic and shallots in a deep pot and bring to a boil. Let boil for a couple of minutes to cook the shallots and garlic and then add thoroughly washed mussels. Discard any open or broken mussels, as this means they are already dead.
2. Cover the pot tightly and cook for about ten or fifteen minutes. When the mussels open cut the heat but leave the lid on the pot for a few minutes more.
3. Put the mussels in serving bowls. Pour on the sauce and add a handful of parsley. Serve with bread and fresh homemade fries.

samedi 22 mai 2010

Crêpes vs. Pancakes

A crepe, as you are probably familiar with, is a very thin pancake originally from Brittany, a Northern region of France, and now widespread throughout France and popular in much of the world. Crepe batter is essentially identical to pancake batter, except that crepe batter contains more milk, making it thinner, and no leavening agent.

In France crepes are not eaten exclusively (or even very often) for breakfast, like pancakes are in the United States; instead, savory crepes called galettes are eaten as a meal and sweet crepes (crêpes sucrées) are eaten as dessert.

The batter preparation between galettes and dessert crepes differs slightly. Galettes are made with buckwheat flour, rendering the batter brown, and no sugar is added.

My favorite savory fillings for galettes:
Tomatoes, goat cheese, and pepper
Sliced salmon and chives
Sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, and gruyere cheese
An egg, sunny-side-up

Dessert crepes add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the batter and use regular wheat flour.

Sweet crepe fillings:
Any sliced fruit or jam
Chestnut cream
Peanut butter
Sliced bananas caramelized in brown sugar and rum
Granulated sugar and lemon juice
Butter and honey

I still prefer a thick stack of pancakes to crepes; the soft chewy texture of pancakes is hard to beat. But it’s true that crepes are more portable, accounting for the afflux of crepe stands in France (and absence, sadly, of pancake stands in the United States). And they are more attractive, maybe, folded elegantly with just the colored edges of sweet fillings tumbling out, powdered sugar sprinkled over top. And they are certainly more exotic and impressive, should you decide to make a romantic end to a dinner end (pancakes might fail to showcase your culinary skills—crepes are no harder to make, but no one has to be the wiser). And—you can make a respectable meal out of savory crepes, while eating pancakes for dinner is probably popular only in frat boy circles.

Tips for making crepes:
Making crepe batter beforehand and refrigerating it for 30 minutes to an hour helps produce exceptionally tender crêpes because as the batter chills, the flour expands and absorbs the liquid. When cooking the crepes, pour a ladle of batter into a non-stick flat-bottomed skillet and tilt the pan so that the batter spreads out evenly and thinly. You can add a bit of butter to the skillet to avoid sticking. The thinner the crepe, the better. Cook 1-2 minutes on the first side, until the edges begin to curl, and flip and cook another minute. Crepes cool very quickly, so if cooking for guests you can cook the crêpes in advance, then fill and broil them just before serving. Sprinkle dessert crepes with powdered sugar.

Black Pepper Crêpes with Goat Cheese and Tomatoes

Serves 4
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. canola oil
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
8 tsp. unsalted butter
4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
4-oz. log of goat cheese (chèvre), crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the milk, egg, flour, oil, the 1 tsp. pepper and the 1⁄2 tsp. salt and mix until smooth. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

In a crêpe pan over medium heat, melt 1 tsp. of the butter to coat the pan evenly. Lift the pan at a slight angle and pour 2 Tbs. of the batter into the center, tilting the pan to spread the batter to the edges. Return the pan to the heat and cook until the crêpe is golden underneath, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip the crêpe over and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover. Repeat to make 8 crêpes.

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and preheat. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a clean work surface, lay a crêpe flat. Put one-eighth of the tomato slices on the crêpe and top with one-eighth of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the crêpe into quarters and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining crêpes and filling. Broil until the crêpes are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Sweet crepes
Makes about 20 crepes

1 1/3 cups whole milk, room temperature
1 cup all purpose flour
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1. Mix first 6 ingredients in blender just until smooth. Cover batter and chill at least 15 minutes and up to 1 day.
2. Spray 7-inch-diameter nonstick skillet with vegetable oil spray and heat over medium heat. Pour 2 tablespoons batter into pan and swirl to coat bottom. Cook until edge of crepe is light brown, about 1 minute. Loosen edges gently with spatula. Carefully turn crepe over. Cook until bottom begins to brown in spots, about 30 seconds. Transfer to plate. Cover with paper towel. Repeat with remaining batter, spraying pan with oil spray as needed and covering each crepe with paper towel. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
3. Fill as desired and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

mercredi 12 mai 2010

White Asparagus

White asparagus is a highly prized item in France. It’s more tender than green asparagus, with a bit less flavor, and it’s more expensive too. But it makes your pee smell just as much as green asparagus.

Personally, I prefer to cook with green asparagus because I find the flavor stronger therefore and more agreeable, as I really like asparagus. White asparagus is quite nice, however, cold with just a bit of dressing as a simple salad.

White asparagus is found commonly in jars here in France, which is perfectly acceptable. When cooking raw stalks it is necessary to peel the outer skin and trim the tough ends. The tips cook faster than the ends, so tie the stalks in a bunch with string and cook them standing up in boiling water, the tips poking out of the water, until tender.

Why the white color? Actually, white asparagus is made white by covering the plant with soil to block the production of chlorophyll.

White asparagus goes particularly well with citrus flavors in a salad, like the one below.

White Asparagus, Orange and Arugula Salad


•2 bunches of white asparagus, trimmed
•2 oranges, peeled
•1 1/2 cups of arugula (roquette)
•1/2 Spanish onion, sliced into thin rings

•60 ml good quality, extra virgin olive oil
•30 ml red wine vinegar
•1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
•A pinch of sea salt
•Freshly ground black pepper

1.Use a sharp knife to slice the pith off the oranges and discard. Slice the oranges into segments and place in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
2.Blanch the asparagus (1 to 2 minutes), then refresh in a bowl of cold water, drain and halve length-ways.
3.Add asparagus to orange segments along with the onion rings and arugula.
4.Whisk red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl to combine, toss through salad. Serve immediately.

jeudi 6 mai 2010

New York Cheesecake

France may be the land of cheese, but it's not the land of cheesecake--New York is. Cream cheese doesn't even really exist here.

Last night a New Yorker friend treated me to her hometown's favorite dessert. You'll need to save room (or eat the dessert first), but it's worth it.

New York Cheesecake
recipe from joyofbaking.com


2 cups (200 grams) of graham wafer crumbs or finely crushed vanilla wafers or gingersnaps (process whole cookies in a food processor until they are crumbs)

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 cup (114 grams) unsalted butter, melted


32 ounces (1 kg) (4 - 8 ounces packages) cream cheese, room temperature (use full fat, not reduced or fat free cream cheese)

1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar

3 tablespoons (35 grams) all purpose flour

5 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1 cup (240 ml) sour cream (not low fat or fat free)

2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Grease a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan. Place the springform pan on a larger baking pan to catch any leakage while the cheesecake is baking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) with rack in center of oven.

2. For Crust: In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) up the sides of the springform pan. Cover and refrigerate while you make the filling.

3. For Filling: In bowl of your electric mixer place the cream cheese, sugar, and flour. Beat on medium speed until smooth (about 2 minutes), scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the whipping cream, lemon zest, vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. Remove the crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. Place the cheesecake pan on a larger baking pan and place in the oven.

4. Bake for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C) and continue to bake for about another 1 1/2 hours or until firm and only the center of the cheesecake looks a little wet and wobbly. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.

5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla extract. Spread the topping over the warm cheesecake and return to oven to bake for 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and carefully run a knife or spatula around the inside edge of pan to loosen the cheesecake (helps prevent the surface from cracking as it cools).

6. Let cool before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating. This cheesecake tastes best after being refrigerated for at least a day.

Serve with fresh fruit or fruit sauces.

Makes one - 9 inch (23 cm) cheesecake.

*To freeze: Place the cooled cheesecake on a baking pan and freeze, uncovered, until firm. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer, wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil and place in a freezer bag. Seal and return to freezer. Can be frozen for several months. Thaw uncovered cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

**Tips: Sometimes the surface of the cheesecake cracks. To help prevent this from happening do not overbeat the batter, especially when creaming the cheese and sugar.

Another reason for cracking is overbaking the cheesecake. Your cheesecake is done when it is firm but the middle may still look a little wet.

Also, make sure the springform pan is well greased as cracking can occur if the cheesecake sticks to the sides as it cools.

mardi 4 mai 2010

Gratin Dauphinois

The gratin dauphinois is the heart and soul of Grenoble cuisine. As I stated in a previous post, here everyone’s grandmother makes The Best gratin dauphinois. Some may already be familiar with this French classic as “potatoes au gratin,” but we’ll need to make some things clear first:

1) There’s no cheese, ever, in a gratin dauphinois
2) Add fresh-grated nutmeg only, please
3) Rub the baking dish with garlic before adding the potatoes

The sole ingredients in a true gratin dauphinois are: potatoes, cream, garlic, nutmeg, salt, and maybe some pepper. A good gratin is not difficult to make, while a superb gratin is not much more difficult to make. The secret is to bake for enough time so that the cream reduces, thickens, and is absorbed by the potatoes. That can take between an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the baking dish. The gratin, when ready, may look almost overcooked—brown and crusty on top, with not much liquid cream left underneath. But this is when you have succeeded in giving a cheese-like texture and taste to the cream (hence no need for cheese in the recipe).

Gratin Dauphinois

Serves 4

2 lbs. (1 kg) new potatoes
3 cups (75 cl.) heavy cream
3-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
salt, pepper

1) Peel and slice the potatoes lengthwise into even, thin (1/8 inch) slices.
2) Cook the potatoes in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes.
3) Pour the cream into a bowl and add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
4) Rub a baking dish with a clove of crushed garlic. Mince the remaining garlic and add to the cream mixture.
5) Drain the potatoes. Layer the baking dish alternately with potatoes and cream, making sure each layer is thoroughly covered before adding more potatoes. Pour any remaining cream on top.
6) Bake in a 375 F (185 C) oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours, until the potatoes are tender and the cream is absorbed.

J’inclus aussi la recette en français, écrite par un vrai grenoblois . . .

Gratin Dauphinois

Pour 5 à 6 personnes

1 bonne gousse d'ail
1,5 kg de pommes de terre nouvelles
noix de muscade
1 litre de crème entière de Normandie

1. Tout d'abord éplucher les pommes de terres puis les couper en tranche fine voir très fine (l’épaisseur d'une pièce de monnaie). Tremper les dans de l'eau dont l'ébullition vient d'être arrêté (pendant quelques minutes).
2. Pendant ce temps préparer la crème en y incorporant sel, poivre et muscade. Presser 3 à 4 bonnes têtes d'ails puis les mélanger à la crème (facultatif mixer un coup) et laisser reposer. Presser 2 têtes d'ails que vous frottez sur toute la surface du plat.
3. Essorer les tranches et les rincer abondamment à l'eau chaude puis les essorer de nouveau. Placer une bonne couche de crème au fond, étaler les tranches de façon homogène, reverser de la crème abondamment, renouveler les couches jusqu'à remplir le plat.
4. Les pommes de terre doivent presque baigner dans la crème, la cuisson doit être à environ 200°. L’important est que la crème réduise fortement et qu’elle gratine sur le dessus, les pommes de terre doivent être cuites au point que la pointe d’un couteau touche le fond du plat presque sans aucune résistance.

jeudi 29 avril 2010

Angelo's Stuffed Squid

Guest Blogger!~My friend Angelo from Lisbon, Portugal contributes his favorite Portuguese recipe. You can substitute shrimp or a breadcrumb mixture for the chorizo sausage if you prefer.

I like a few things from Portuguese cuisine. Stuffed squid, for example. Or just a simple steak with rice, fries, egg and sauce.

I can tell you how to make the stuffed squid. I can tell you it's my favorite food!

First you clean the squid and move its legs to the side.

In a pot, you put olive oil, chopped onion, a little chopped garlic, a little parsley and bay leaf. You cook this for a bit and then you add chopped chorizo - not spicy! It's the Portuguese one and I am sure you can find it in France! - and the chopped squid legs.

You also boil an egg on the side, and when the chorizo and legs are ready, you chop the egg and add it to the mix. No need to cook the egg any longer; the stuffing is done.

In a new pot, you make tomato sauce (with olive oil, onion, garlic, bay leaf, adding the tomato, making sure it gets as mashed as possible). You put the stuffed squid in it, tied with a toothpick.

Then you add some white wine.

Let it cook, gently, and mix it once in a while, as it's easy to burn! Believe me, I know!

You serve this with mashed potatoes or plain spaghetti!

PS - I know you know this, but make sure you buy squid and not cuttlefish.

mercredi 28 avril 2010

Fromage blanc au sel et poivre

Les meilleurs desserts sont souvent les plus simples. Un petit bol de fromage blanc, avec du sel et du poivre, rend pour moi le repas complet et me laisse replète mais toujours légère. Le sel et le poivre, bien que la combinaison soit étonnante, est très rafraîchissante.

Pour ceux qui préfèrent toujours un dessert sucré, du fromage blanc avec quelques cuillères de miel et des noix grillé est également superbe.

Etre dehors sur la terrasse en savourant votre bol, c’est encore meilleur.
A simple and refreshing French dessert is a bowl of fromage blanc (literally “white cheese”), which is thicker and creamier than yogurt, but with a similar light, slightly sour taste. It’s a classic French dessert; fromage blanc with honey dates back to the middle ages.

I like my fromage blanc with a liberal pinch of sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Surprising to have a salted dessert, perhaps, but it’s worth a try.

If you prefer to stick to your sweets, try fromage blanc with a drizzle of honey and roasted walnuts. Another classic is fromage blanc with jam and fruit mixed it.

Fromage blanc is generally unavailable in the U.S., but if you’re ever in a specialty shop—or in France—don’t miss it.

dimanche 25 avril 2010

Night Barbeque

We tried to coax summer into full swing with a beginning-of-the-season barbeque, begun at dusk and finished in shadows softened by candlelight, on the warm stone terrace of a friend's apartment.

On the grill the fresh vegetables shone center stage. Vibrant reds, yellows, and greens blistered black on the edges, sweating beads of olive oil.

Tough-skinned vegetables are perfect for grilling. Only a small amount of fat is necessary, and the barbeque gives great flavor. Wash the vegetables, and cut them into large, even pieces. To prevent them drying out over the flame, soak the pieces in water for up to 30 minutes before grilling. Then pat dry and brush with olive oil. Grill 2-3 minutes per side and season with salt and pepper, or any other herbs.

These vegetables are well suited for grilling:

Asparagus, whole
Bell Peppers
Chili Peppers, whole
Portobello or other mushrooms, whole

Garlic: Take whole bulbs and cut off the root end. Brush with olive oil and place cut side down for about 10 minutes or until the skin is brown.

Onions: Remove skin and cut horizontally about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with oil and grill 3-4 minutes.

Tomatoes: Something you don't usually see on the grill but it works well. Cut in half and grill cut side down.

Corn on the cob: Gently pull back the husks but don't remove. Remove the silk and cut off the end. Brush with butter. Fold the husks back down and tie or twist the ends. Place on grill for about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn to avoid burning.

Potatoes: Perfect for grilling but takes a bit longer. For whole potatoes, wrap in aluminum foil to keep the skin from burning and grill 35-40 minutes, turning occasionally. Or cut into wedges, brush with olive oil, and grill until browned.

vendredi 16 avril 2010

Breakfast around the World

American cuisine may not hit every spot on the mark (I’m thinking of KFC’s recent atrocity, the Double Down Sandwich), but we do make a great brunch spread. Much better than the light toast and coffee breakfast served in France, in my opinion—and who can resist a fluffy golden pancake with a pat of butter pooling the middle?

A traditional American breakfast is a hearty, heavy affair, but that’s not the case everywhere in the world. Breakfast favorites in the US typically include: eggs, toast with butter and jam, hash browned potatoes, bacon, sausage links, pancakes, waffles, bagels, doughnuts, muffins, cereal, orange juice, milk, and coffee. Lots of carbohydrates, fat, and protein here, enough to keep you well-energized throughout the day.

A French breakfast is typically much sweeter and less substantial than an American breakfast. The French drink their coffee from a ceramic bowl, and those who don’t like coffee drink hot chocolate. “Grilled bread”, or hard toasts, are dipped in the hot drink or spread with butter or jam, or nutella. Of course croissants, chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat), or other pastries are eaten frequently, although these are not necessarily eaten every day. Jam figures prominently on the breakfast table, as does chocolate. Most French people I know, if in need of a quick bite on the way out the door, grab a few cookies, a slice of cake, or anything I would normally eat for dessert. Unlike Americans, the French do not eat omelettes, quiche, or crepes for breakfast.

In Japan, asa-gohan (meaning “morning rice”) is not a grand affair, and is not restricted to certain “breakfast foods.” As more and more Western products reach supermarket shelves, more young Japanese start the day with toast, eggs, or cereal, but many still eat a traditional breakfast of rice and miso soup. Often pickles or fish accompany the rice, and a bit of natto, fermented soybeans. Leftovers from last night’s meal can be eaten as breakfast as well.

It’s interesting to compare breakfasts in different countries because it reflects, I think, the eating habits of the population. Americans eat a rather fatty, carbohydrate-heavy traditional breakfast, and quick weekday breakfasts are usually sugary and doughy (muffins, doughnuts, toast, cereal). And we overeat in general as well. The French load up on sugar in the morning, but they generally eat light as far as quantity. And a Japanese traditional breakfast is light in both senses—preferring savory tastes to fat and sugar, and keeping the portion small.

Once in a while, once every two months maybe, I like to do a good brunch. Two eggs sunny-side up, with 2 pieces of buttered toast, one to mop up each yolk. I skip the bacon but I happily take some hash browns, and of course the pancakes can’t be missed. Living abroad the last few years, I’ve learned to live without maple syrup (a better thing, anyways, as what passes for maple syrup now in most supermarkets is just coca-cola in a heat-up bottle). A much better substitute: a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.

Making perfect pancakes at home is probably even easier than buying mix. The principal ingredients are flour, a spoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, a couple eggs, milk and baking powder. The baking powder is essential to get the rise and fluffy texture desired. I add only the yolk of the egg, reserving the egg whites for other sweets, and I swear that this makes the pancakes better. When combining the ingredients to make the batter, stir just enough to wet all the batter; overbeating the batter to try to get out the lumps will make the pancakes rubbery. If using a non-stick pan (this is best), there’s no need to oil the pan.

Perfect American Pancakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg

1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk, and egg; mix until just combined.
2. Heat a griddle or non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve immediately.

lundi 5 avril 2010

Sultana Blondies

These golden raisin blondies won over the Denoux family I had Easter dinner with yesterday. I passed the recipe on to them, as I will now do to you, in my quest to slowly but steadily infiltrate the French pastry market with the best of American treats.

Blondies are not only the brownie's blonde kid sister, they have a gooey chewiness all of their own and have more possibility than brownies for additions, including nuts, chocolate chips, caramel, peanut butter, dried fruit, or candy pieces.

I like the sexiness of the name "sultana", so I throw in golden raisins, dried apricot pieces, walnuts, and chocolate chips.


16 Tbsp (230 grams) butter, melted
2 cups (400 grams) brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt
2 cups (220 grams) flour
add golden raisins, apricot chunks, walnuts, and chocolate chips to taste

1. Mix all ingredients.
2. Bake at 350 F (180 C) for about 35 minutes.

mardi 30 mars 2010

And the Winning Dinner is White!

As far as the “diner presque parfait” cooking competition, we really saved the best for last. Despite my extraordinary cooking skills, and the best efforts of us three preceding contestants, Astrid stole the show with her White dinner.

Disappointed losers? There weren’t any in sight, because we all enjoyed the best meal we’ve had in a long while.

We started the evening by popping a bottle of bubbly and snacking on hors d’oeurvres of pastry crust, cheese, and rosemary.

The first course was zucchini soup, topped with homemade croutons (INFINTELY better than store-bought, I assure you) and a crunchy morsel of fried parmesan cheese.

Next up were mussels in a white wine sauce, a French classic, with a side of wheat (this seems strange, but it’s just grains of wheat cooked like rice).

After we had scooped out the mussels and soaked up the last bits of sauce from the bowl with bread slices, we had to take a breather. Astrid served more white wine and the indispensable cheese plate.

Finally, the dessert: handmade vanilla ice cream and a chocolate cake.

What made this dinner excellent was not only the quality of the dishes, but also the presentation and the attention to detail—the crystal sugar garnish on the ice cream, the parmesan sliver in the soup, the white roses decorating the table. If I hadn’t been sitting in Astrid’s living room, surrounded by friends, I would have sworn I was in a restaurant. And a darn good restaurant at that.

We’ll be treating Astrid to a dinner out next week—I just hope it will be as good as hers was!

Zucchini Cream Soup

8 zucchinis, peeled and seeded
4 Tbsp butter
2 onions
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups stock
3/4 cup cream
salt, pepper
for garnish: homemade croutons, parmesan

Chop the zucchini and cook with butter and onions. Add the white wine and stock, bringing to a boil. Turn the heat off and add the cream and spices. Wait to cool, then puree. Serve the next day.


Je suis déçue de vous dire qu’on a gardé le meilleur pour la fin ; ce n’est pas mon diner vert, mais le diner blanc, qui a gagné notre « dîner presque parfait ». Mais ne doutez pas de mes talents de cuisinière !

En revanche, je suis ravie de vous raconter le menu de la soirée, comme Astrid a bien mérité le titre de gagnante.

On a commencé avec une bouteille de champagne et des amuse-gueules au fromage et au romarin. Ensuite, Astrid nous a servi une soupe aux courgettes absolument délicieuse, avec des croutons et du parmesan par-dessus.

Par la suite, on a eu les moules au vin blanc et du blé, et finalement, un gâteau au chocolat et un parfait à la vanille.

Ce qui a rendu le diner d’Astrid vraiment merveilleux, c’était son attention aux tout petits détails : la garniture sur la soupe, du bon vin blanc, un morceau de vanille craquant sur le dessert, la présentation des plats, les roses blanches sur la table. Si je n’étais pas été assis dans le salon chez Astrid avec mes amis autour de moi, j’aurais dit que j’étais au resto !

Félicitations à Astrid et toutes les autres qui ont participé !

Soupe aux Courgettes

600g de courgettes
60g de beurre
120g d´oignons
120ml de vin blnc
900ml de bouillon
180ml de crème
sel, poivre, ail, muscade

D´abord il faut enlever la peau des courgettes et les épépiner.

Couper les corgettes et les faire cuire avec le beurre et les oignons.
Ajouter le vin blanc et le bouillon, et faire bouillir la soupe.
Ajouter la crème à la fin et déguster avec les épices... puis réduire la soupe en purée.

vendredi 26 mars 2010

Spring Salad with fromage frais, roasted walnuts, and honey

Spring is here at last—the fresh smell of spring in the air, a bouncy spring in our step as we step out the door, and spring on the plate, meaning light, fresh meals.

With the windows open and the sunlight shining in on my checkered kitchen floor, I decided to make a spring salad, using lamb’s lettuce, fromage frais, roasted walnuts, and honey.

Lamb’s lettuce is a tender spring lettuce with spoon-shaped leaves, common here in France and not so common in the U.S., probably. Try to use a softer lettuce like baby spinach or arugula.

Fromage frais is literally “fresh cheese”, very light in taste, almost like a thick yogurt. It’s perfect with still-warm roasted walnuts and honey/lemon dressing.

Spring Salad

Lamb’s lettuce
Fromage frais
Salt and pepper

1. Roast the walnuts in a pan until dark brown and brittle, about 3-4 minutes. No oil is necessary.
2. Prepare a bed of lamb’s lettuce and top with the fromage frais, and warm walnuts. Drizzle honey on top and add a squeeze of lemon. Season with salt and pepper.

mardi 23 mars 2010

Crème Brulée and the Yellow Dinner

Next up in our color-themed cooking round robin was Andi and her yellow dinner.

Just in time for spring, she decorated the table with sprigs of yellow flowers.

First course: bread and Manchego cheese, sautéed yellow bell peppers, and a Spanish omelette.

(intermission): white sangria with pears and pineapple slices

Main course: paella with mussels, prawns, and chorizo.

Dessert: crème brulée

The paella was pretty impressive, but the star of the evening for me was the crème brulée. Smooth creamy custard with a thick sugar crust (Andi made it thicker than normal, which I liked). Unlike what you might expect, you don’t need a fancy-torch-thing to crystallize the sugar topping—you can make it fine in a regular oven.

Vanilla Crème Brulée
Yield 4 servings
Recipe from Mark Bittman

Note: When baking the custard, a water bath is worthwhile. It makes the cooking more gentle and even. The custards are done in the oven when still quite jiggly in the center. Once you move the custard to the broiler, keep the door ajar so the compartment stays relatively cool, and keep a close watch.

2 cups heavy or light cream, or half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, more for topping

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, combine cream and vanilla bean and cook over low heat just until hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then discard vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, add it now.)
2. In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until light. Stir about a quarter of the cream into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. Pour into four 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until centers are barely set. Cool. Ramekins can be wrapped tightly and refrigerated for a couple of days.
3. When ready to serve, top each custard with about a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer. Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Serve within two hours.

vendredi 19 mars 2010

Irish Soda Bread

A friend gave me this recipe for Irish soda bread, which she made for her class of French kiddies to teach them about St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a chewy, dense, slightly sweet bread which uses baking soda and buttermilk to rise in place of yeast. Which means, using this recipe you’ll have a loaf of hot bread in your hands within 45 minutes (instead of the few hours it takes to make a yeast bread). I ate the bread while still warm with a pat of butter; it dries out quickly and will not be good after a day or two.
The recipe calls for buttermilk (which is, by the way, simply the milk left over from the butter-making process) but an acceptable substitute can be made by mixing regular whole milk with white vinegar or lemon juice (1 Tbsp vinegar/lemon juice for 1 cup milk) and letting the mixture stand for 10-15 minutes.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup raisins

1. Combine all ingredients and mix just until moistened. The dough should be fairly thick and dense and hold its shape on a cookie sheet or in an oven-proof skillet.
2. Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 35 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean.

mardi 16 mars 2010

Dinner “Green” Chez Camille (me)

Second up in the cooking rounds (see post below), and assigned to the color green, I prepared the following menu :

Aperitifs of Get 27 (an intensely green mint-flavored liquor)
Swiss chard chips
Green olives

Wine wine with frozen green grapes as ice cubes
Avocado salmon salad with chives

Pan-seared scallops with lime zested bread crumbs
Asparagus with a cilantro lime butter
Mashed potatoes and green peas

Macarons menthe-chocolat
Cheese plate with green grapes and pears

For the decor, I bought some green wrapping paper to spread on the table as a table cloth, and set the table with clean white plates, green napkins, and clear glasses.

Was it a success? I would say possibly. . . but only the sealed envelope holding the marks knows for sure!

My own recommendations: the swiss chard chips were easy, excellent, and strikingly unusual. The avocado salad was also very easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. The mashed potatoes with peas were very good; I like the balance of half vegetable-half potato in the puree to reduce the heaviness of eating a pile of potatoes. And finally, macarons tasted pretty darn good even though they had collapsed a little by the time I served them (I had made them the night before). If you don’t know what macarons are, you should. They’re a sort of sandwich cookie, but much fancier than that description, made with egg whites, powdered sugar, almond powder and a creamy filling. They come in every flavor imaginable, including licorice (my favorite).

I messed up the scallops because they were ready before the potatoes and so by the time I served the plate, the scallops and bread crumbs had gone cold. Timing is everything! Always make scallops immediately before serving.

Swiss Chard chips

Bunch of swiss chard leaves
A couple tablespoons of olive oil
Sesame seeds

1. Trim the leaves off of the swiss chard, cutting away the firm white stalk. Cut the leaves into chip-sized pieces.
2. Brush both sides of the leaves with olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Salt and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
3. Bake at 350 F for 7-8 minutes, or until crispy.
4. If you must store the chips, don’t cover them or they will become limp.

Avocado Salmon salad with chives

Serves 5

3 ripe avocadoes
smoked salmon
2 lemons
handful of chopped chives, plus a few sprigs for garnish
baby spinach, or any leafy lettuce greens
salt, pepper
Tbsp olive oil

1. One hour before serving, marinate the salmon with the juice of one lemon, salt, pepper, and chives.
2. As soon as possible before serving, slice the avocadoes and cover with the juice of ½ lemon. If you must wait before serving, cover the avocadoes tightly with plastic wrap.
3. At the bottom of a transparent cup or bowl (one for each person), put down a bed of the lettuce leaves, then a layer of avocado, then a layer of salmon, then a second layer of avocado. Mix the juice of the remaining ½ lemon with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spoon a bit over the top of each serving. Garnish with chives.

Mashed potatoes and green peas

Potatoes, washed, unpeeled and cubed
Frozen green peas
Salt, pepper
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Boil the potatoes until completely tender and easily mashable by hand. Add the peas to the boiling water a couple minutes before the potatoes are done. The ratio of peas to potatoes should be about ½ and ½ .
2. Add butter and milk until texture is creamy and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper and stir in parmesan cheese, reserving some flakes for garnish.

Mint chocolate macarons

Recipe courtesy of Savour-Fare

3 egg whites, left out for 2-3 days (egg whites don’t spoil the way the yolks do) or “aged” in the microwave for 10-15 seconds (ideally, egg whites should be almost liquid).
30 g granulated sugar
200 g powdered sugar
110 g almond flour
2 Tbsp menthe liquor
green food coloring, if you have it (I didn’t)

1. In the standing mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add granulated sugar, and beat until meringue is stiff. REALLY stiff.
2. With a rubber spatula, fold in 1/3 of the almond sugar mixture, using quick, firm, strokes. You want to break up the meringue in this step — don’t be too gentle! Add remaining almond mixture, 1/3 at a time, and use gentle strokes to fold it until all almonds are incorporated, no lumps of meringue remain, and the mixture is the texture of chilled honey — when you drop a teaspoonful of the mixture on top of the rest of the batter, it should take 30-60 seconds to disappear and be reincorporated. Stir in the menthe liquor and green food coloring.
3. Using a pastry bag or a ziploc with the corner cut off, pipe the meringues into 1 inch circles on parchment paper. Remember, you want some consistency so you can match them up in sandwiches.
4. Let air dry for 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then turn off the oven, open the door, and let the macarons cool on the cookie sheets (this helps them release). Sprinkle on chocolate shavings when they are almost cool.
5. When the macarons are completely cool, sandwich them with the chocolate ganache spread in the middle. Handle carefully!

Chocolate mint ganache filling

1 bar dark chocolate (70%)
¼ cup cream
fresh mint, chopped
1 Tbsp mint liquor

1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Stir in the cream, mint, and mint liquor.
2. Wait to cool before filling macarons.

samedi 13 mars 2010

Que la meilleure chef gagne!

“Un dîner presque parfait” is France’s latest success in the cooking-competition-reality-TV show genre. A small group of strangers and amateur home-chefs dine together for a week, each taking turns hosting a meal for the others. The invites are, of course, given free reign to castigate any perceived faults in the food, presentation, decor, or ambiance of the evening, submitting a grade for each meal. The winner at the end gets something or other, probably a monetary prize.

Since three of my friends and I regularly cook for one another, I thought, why not add a little competition to the mix and organize a “dîner presque parfait” of our own? To makes things a little more interesting, each of us drew a color at random from a hat that will work as a theme for our meal. The eventual winner will get their bill covered by the others at a restaurant.

The first up this week was Franzi, a German girl with limited cooking experience (as she emphasized throughout the meal). It was, nevertheless, a great success.

First, her efforts at decor are worth noting—red napkins, a tomato-printed tablecloth, red candles, even music from the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge!

Franzi served as appetizer an hors-d’œurve of tomato slices on puff pastry, topped with chopped garlic and basil. Simple and delicious.

The main dish was a red bell pepper stuffed with a mixture of feta cheese, tuna, and tomatoes, served with a tomato rice on the side.

Dessert was a German chocolate cherry cake and a marzipan chocolate.

Very red, but was it good enough to win??

To be continued . . .


Je suis dans un groupe d’amies qui dînent souvent ensemble, on s’est dit, « Puisque chacune d’entre nous cuisine pour les autres, pourquoi ne pas ajouter un peu de piment ? Juste pour le fun, bien sûr . . .» J’ai proposé à mes amies un série de quatre soirées, où l’une après l’autre on s’applique bien à préparer un grand dîner. Les trois autres invitées sont juges, et donnent des notes à la fin. Après que tout le monde ait fait leur dîner, on révèle la gagnante, qui gagnera un dîner au resto de la part des autres. C’est-à-dire, on imite l’émission de télé « Un dîner presque parfait. » Pour rendre le jeu plus intéressant et la compétition plus élevée, chaque dîner doit se préparer autour d’une couleur.

La première chef était Franzi avec son dîner rouge.

Elle a très bien décoré la salle à manger avec des serviettes rouges, une nappe imprimée des tomates, et même la musique de la Moulin Rouge !

Elle a servit comme entrée des tomates hachées sur une pâte feuilletée, avec de l’ail et du basilic.

Le plat principal se composait d’un poivron rouge farci cuit à la perfection, avec de la feta, des tomates, et du thon. Délicieux. À côté il y avait du riz parfumé à la tomate.

Enfin, le dessert : un gâteau allemand chocolat-cerises.

On a hâte de découvrir ce qui arrivera au suivant !