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 !

mercredi 3 mars 2010


Dans le marché de Nice, je suis tombée sur un dessert merveilleux qui s’appelait « éstouffadou ». Tout de suite je me suis dit, je dois le refaire à la maison. Tout ce que j’avais comme recette c’était les ingrédients : de la polenta ; de la poudre d’amandes, du beurre ; et du sucre. A partir de ce moment j’ai inventé la recette, avec un grand succès. Pour que la recette de ce gâteau délicieux ne soit pas perdue, je la partage avec vous :


170 g polenta (moyenne), pas cuite
200 g poudre d’amandes
170 g sucre
250 g beurre, fondu
1 œuf
1 sachet de sucre vanillé

1. Mélanger tout.
2. Verser dans le moule et enfourner pour 35 minutes au four de 180°C.
3. Découper en carrés et servir froid.

While in Nice I came happily across one of the most delicious sweets I have ever tasted—it was a bar made out of uncooked polenta, retaining the crunchy, grainy texture of the polenta in a flaky butter-almond mixture. Very simple, very unusual, and very, very good. I searched days afterward for the recipe, in vain. If this dessert exists outside of the Nice market, it does not go by the name “estouffadou.” Knowing only the basic ingredients—polenta, almond powder, sugar, and butter—I attempted to recreate the recipe at home. I threw an egg and a pinch of salt in, and I think a bit of vanilla would have done nicely as well. And, the “estouffadou” came out—perfect! So that this recipe won’t be lost to future generations, I’m passing it on to you.


1 cup uncooked polenta (medium grain)
1 cup almond powder
¾ cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
a pinch of salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Mix all ingredients.
2. Spread into a brownie pan and bake for 35 minutes in a 350 F oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
3. Let cool. Cut into bars and serve at room temperature.

lundi 1 mars 2010

Spécialités Niçoises

J’ai profité d’un voyage à Nice la semaine dernière pour me permettre de déguster tout les petits plats de délicieux que j’ai rencontré dans la rue. La cuisine niçoise est pleine de saveurs méditerranéennes : de l’huile d’olive, du sel, des olives et des tomates . . . ça fait penser à la mer, au soleil, au vent . . .

Les plats que j’ai goutés se retrouvent partout dans les rues du Vieux Nice ; il faut tout simplement vous balader sans but jusqu’à ce que vous tombiez sur un étal de socca, le plat préféré des Niçois.

La socca

Si vous n’avez qu’une spécialité de Nice à essayer, ça doit être la socca. C’est essentiellement une sorte de crêpe faite à base de farine de pois chiches, et cuisinée avec de l’huile d’olive dans un four à pizza.

Elle se mange chaude avec les doigts, aussi vite que possible après qu’elle sorte du four, et saupoudrée abondamment du poivre noir. Différent d’une crêpe, la socca n’a pas besoin de accompagnements ; elle se déguste très bien toute seule.

La pissaladière

La pissaladière ressemble à une pizza, mais sans la sauce tomates, et avec une pâte beaucoup plus épaisse. La pâte se couvre avec un lit d’oignons, cuits assez longtemps pour qu’ils deviennent presqu’une purée très douce. On ajoute ensuite des anchois et quelques olives (une par morceau).

La tourte de blettes

Il y a deux sortes de la tourte de blettes, sucré et salé. Le sucré est celui qui a le plus de succès, pourtant j’ai essayé les deux et j’ai trouvé le salé beaucoup plus agréable. Ça fait un peu bizarre, manger un dessert de blettes, non ?

Les petits farcis

Les farcis sont des légumes tels que des tomates, des oignons, des aubergines, des courgettes, et des poivrons, qui sont fourrés d’un mélange de viande, de mie de pains, d’œufs, et de parmesan. Ça fait un déjeuner léger et excellent. Je ne penserais jamais à faire farcir un oignon, mais en fait il était très bon comme ça.

Il y a aussi la salade niçoise et le pan bagnat, qu’on trouve n’importe où en France et qui sont bien connu ; il n’y a donc pas besoin que j’explique plus.

La Socca
Pour 8 personnes

250 g de farine de pois chiches
1/2 l d'eau
6 cuillères à soupe d'huile d'olive
1 cuillère à café de sel fin
poivre du moulin
à cuire sur deux plaques de 40 cm de diamètre environ ou une de 70 cm

1. Dans un saladier profond, mettez l'eau froide et y délayer au fouet la farine de pois chiches. Ajoutez deux cuillères à soupe d'huile d'olive et une cuillère à café de sel fin. Mélangez vivement pour éliminer les grumeaux. Au besoin, tamisez.
La pâte doit avoir la consistance du lait non écrémé. Si elle est trop compacte, rajoutez un peu d'eau et mélangez à nouveau.

2. Préchauffez votre four en position maximale pendant 10 mn. Sur une ou deux plaques circulaires, versez-le contenu de quatre cuillères à soupe d'huile d'olive. Répartissez et enfournez pendant 5 mn.

3. Sortez la plaque du four, versez la préparation et étalez-la de façon homogène. Enfournez aussitôt, dans le haut du four.

4. Au bout de 2 mn, mettez le thermostat sur la position gril. Laissez cuire de 5 à 7 mn, de façon que la croûte soit bien dorée, même un peu brûlée par endroits...
Pendant la cuisson, vous pouvez percer avec un couteau les cloques qui se forment.

5. Retirez du four, découpez et servez en n'omettant pas de poivrer abondamment.

Specialities of Nice

Last week I went to Nice, on the Côte d’Azur of southern France, which is Mediterranean seaside paradise, even in February. While strolling along the maze of alleyways and corners in Old Nice, I stumbled happily again and again upon several Nice specialties being sold in markets, bakeries, and fast food stalls around town.

Nice is the home of pure Mediterranean cuisine, full of salty, rich flavors that remind one of the sea and the sun … olive oil, salt, olives, tomatoes, red peppers, chickpeas. The food I got from vendor stalls was eaten with my fingers, on the spot or while I continued to meander, and it was always cheap and fresh.


Socca seems to be the nicois snack of preference. It resembles a crepe, but is made with chickpea flour and cooked in olive oil in a pizza oven. Contrary to a crepe, it’s served unpretentiously broken into pieces and without accompaniment. Delicious for a lunch side or a quick snack. (Recipe below)


It’s kind of an onion pizza, but much more appetizing than “onion pizza” sounds. The crust is much thicker than a pizza crust, and with the distinct taste of olive oil. No tomato sauce is used, and instead the pizza is topped with a layer of onions that have been cooked until completely softened, almost a puree. Finally, the pissaladiere is topped with anchovies and a few olives.

Tourte de blettes

A tourte in French is very simply a pie with a top layer of crust. The tourte here, however, is not made in a circular pie shape but rather in a large rectangle, cut into squares. Blettes are chard in English, a leafy vegetable rather like spinach, and eaten fairly frequently in France. Despite the presence of chard in the tourte, it is most often made as a sweet dessert, which I found odd, even (especially) after tasting it. A savory version also exists, however, and that was much more to my liking.

Les farcis (stuffed vegetables)

A plate of small stuffed vegetables made for an excellent light lunch one afternoon; the vegetables included tomatoes, onions, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers. The stuffing is typically made of a mixture of meat, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and egg. I would have never thought to stuff an onion, but as it turns out it was ideal—sweet and the perfect shape for stuffing.

Makes about 3 thin flatbread pancakes

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
3/4 tsp. sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil (plus more for brushing griddle and drizzling over finished Socca)

Whisk together the chickpea flour, water, and olive oil.

When ready to cook Socca, preheat broiler. When broiler is hot, brush cast iron griddle or frying pan with olive oil, heat under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, then remove from oven and pour on a thin layer of batter.

Cook Socca under the broiler until it has firmed and well-browned, even slightly burned in places, especially on the edges, 2-4 minutes. Continue to make Socca pancakes like this, brushing the griddle with oil and heating it between each one.

Cut finished Socca into rough triangular pieces, sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Serve hot.