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


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.