Monday, October 28, 2013

Welcome to My French Cuisine!

This blog is a collection of simple and healthy recipes that combine my childhood memories from Lyon, France with more recent discoveries made in Northern California, where I have happily spent the past 12 years. Use the Recipe Index page to browse recipes by alphabetical order of the main ingredient, or the A La Carte Recipes page to browse recipes by type of dish. My Amazon Store lists some of the cookware, cookbooks, and other items in my kitchen.

Here are a few reader favorites:
- Easy quiche crust from scratch
- Quatre quarts pound cake
- Potato gratin like in the Alps
- Pot-au-feu beef stew
- What to substitute for bouillon cube

And here are a few more recipes you don't want to miss:
- Vinaigrette salad dressing (the first thing you need to know about French cuisine!)
- Herbes de Provence (what really goes in the mix)
- Braised beef with carrots (a family favorite)
- Home-made fresh cheese (a simple, universal recipe)
- Pears Belle-Hélène (poached pears with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce)
- Dream-come-true chocolate cake (the best, most melting and light chocolate cake you'll ever taste)
- Madeleines (the very French boat-shaped mini-cakes)

Happy reading and happy cooking!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanksgiving dinner—a memo for next year

I hope that those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful time last Thursday—we certainly did. My parents were visiting from France, and we prepared our first ever traditional Thanksgiving dinner together. We usually jump on the occasion of a 4-day weekend to travel around the US, but staying home with family and cooking all day was actually quite enjoyable (as always!).

We prepared no fewer than 8 dishes from scratch, using recipes we had never tried before, with lots of unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. Quite a challenge... But everything turned out great. Before I forget, let me write down what we cooked. This will come in handy a year from now... Or sooner...

We started with dessert, using this butternut squash pie recipe from High Ground Organics farm, but with orange kabocha squash, heavy whipping cream, and this pie crust. I had roasted the squash and taken a ball of pie dough out of the freezer the night before, and was ready to go in the morning.

Before lunch I had also made corn bread, half of which got used in the stuffing, and the other half served with the appetizer.

I used the Southern Corn Bread recipe from Joy of Cooking (75th anniversary edition, page 632). It was really fun to see the batter start cooking as soon as I poured it in the hot pyrex dish. It smelled delicious too!

The stuffing recipe also came from Joy of Cooking: Bread Stuffing with Giblets (page 534). I replaced the chopped nuts with a jar of chestnuts, cut in 2–3 pieces each, and chose the "sausage meat" option (using mild Italian sausage). We followed Alton Brown's advice and didn't actually stuff the turkey, but baked the stuffing (or is it dressing in that case?) separately.

Alton Brown also provided the secrets to a delicious turkey roast. We brined a 13-lbs all-natural, free range turkey (from Diestel Ranch) in our biggest cooler for 24 hours (after thawing it for about a day in the fridge), then roasted it for about 2.5 hours.
We replaced allspice berries with cinnamon and nutmeg in the brine (just because we didn't have any allspice).

My friend Susyn had sent me her cranberry relish and candied yam recipes, which her mother and grandmother had passed on to her. I felt very honored to be given such treasures. 
The relish was simply a raw mix of cranberries and navel oranges, with a little bit of brown sugar. It was amazingly refreshing.

The yams were boiled then sliced and covered with a sauce made of caramelized navel orange zest, juice, and brown sugar.
Susyn had said "yams, not sweet potatoes," but I couldn't resist the temptation to try different types of yams. From left to right in the upper left corner picture: Japanese yam, Hannah yam, Jewel yam, and Garnet yam. (In the lower right corner picture: Hannah, Jewel, Garnet, Japanese.) I believe that Garnet yam is the most traditional one. 

The last side dish was Brussels sprouts. We found our inspiration in Jerry James Stone's recipe on KQED's Bay Area Bites. Instead of baking the tiny cabbages on skewers, we simply steamed them in a pressure cooker for a few minutes, then sautéed them in a pan with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pine nuts, and added freshly grated parmesan cheese at the last minute.

The appetizer was a radicchio salad with pecan nuts and a honey vinaigrette dressing. This was Pierre's invention, and a very fresh and light start to a copious dinner. 

There was one bit of Frenchness in this meal... Did you see the wine bottle? It was a 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin (from Côte d'Or, near Burgundy), which we had bought at the château several years ago, during a vacation there with my parents. There wasn't a better occasion than this family reunion in our country of adoption to open this little gem.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Lemon verbena tea

Lemon verbena infusion is one of these tried and true "grandmother's remedies" that are really enjoyable. Drink a cup after a heavy meal and you won't suffer indigestion. Not only is this drink good for your gut, it freshens the mouth and gives you the perfect excuse for a relaxing break during your day. Time will stop for a few minutes while you sip your hot "verveine."

People in France love herbal teas. Actually, when I am in France, I am offered an herbal tea after every single meal—lunch and dinner, heavy or not. Stores in France offer an incredible selection of tea bags filled with all kinds of tasty herb and flower mixes, but many families still grow (or pick) and dry their own medicinal herbs. Some very common examples are lime blossom (linden tree flower—le tilleul), chamomille, thyme, mint, and of course lemon verbena. All can be brewed and turned into delectable beverages and have specific benefits. Chamomille and linden are great bedtime relaxation teas. Thyme is antiseptic and can help fight a cold or sore throat—you can simply inhale the vapors if you don't like the taste. Mint and lemon verbena (often used together) are said to have digestive and antioxidant properties.

I bought a plant several years ago in a nearby nursery (probably SummerWinds in Sunnyvale) and it might be the only plant I haven't managed to kill yet :-) The more I trim it the more it grows. It sits in a rather cool, partly shaded corner of my backyard and gets watered by the sprinklers every day.

I trimmed the longest branches a few weeks ago—this can be done all through the spring and summer—rinsed them very rapidly to remove any dust from the leaves without rinsing off the flavors, then hung the branches upside down in my kitchen for 3 days. When the leaves became brittle, I knew they were dry. I cut the branches into 1–2" sticks (cutting between every group of leaves, or every other group), then stored in a glass jar.

I use 3 or 4 sticks (with the verbena leaves attached to them) in every mug with about 2 cups of boiling water. I brew for several minutes and drink hot. If you prefer something sweet, try adding a teaspoon of honey.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A few more green tips

Hope you all had a nice Earth Day today. Here are a few more tips and links to conclude this week's blogging marathon. You can access all these posts by clicking the Green Your Kitchen tab at the top of this blog.

Origin and Nature of your Food
Many factors contribute to the energy bill of the food we eat:

  • The type of food it is (Livestock consumes a lot more energy than fields of vegetables for instance) 
  • The way it is produced (Is the food produced organically or with the use of petroleum products for instance?) 
  • The distance it travels before reaching your kitchen 
  • The type of transportation used and the quantity transported on each trip 
  • The amount of processing involved in producing the food
  • The type of packaging used

Although some of these variables are difficult to determine, keeping them in mind and being as well informed as you can will help you choose healthy, tasty, and eco-friendly foods. (This is true for drinks too, including water.)

Cooking Methods
The judicial use of cooking methods and appliances can have a positive impact on your energy use. Here are a few tips:

  • Before cooking: thaw food in the refrigerator to shorten the cooking time, and avoid preheating your oven.
  • While cooking: avoid heat loss by using pots and pans sized for the amount of food being cooked and for the diameter of the burner, using lids, and avoiding peeking. Use energy-efficient cooking methods (such as pressure-cooking).
  • After cooking: use the residual heat of your oven to start cooking another dish or warm up your home. (And eat raw food, such as salads, on hot summer days, to keep your house cool.)
  • Double your recipe and save half for later.

Dish Washing
Using a built-in dishwasher is generally more efficient than washing the dishes by hand. However, you can further reduce your water and electricity usage by doing the following:

  • Scrape dirty cookware and plates rather than rinse them. 
  • Run full dishwasher loads. 
  • Use the "light wash" and "air dry" (non-heated dry) settings of your dishwasher.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Unplugging small appliances

There is time for one more post before Earth Day tomorrow. This week I have told you about freezer and refrigerator temperatures, hot water temperature, and energy-efficient lighting. Let's talk about one more way to save electricity.

Most electric appliances consume energy as soon are they are plugged in, whether they are actively used or not. The power is drawn from digital clocks and displays, remote controls, or voltage regulators, and can be as high as 10 to 15 watts. This standby power is sometimes called "phantom load."

How to measure your energy usage
You can use a wattmeter to measure the electric power of any device plugged to an outlet. (Some public libraries lend wattmeters.)
  1. Plug the wattmeter to the electric outlet.
  2. Plug the device to the wattmeter.
  3. Read the power usage in watts when the device is running.
  4. Read the power usage in watts when the device is in standby mode (that is, plugged in but not performing its main function).
You can then compute the yearly energy usage of your appliance with the Energy Usage Calculator provided below.

When the appliance is in use, the wattmeter indicates how much power is needed to run the appliance. This allows you to compute how much energy you consume by using your appliance and encourages you to think of a less powerful appliance to use or to use it for shorter periods of time.

When the appliance is in standby mode, the wattmeter indicates its phantom load. This allows you to compute how much energy is wasted by keeping your appliance plugged in when not in use.

Energy Usage Calculator
Daily Appliance Usage:
Measured Power (in Use):
Measured Power (Standby):
Electricity Rate:
Yearly Energy Usage:
Yearly Energy Waste:
Percentage of Energy Wasted:
(Numbers are shown as an example. Enter your own data.)

When your coffee maker is in use, the wattmeter reads 800 watts. The coffee maker is in use for 30 minutes (or 0.5 hours) every day. Your yearly energy usage is 145.6 kWh/year. At a rate of $0.12233 per kWh, brewing coffee costs $17.81 per year.

When your coffee maker is in standby mode, that is, when you aren't brewing any coffee but the digital display is on, the wattmeter reads 3 watts. If the coffee maker is plugged in around the clock but you actively use it for only 30 minutes every day (that is, it is in standby mode 23.5 hours per day), the energy wasted in a year is: 25.7 kWh/year, which translates into $3.14 per year.

In this example, 15 percent of the energy consumed by the appliance is due to phantom load, and is thus wasted.

Friday, April 20, 2012

CFL vs. LED vs. Incandescent Light Bulbs

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.

Light emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) seem to be even more attractive, as they use the same amount of energy as CFLs, but last at least 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs. They may eventually replace CFLs as their price goes down.

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs
A CFL or LED bulb will produce the same brightness, or light output, as an incandescent bulb, while requiring less power. Use the Energy Savings Calculator provided below to determine the power and energy savings obtained for each light. The energy savings depend on how long the light is turned on during the day.

Energy Savings Calculator
Old Bulb Power:
New Bulb Power:
Daily Bulb Usage:
Electricity Rate:
Power Savings:
Yearly Energy Savings:
(Numbers are shown as an example. Enter your own data.)

You replace a 60-watt incandescent light bulb with a 13-watt CFL. You are saving 47 watts of power.
Your lamp is turned on 4 hours per day. Your energy savings are 68.4 kWh per year.
At a rate of $0.12233 per kWh (check your electricity bill to find out your own rate), changing a light bulb is saving you $8.37 per year.

Multiply that by the number of lamps you use in the house, and by the number of houses in your city, etc., and these small savings will quickly add up.

Other tips for saving energy
Remember to turn off the light when leaving the kitchen, and make good use of daylight.

Buying guide
CFL and LED packages indicate the wattage of incandescent bulbs with an equivalent light output. For example a 13-watt CFL package will indicate that it is as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. CFLs and LEDs come in various sizes, shapes and color temperatures.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

How much water comes out of your tap?

To continue this week's Green Your Kitchen series, I will show you how to measure your kitchen faucet flow rate.

Your faucet's flow rate indicates how much water passes through your faucet during a given amount of time. In the U.S., it is often measured in gallons per minute (gpm). The bigger the flow rate, the more water you consume.

The recommended flow rate is 1.5 gpm or less, which ensures proper pressure while minimizing water consumption. However most fixtures have a flow rate of 2.2 gpm or more, according to Energy Savers.

Recommended water flow rate: 
1.5 gallons per minute or less

How to measure the water flow rate
To measure your faucet's flow rate, follow these simple steps:
  1. Open the faucet completely.
  2. Collect cold water in a graduated container for an exact period of time (for example 4 seconds).
  3. Measure the amount of water collected.
  4. Convert your measurement to gallons per minute.
Use the Water Flow Rate Calculator provided below to convert your measurement in fluid ounces to a flow rate in gallons per minute.

Water Flow Rate Calculator
Amount of water collected:
Measurement duration:
Water Flow Rate:
(Numbers are shown as an example. Enter your own data.)

For example, in the following video, I collected 17 fluid ounces of water in 4 seconds. My faucet's flow rate is hence 1.99 gpm.

Other tips for saving energy
Many little habits can help you save water. For instance, you can water your plants and garden with the water you use while cooking, whether it is the water you rinsed your vegetables in or the water you cooked them in and that you allowed to cool down.

Buying guide
If your faucet's flow rate is higher than 1.5 gallons per minute, buy a kitchen faucet aerator at your hardware store. An aerator will put air bubbles in your water flow, decreasing the volume of water flowing through, while maintaining the pressure of the stream.