Friday, November 25, 2005

Eggs "à la coque"

I've always been fascinated by the myriad of beautiful ways eggs are cooked in the US and Anglo-Saxon countries in general. The names are so appealing: sunny side up, over easy, eggs Benedict... Omelets come with a long and imaginative list of ingredients that varies from one region to the other. Eating eggs in the morning makes breakfast a real feast! I love it.

There's nothing comparable in France... Eggs are eaten much less often, traditionally for lunch or dinner, where they replace meat, as a lighter and cheaper option. We use eggs extensively in pastry, custards, sauces and the like but rarely as the center piece of a meal. And our "omelettes" usually contain... well, eggs, salt and pepper... with sometimes (but not necessarily!) a single other ingredient like mushrooms, fresh herbs or tomatoes. At least that's the way it is in my family.

However, there is one recipe that you guys might not know yet... The funny and delicious "œufs à la coque". The eggs are soft boiled, for only 3 minutes. This is just enough time to harden the white and get the yolk warm but liquid. The eggs are placed immediately in a cute little dish, "le coquetier", just big enough to hold the eggs upright.

Children love eggs à la coque and I was no exception. My Dad was always assigned to cut off the top of the eggs, knocking on the shell with a dull knife. He would then remove "le chapeau" and I would start with this piece, scooping off the egg white with a little spoon. I would then dip "les mouillettes" in the yolk (these are buttered toasts cut into long "fingers"), and scoop the egg white at the bottom. My favorite joke was to flip the empty eggshell up side down and ask: "Papa, can you cut off the top of my egg for me?" Of course he would play along, even after a thousand times, and look genuinely surprised to find out the shell was empty!

As an adult the first part (eating the egg!) is still truly enjoyable. You should try, even for breakfast!

To sum up, you need:

  • 1 egg per person
  • 1 slice white or whole wheat bread, toasted
  • butter
  1. Gently sink the eggs in boiling water.
  2. Boil for 3 minutes (4 if they are very cold).
  3. Place in egg cups or on a bed of lettuce leaves (the idea is to hold the eggs upright).
  4. In the meantime, toast the bread, spread butter and cut into "fingers", the size of french fries.
  5. Cut off the top of the egg, "le chapeau" ("the hat").
  6. Eat the egg white with a tea spoon.
  7. Dip the toasted bread fingers in the yolk.

If the eggs are part of a lunch or dinner, they can be served with a green leaves salad.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A day in the kitchen

Is there anything more rewarding than sharing the result of ones culinary efforts with friends or family? I had this wonderful and pleasurable experience last week-end: I invited my dear friends (we were seven adults and three babies) and made ambitious plans for the menu. Pierre and I spent the whole Saturday in the kitchen, and we harvested the fruits on our hard work on Sunday enjoying the good food and wine and the excellent company. Here is what we prepared:

Pastis, fruit juices and tiny snacks
Red bell pepper coulis, cumin feta cheese and roasted pistachios by the glass
Mixed greens salad with hazelnut vinaigrette
Veal paupiettes cooked in white wine
Fresh pasta with a Chanterelle-mushroom tomato sauce
Cheese plate
Home made rosemary bread rolls
Pear and green apple sorbet
Almond chocolate croquants

  • Apéritif is big in France. It usually takes place in the living room (or in the backyard on a hot day), where everyone (including the host!) has a chance to sit down and relax over an informal chat. People are sometimes invited for the apéritif only and the snacks and beverages that are served can get very fancy and numerous. But last Sunday our apéritif was very simple and light: I didn't want my guests to be full before starting lunch! We had Pastis, a refreshing anis alcohol, served with water -Pastis makes you believe you're sitting at a café on a tree-lined village square in South of France. We also had fruit juices and a few olives, mixed nuts and tapenade spread on tiny toasts.

  • The appetizer was served in glasses, as it seems to be the trend in France right now (this is just a guess based on my readings of Marmiton's forum). I tried a recipe found on my favorite website. I prepared the three main ingredients on Saturday as they could be stored (separately) in the fridge overnight. First I needed to broil the red bell peppers (4 pounds of them, about 5 minutes on each side, grill set on high) until the skin became black and detached itself from the veggie's flesh. I let the peppers in the oven 10-15 more minutes (oven and grill turned off) to let them cook a little then peeled and seeded them. I blended the peppers' flesh and added about one tablespoon of olive oil (then placed this coulis in a plastic box, in the fridge). I cut about 1/2 pound feta cheese in small cubes, added 2 tablespoons of crushed cumin seeds, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mixed everything with a fork (another plastic box in the fridge). Lastly I chopped a handfulsulls of dry-roasted, unsalted, shelled pistachios. Just before serving on Sunday, I poured about 3 tablespoons of bell pepper coulis in each glass (I chose sturdy whisky glasses), added 1 1/2 tablespoon of feta cheese on top and sprinkled with pistachios. The glasses were served along with a mixed baby greens salad with a delicious hazelnut oil vinaigrette dressing prepared by Pierre.

  • Paupiettes are little pouches of meat, usually a veal round stuffed with ground meat. I based my veal paupiettes on several recipes and comments I'd found in my cook books and on the internet. I bought 8 slices of veal round for scaloppini. The stuffing was made with 1 pound of ground veal, 3 or 4 fresh Chanterelle mushrooms (chopped), 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs (finely chopped chives and ), 1 whole slightly beaten egg and about 1/2 slice of sandwich bread (without the crust, cut in small cubes). Plus salt and pepper. Once everything was mixed together I placed the veal round on a cutting board, placed a slice of on each slice of veal and placed 1/8th of the stuffing (about 1 tablespoon) in the center. Then I rolled them and tied them up like a gift box. I sautéed the paupiettes a minute or two in a lot of butter, until the meat got a nice golden color, then poured about 1 cup of white wine in the pot (Pino Griggio is great for cooking) and let simmer for one hour on medium heat, with a lid.

  • The paupiettes were served with home-made pasta. Pierre made the dough and I helped him roll it out and cut it into fetuccine with his pasta maker. The sauce came from one of Jamie Oliver's books. First I cooked the tomatoes: I peeled 6 big ripe tomatoes after having boiled them for about 20 seconds and made sure to let them intact (according to the naked chef, the seeds are what make the sauce bitter, so it's better to cook the tomatoes whole). I heated a pan containing a few tablespoons of olive oil and added a chopped garlic clove, a dry chili pepper and a tablespoon of dry oregano. After a few minutes I added the whole tomatoes, covered the pan and let simmer for about 1 hour. While turning off the heat I added 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and stirred. Then I sprinkled fresh basil and marjoram (1 tablespoon, coarsely chopped) and let the sauce cool down. I put it in a box in the fridge... The next morning just after my guests arrived, I prepared the mushrooms. I had about 1/2 pound fresh Chanterelle mushrooms and 1 bag of dried Cepes. I poured 300 ml of boiling water on the dry mushroom (in a bowl, obviously) and let them there for 15 minutes. In the meantime I cut the Chanterelles into large slices. I heated a pan with olive oil and added 1 garlic clove and a few branches of thyme. After 1 or 2 minutes I added all the mushrooms (drained, but I kept the cepes water) and let them cook for 5 minutes. Then I poured about 2/3 of the cepes water, trying to leave the impurities at the bottom of the bowl. After 5-10 minutes I poured the tomato sauce on the mushrooms, mainly to reheat it. Just before serving I added 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese. Hmmm... Yummy!

  • The cheese plate is almost inevitable Frenchrench table. It always comes after the main course and before the dessert. On our cheese plate was Brie, Saint-Félicien, Mimolette and Tomme de Savoie. We tried to balance the plate, serving creamy cheese as well as dry ones, all with very different flavors. We served home-made ("Pierre-made") rosemary bread rolls. I'll ask Pierre to reveal his breadmaker secrets in a future post!

  • Last but not least... Le dessert. Pierre prepared a delicious sorbet on Saturday. He poached 4 Bosc pears and 4 green apples in boiling water (peeled, cored and cut in pieces) with a lemon rind and a stick of cinnamon for about 8 minutes. He then blended the fruits (drained, he kept the water) with the juice of the lemon until smooth. He prepared a syrup with 4 tablespoon brown sugar and 2 1/2 fl. oz. of the fruits' water (brought to a boil for 1 minute) then added the fruit purée to it and mixed well. He froze the sorbet on a cookie sheet and blended it 3 times every 2 hours before placing it in its final container.

  • In the meantime I prepared Provence croquants, which are small hard almond cookies. My recipe said to mix together 400 grams of all-purpose flour, 250 grams of whole roasted almonds (with the skin), 125 grams of powdered sugar and a pinch of salt, then to incorporate 4 whole eggs to the dough. I rolled the dough into logs about 1 inch in diameter and baked them 10 minutes at 350F. When I sliced them I realized they weren't cooked enough... So I turned the croquants into biscotti! I baked the slices at 350F for 10-15 more minutes. Then I tasted one... And I realized they weren't sweet enough to my taste! So I melted dark chocolate and dipped each biscotti in it. A long and epic adventure.
With all these dishes prepared in advance for the most part we had plenty of time on Sunday for our friends. And of course we cooked so many things that the fridge and freezer have been full ever since: we won't have to cook anything for a while!