Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner

We are in Lyon for a month and if December is the worst time to be in France weather-wise (this year especially), it is one of the best as far as eating goes. Sophisticated meals are de rigueur to celebrate Christmas with the family. And as the family grows, we get to celebrate multiple times...

We spent Christmas Eve with my parents, sister, uncle, aunt, cousin and grand mother. My Mom and Dad cooked this splendid dinner:

Smoked salmon on warm blini; tzatziki; mâche; cod egg tarama

Guinea hen, cooked whole in white wine and chicken broth with honey, raisins and chestnuts
served with mashed pumpkin

French cheese (these four and six or seven more)
with bread

Orange slices, Grand-Marnier marinated dates and prunes, passion fruit sherbet
served with macaroons from Rolancy

After dinner we realised that Santa had come by...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Braised fennel bulbs

It is funny how some vegetables can be drastically different depending how they are prepared. Raw, fennel bulbs bring a crisp, fresh touch to salads. Their anise flavor is bold and invigorating. They should be used in moderation as their strong aroma can easily overpower a dish. Cooked, they become sweet and melt in the mouth. They are great on their own, or aside braised/grilled/roasted meat or baked white fish (halibut for instance).

Count one small fennel bulb per person. One small yellow onion and 1 tbsp butter for 2 bulbs.
  1. If sold with branches, cut off the branches. Cut each bulb in half. Core. Rinse. Slice crosswise into 1/2 to 1/3 inch (1 cm) strips.
  2. Heat up the butter with a splash of sunflower (or other high heat, mild flavored) oil in a frying pan, until bubbly. Oil will prevent the butter from burning.
  3. Add the sliced onion, reduce to medium-high heat and toss to coat with butter. Sauté for a few minutes until translucent.
  4. Add the sliced fennel bulbs, toss.
  5. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, tossing from time to time. Reduce heat if necessary. Add liquid (water or white wine) if dry. Cook 5 more minutes without a lid.
  6. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.
Here I braised the fennel bulbs with a pork tenderloin and basmati rice. The meat was browned on all sides in butter (in a large cast iron pot), seasoned with salt and pepper then coated with a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. The fennel (prepared up to step 4) was arranged around the meat. I poured 1 cup (20 cL) dry white wine (e.g. Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio) on the fennel, covered and simmered for about 20 minutes on medium-low heat (make sure not to overcook the meat – which I did here, sadly).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lemon and Olive Oil Madeleines

Some cookbooks are poetry. "La Cuisine des Parfums" by the Scotto sisters* is organized around flavors – spices, herbs, oils..., rather than by courses. Appetizers, entrées, desserts, side dishes, etc. are all mixed up in a delightful méli-mélo. Although confusing at first, it leads the reader to focus on the flavors at the heart of each recipe (a table at the end will help you find your way). The recipes are so well written that you can feel the love Elisabeth Scotto and her sisters (Michèle Carles and Marianne Comolli) devote to cooking and eating. You can imagine the pleasure they have at preparing each dish, which titles are an invitation to dreaming. The origins and use of each spice is also a fantastic and useful read. And Christine Fleurent's pictures are beautiful.

I had browsed this book many times, salivating. This is the kind of cookbook you read for leisure. But I hadn't had a chance to try any of the recipes yet. Last week we were invited pour le goûter (Tea Time) and I was looking for a quick and easy recipe (limited by time and an empty fridge...) that would give an alternative to the pound cake or madeleines I often bring on such occasions. The "brioches à la fleur d'oranger" (orange blossom brioches) looked delicious but I didn't have any yeast. So I decided to try the "Petits gâteaux à l'huile d'olive et au citron" (small olive oil and lemon cakes) and since I didn't have any gelatin either, I would have to do without the decoration (a lemon syrup and lemon zest gelatin). To make them look pretty, as "naked" as these cakes would be, I used madeleine molds instead of simple round molds.

Makes 32 madeleines
  • 3 oz (about 10 cL) lemon juice (that's 2 freshly pressed organic lemons or 2 oz / 5 cL of lemon juice concentrate like this one)
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest (optional... grated from organic lemons)
  • 3 oz (about 10 cL) olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 7 oz (200 g) sugar
  • 2 cups (250 g) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  1. Zest, then press the lemons.
  2. Beat the eggs and sugar until foamy, almost white and doubled in volume (with a manual egg whisk – good upper body workout, or an electric mixer).
  3. Keep whisking and combine the lemon juice and olive oil.
  4. Slowly add the flour (sifted) and baking powder (use a wooden spoon and trace wider and wider circles in the bowl).
  5. Add the lemon zest and salt; incorporate slowly.
  6. Scoop about 1 tbsp of dough in each madeleine mold (greased).
  7. Bake at 350 F (180 C) for about 15 minutes. Remove from the molds while still warm. Cool on a plate. These madeleines can be stored several days in a tin box.
*I have the 2008 edition, in French. Unfortunately it doesn't look like it is available in English. Weirdly enough I can't find the French version on the internet either. Only the 1996 edition comes up, and is discontinued. I got this beautiful book as a birthday present from my aunt and uncle.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My French Cuisine on Facebook!

I have created a Facebook page for My French Cuisine (here). Become a fan to know what goes on in my culinary life between two blog posts... I'll write about my favorite restaurants, cookbooks, cooking experiences and discoveries, etc.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Potato Leek Soup

Today felt like a soup day. Gray and cold, with only the blooming Christmas decorations and a majestic full moon rise to warm one's heart.

La soupe poireaux - pommes de terre is a classic among classics. Its variations take beautiful names: potage vichyssois is served cold with crème fraîche and herbs; potage bonne femme is cooked in chicken stock and sprinkled with fresh chervil (cerfeuil)...

I like to add onion to my potato leek soup to enhance/strengthen its flavor. I also like it thick and silky.

Serves 4
  • 3 small leeks
  • 4 small yellow potatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  1. Slice the onion. Remove the dark ends of the leeks, cut in 4 length-wise, rinse and slice.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pot (I use a cast iron cocotte). Sauté the onion and leeks for 5 minutes on medium heat. Do not allow to brown.
  3. Cover with water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the potatoes, peeled and cubed. Simmer 20 more minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and blend until smooth. Add water if necessary to obtain your preferred consistency. Season to taste.
By the way this is perfect for kids. My daughter loves it as-is, or with grated Swiss cheese, or a splash of milk or cream. I freeze it in small containers (1 ladle each) that I can pop out of the freezer at the last minute.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin Gorgonzola Quiche

I'm thinking that this quiche would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving meal. I made it up last Friday, trying to eliminate another quarter of Hanae's pumpkin. I brought it to a potluck lunch and my friends loved it!

For a quiche 11" (28 cm) in diameter
  1. Roll out the quiche crust, place on a tart pan lined with parchment paper. Punch with a fork.
  2. Cut the pumpkin into small cubes (peeled, seeds and strings removed: see here).
  3. In a deep pan, melt the butter and sauté the pumpkin cubes on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for about 15 minutes until tender. Remove the lid and let the water evaporate completely (another 5 minutes). Remove from heat and allow the cooked pumpkin to cool down.
  4. Whip the eggs and cream together. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.
  5. Purée the pumpkin (in a blender, or simply with a fork). Mix in the egg and cream. Spread on the quiche crust. Dice the Gorgonzola cheese into 1/4" x 1/4" cubes and sprinkle evenly on the quiche. Grate Emmentaler on top.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 365F (185 C) for about 40 minutes, until golden. Eat warm (but not hot) as an appetizer with crispy lettuce, or serve as amuse-bouches (in the form of tartlets, see here).
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Thank you so much for reading this blog and for always posting encouraging comments.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pumpkin soup

A few weeks ago my daughter came back from daycare with a huge pumpkin, so heavy she couldn't lift it. We didn't get a chance to carve it in time for Halloween... but we got to eat it right after that :-)

A quarter of it turned into a soup (no, no the rest didn't turn into 3/4 of a carriage), inspired by one of Anne-Catherine Bley's many, delicious soup recipes.

Serves 6
  • 1/4 pumpkin (that's about 1 kg or 2+ lbs)
  • 3 or 4 small yellow or Yukon gold potatoes (optional)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • heavy whipping cream (half pint carton)
  • 3 or 4 strips uncured bacon
  1. Cut a pumpkin into 5 or 6 wedges. Remove the pumpkin's seeds and strings. Cut each wedge into 2-inch sections and cut out the skin. Cut each section into cubes.
  2. Melt the butter or heat up the olive oil in a large pot. Peel and slice the onion and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the pumpkin and potatoes (also peeled and cubed) and cover with water (3 to 4 cups, or 3/4 liter). Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the vegetables get mushy.
  4. Remove from heat. Blend until smooth. Stir in freshly grated nutmeg.
  5. Dice the bacon into "lardons" (small bits of bacon...). Cook in the microwave for a few minutes on a plate covered with paper towels, until crisp.
  6. Serve 1 or 2 ladles of soup per person in small bowls. Serve the heavy whipping cream and crisp bacon bits in two serving dishes for the table. Each guest will pour the amount of cream they want in their soup and then sprinkle the desired amount of bacon on top.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Broccoli rabe and breaded veal scalopini

We recently moved to old downtown Mountain View and it really feels like heaven. Beautiful and quiet tree-lined streets, century-old houses, inviting vegetable gardens and deliciously fragrant flowers in the front yards, countless parks and playgrounds, shops, restaurants... and of course the weekly farmers market, which I was surprised to read is the fourth largest in California. We walk to it almost every Sunday. What a treat!

One farmer at the very end of the market (I forget their name...) sells the best french string beans we've ever had. They are thin, firm, with a bright green color that attest their freshness. We simply steam them and eat them with a little bit of butter melted on top. This farmer also sells what they label as "Italian broccoli" but is actually broccoli rabe. When my father visited last summer he immediately recognized these greens. They are not common in France, but his Italian grand mother would prepare them when he was a child. My father didn't remember how she would cook them so we made a few trials and here is what we came up with. They were the perfect side dish for our breaded veal scalopini (also a heritage from our Italian descents).

Broccoli rabe with tomatoes
Serves 4
  • 1 lb (500 g) broccoli rabe
  • 3 or 4 tomatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion (or given the size they have in California, just one half)
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  1. Wash and steam the broccoli rabe for a few minutes (3 or 4) in a pressure cooker.
  2. Thinly slice the onion. Peel the garlic clove, cut in half and remove the stem.
  3. Heat up 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil in a deep pan.
  4. Sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes on medium heat until translucent.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe, close with a lid and cook for a few minutes.
  6. Cut the tomatoes in 4 or 8 wedges depending on their size, add to the pan and cook several more minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Breaded veal scalopini ("Escalopes de veau panées")
  • 1 or 2 veal scalopini per person
  • 1 egg, beaten in a bowl
  • 1 or 2 handfuls bread crumbs, in a bowl
  • salt and pepper
  • at least 2 tbsp butter
Proceed as follows with each scalopini:
  1. Season with salt and pepper
  2. Dip in beaten egg
  3. Dip in bread crumb and cover evenly
  4. Pan fry in a good amount of butter (add more butter before flipping as the bread crumb will absorb it), 1 or 2 minutes on each side over high heat.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Grapefruit, avocado and shrimp salad

Hi Everyone!

It has been two and a half years since I posted anything on this blog (except for a couple posts maybe). I missed you! Life has been full of events, happy and sad. Mostly happy. We are now a family of four. Luca was born last June. Hanae is now a two and a half years old toddler. They are the most perfect children on Earth. :-)

Needless to say, though, that our cooking habits have changed quite a bit. We haven't given up on the healthy and tasty criteria, but everything has to be prepared quickly or we would never eat. I am hoping to find the time to blog regularly again (weekly?) as we are starting to settle in. The recipes will be simpler than ever. And you should try them on your kids! Hanae eats pretty much everything we do.

So let's start with this refreshing salad for the Indian summer (temperatures are high in the Bay these days). Keep it in the refrigerator until it is time to serve it as it is best chilled.

Serves 4
  • 2 pink grapefruits
  • 1 or 2 avocados
  • 1/2 lbs cooked shrimp salad (that's a big handful)
  • about 2 tablespoons vinaigrette salad dressing (recipe here) – Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, oil (sunflower + olive for instance), salt and pepper
  1. Prepare the grapefruits by peeling them then removing the skin from each wedge and cutting the flesh in two. Make sure to work above a salad bowl to collect the juice. This is the hardest part of the recipe but it can go really fast once you have some practice.
  2. Cut the avocados into small cubes. I find that the quickest way to do this is to cut each avocado in half, trace squares with a knife in the flesh, all the way down to the shell. Then flip the half avocado and press on the skin/shell to detach the cubes into the salad bowl.
  3. Rince the shrimp, dry in a paper towel. Add to the salad bowl.
  4. Prepare the vinaigrette by combining 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp vinegar, 3 tbsp oil, 1 pinch salt and some freshly ground black pepper. The quickest way is to pour all ingredients into a jar, close the lid and shake.
  5. Add the dressing and toss.