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.