Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Clementine Christmas Cookies

Happy holidays everyone!

For about 40 cookies (depending on their thickness and the size of your cookie cutters)
  • 250 g (2 cups) flour
  • 200 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 125 g (1/2 cup or just over 1 stick) butter
  • 1 clementine
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 or 2 egg yolks
  1. Cut the butter in small pieces and allow it to warm up to room temperature (you can use a microwave for a few seconds).
  2. Combine the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Rub the ingredients between your hands to obtain a uniform "sand."
  3. Squeeze the clementine. Add half of the juice to the flour mix and briefly kneed with your hands. Add more juice as needed to obtain a shiny, elastic dough that doesn't stick to your hands. Shape dough into a ball. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Roll the dough down to 3 or 4 millimeters. Cut out shapes. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet (or use parchment paper). Lightly brush each cookie with egg yolk.
  5. Bake in a 360ºF (180ºC) oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Keep an eye on the cookies as they will rapidly change color. Uneven oven temperature and uneven cookie thickness will make them cook more or less rapidly.
  6. Let the cookies cool down and enjoy, or store in a metal box for later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chestnut stuffing

When I see fresh chestnuts at the farmer's market or in the produce aisle, I can't resist: I buy a bag. They remind me of the "chestnut fair" ("la vogue des marrons"), a traveling carnival that takes place every fall atop the Croix Rousse hill in Lyon. Amidst the noisy, flashy rides and cotton candy vendors are fire-roasted chestnut vendors. They roast fresh chestnuts from Ardèche, the nearby producing region, in big barrels over a crackling and smoking wood fire. They serve the hot, blackened chestnuts in cones made of newspaper. You warm up your hands by holding the cone for a few minutes, then shell the chestnuts one by one, trying not to burn your fingers, and eat them while still steamy. What a treat.

Chestnuts also remind me of Christmas meals. Chestnut-stuffed roast turkey, served with sautéed apples and more chestnuts, is one of the traditional Christmas dishes in my family. Here is a recipe for the stuffing, adapted from my 1991 Larousse de la Cuisine.

The recipe is for a 9-lb (4-kg) turkey. Since this attempt was just for fun (and for the 4 of us), I didn't buy a whole turkey but two drumsticks, and baked the stuffing (or dressing, rather) around them. The turkey pieces were simply seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with sunflower oil. I baked them for about one hour at 350ºF (180ºC), adding the dressing about 20 minutes before the end.
  • one bag fresh chestnuts (1.6 lbs or 740 g)
  • 4 strips bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 thin, boneless pork chop (about 1/3 lb or 150 g), diced
  • 1 apple (Pink Lady for example), thinly sliced
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg, 2 whole cloves, 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  1. Cut a cross into each chestnut with a sharp, pointy knife.
  2. Roast the chestnuts on a cookie sheet, cross facing up, in a 450ºF (230ºC) oven for about 30 minutes. Let them cool down a little then peel them (use your hands to break the shells and remove them). Crumble the chestnuts between your hands or chop them coarsely with a chef's knife.
  3. Fry the diced bacon and chopped onion in a pan for a few minutes.
  4. Add the diced pork and cook for a few more minutes.
  5. Add the apple slices. Season with salt and spices. Toss well. Cook for a few minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat and toss in the crumbled chestnuts.
  7. Use as turkey or chicken stuffing, or bake separately as dressing for 20 minutes.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Potato gratin with bacon

A beautiful potato dish came out of the oven yesterday night, all steamy an bubbly. We took a few bites, then a few more, and we would have eaten the whole dish if it wasn't for this blog. I wanted to take a picture but there wasn't enough light... Now this cold leftover doesn't look half as nice as the dish did yesterday, but hopefully it gives you an idea... The potatoes literally melted in our mouths. Yum!

Serves 2
(prep time: 10 minutes, cooking time: 1 hour)

  • 4 big Yukon gold potatoes
  • 4 strips bacon
  • 1/2 big yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 tsp butter
  • about 1 cup whole milk
  • about 4 oz. (100 g) gruyère cheese
  • salt, pepper, nutmeg
  1. Peel the potatoes, rinse them and slice them. Dice the bacon. Chop the onion. Place all in a large bowl.
  2. Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. Toss well.
  3. Rub a glass or ceramic oven-safe dish with garlic (here's my dish). (Discard what remains of the garlic clove.)
  4. Butter the dish, then throw in the potatoes and gently shake the dish from left to right to arrange the potatoes in an even layer.
  5. Pour the milk.
  6. Bake for about 45 minutes at 360ºF (180ºC).
  7. Take out of the oven momentarily and grate gruyère cheese on top. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes or so, checking from time to time until the cheese forms a nice, golden crust.
  8. Eat with a side of escarole salad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Soup du Jour

I love soup. It's my favorite comfort food in all seasons. And I love making soup as much as I like to eat it. What I find fascinating is that no two soups are ever alike. Mixing vegetables is very much like mixing colors, except that, contrary to paint, the soups' flavor combinations are as interesting and varied as their hues.

I'm starting a little series, called "soup du jour", where I'll tell you what vegetables went in my soup that day. I hope this will give you some ideas. The process is almost always the same: I sauté some onions (and sometimes leeks) in butter; add whatever other vegetables I happen to have handy; cover with water; add salt, pepper, bay leaves and thyme; and simmer for about 30 minutes (or cook in a pressure cooker, like this one, for about 10 minutes). I usually mix blend my soups (that's how my kids like them best), but some soups are excellent when left chunky. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf and thyme before mixing blending.

Today's soup:
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 large yellow onion
  • 1 bunch celery (stalks and leaves)
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Intangible Cultural Heritage

Interesting news from the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today. 46 elements were inscribed today on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Among them:
France - The gastronomic meal of the French - The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What to substitute for bouillon cube

Being away from my source of bouillon cube has been a curse for many years. I had to wait for my next trip to France to buy some, or I had to add the little package to my wish list when my parents visited. This was one of the last items I decided I could only get there. (As a new immigrant I used to load my luggage with all sorts of things, but little by little I found my way around my local store's aisles and discovered substitutes for all these goodies.)

A box would last me nearly a year, so I always had supplies for the few recipes in which bouillon cubes seemed irreplaceable, like this beef and carrot stew.
I would use them very sparingly. But one day... months away from any trip to/from my bouillon cube paradise, I used the last cube in the box. Oh, horror! What was I going to do!!! The safety net was gone.

Rather than despair, I read the list of ingredients on the side of the box, in hopes that I would be able to come up with an equivalent mix of spices. Here's what I read:

Maggi's Kub Or ingredients:

  • salt, flavor enhancers, hydrogenated palm oil, natural flavors (wheat, soy), sugar, onion, glucose syrup, citric acid, garlic, coriander seeds; pepper, cloves, celery, and bay leaf extracts, preservatives.
I started realizing that there really wasn't any need to wait for a trip half way around the world to flavor my stews and soups! Half of the ingredients didn't need to be part of any recipe (flavor enhancers? Palm oil? Preservatives?). The other half (the actual spices) was widely available in California. So here is what I tried in my next beef and carrot stew, plus a few other meat or vegetable-only dishes.

Replacement for 1 bouillon cube:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1/2 fresh yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, peeled, halved, stem removed
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 tsp whole coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tsp whole celery seeds, crushed
  • 2 whole cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
It turned out beautifully every time. I didn't need to rely on scarce supplies anymore, and my dishes had become 100% natural.

And this is how the curse became a blessing :-)

PS: I sill love Kub Ors and recommend them if you can find them!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Strawberry Apricot Jam

If I had truly-French breakfasts, the way my grandparents used to have them, I would start my days with a big bowl of café au lait and dip tartines de confiture in it. The coffee would be freshly ground and brewed and would diffuse its delicious smell all around the house. I would add a dash of milk (and maybe drop one or two sugar cubes) in it and stir mechanically while listening to Radio France news. The tartines would be warm strips of fresh baguette, or better yet ficelle (a thinner, crispier version of the famous French bread), layered with butter and home-made jam. I would love the flavors and textures of bread soaked in coffee and coffee infused with butter and jam.

But I don't live in France, so forget the fresh ficelle bought every morning at the boulangerie just down the street. Caffeine makes my heart race, I don't like milk all that much, and I can't stand the sight of wet bread crumbs and melted butter floating in my beverage. For some reason I don't like the flavor combination of butter and jam either. (How odd! They're made for each other!) So my not-so-French breakfast consists of light black tea instead, and slices of whole wheat walnut bread, toasted and spread with either butter or jam, which I carefully keep away from my tea.

I mostly eat store-bought Bonne Maman jam, but there's nothing like home-made jam. And unless you own fruit trees that produce pounds and pounds of fruits every summer, you don't have to embark on a day-long adventure of making pounds and pounds of jam. A few jars are enough. And it doesn't take that long.

Here is a strawberry-apricot jam recipe inspired by the excellent jam recipes of my Larousse de la cuisine.

For 3 or 4 Jars

(I'm using 13-oz, i.e. 370-g, jars.)
  • 2 lb (or 1 kg) organic fruits (about 1/3 apricot, 2/3 strawberries)
  • 2 lb (or 1 kg) sugar (you can use gelling sugar or add fruit pectin but this is optional if you don't mind a slightly runny jam)
  • 1 organic lemon

Day 1

Prepare the fruits as follows:
  1. Rinse the apricots and strawberries, and cut them in 4 or 8 pieces, discarding the pits and stems.
  2. Place the fruit pieces in a glass container. Pour the sugar over them. Close the lid and shake well to coat.
  3. Leave in a cool place overnight.

Day 2

Clean 4 glass jars and their lids in warm, soapy water, then sterilize them for 5 minutes in a large, covered pot of boiling water. Let them dry on a clean kitchen towel.

Cook the jam in several iterations (simmering the fruits, then their juice alone, three times in a row), as follows:
  1. Pour the sugared fruits and all the juice from the glass container in a heavy-bottom pot.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar.
  4. Use a metal skimmer spoon to temporarily remove the fruits from the pot. Reserve the fruits, and simmer the juice for 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the fruits back into the pot; simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Skim the fruits out (reserve); simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Do steps 5 and 6 one more time (so total, the fruits have simmered for 15 minutes and the juice for 30 minutes). Stir in the fruits one last time and turn off the heat.
  8. Ladle the hot jam in the jars (you can use a jam funnel to work cleanly. Otherwise, simply wipe the jars with a damp paper towel if jam spills on the outside of the jar). Close the lids tightly. As the jam cools down and the air above it contracts, you will hear the lids pop. (There needs to be enough air, but not too much, between the jam and the lid. If you pour jam all the way to the base of the jar's screw, you should be fine.)
  9. Label the jars with the name of the fruits and the preparation date. Store in your pantry or kitchen closet for up to a year. Once a jar is open (or if the lid didn't pop), keep refrigerated.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beef with carrots

My great-grandmother–my mom's mom's mom–called it "bœuf mode". It is a traditional French braised beef dish, one that belongs to the so-called "cuisine bourgeoise" ("simple and of good taste", as Larousse puts it). The recipe is so classic it's in the dictionary: "larded beef cooked with onions and carrots".

My mother learned the recipe from her grandmother when she was a teenager. Over the years, she made a few adjustments. For example she started using a different cut of meat after talking to her friend's dad, who was a butcher (the original cut was more fibrous). She cooks the meat in one piece and slices it once cooked, while her grandmother cooked it in cubes. The sauce is not as thick nor as spicy as my mom remembers it from her childhood. Even the name has changed: my mom calls it "bœuf aux carottes" (beef with carrots) rather than "bœuf mode". But one thing remains: it is the family's favorite comfort food. Every morsel of meat, every slice of carrot melts in the mouth. It is absolutely delicious.

Here is how my mom (and I) prepare it:

Serves 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour (pressure cooker) or 2 hours (regular pot)
  • 2-3 lb boneless beef chuck roast1 ("paleron")
  • about 12 carrots (2-3 per person), sliced2
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs thyme, and 3 sprigs parsley, tied together ("bouquet garni")
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube3
  • 1-2 cups dry white wine (e.g. Pino Grigio or Chardonnay)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil (or other mild-flavored oil recommended for high heat)
  1. Heat the oil and butter in a pressure cooker ("cocotte minute"). Add the chopped onion and stir for about 2 minutes until translucent.
  2. Add the beef roast and brown on all sides.
  3. Add the carrots, garlic, herbs, white wine, and bouillon cube. Close the pressure cooker and set it to its higher pressure level (mine has two levels, one for vegetables and one for meats).
  4. When the pressure cooker whistles, turn down the heat to medium-low. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (If you are using a regular pot, simmer for 2 hours, lid on.)
You might have some left-over meat. Eat it cold with Dijon mustard.

1 local, organic, 100% grass-fed beef if you can
2 there is this funny controversy in my family about how the carrots should be cut. Some (on my mom's side of the family) swear they should be sliced while others (on my dad's side of the family) prefer them julienned (cut into thin strips). Whoever cooks chooses their favorite carrot shape.
3 my favorite bouillon cube is KUB OR by Maggi but unfortunately it isn't sold in the U.S.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fava bean and egg salad

As a scientist I can't help myself but weigh fava beans before and after shelling them every time they cross my path. I had blogged about the experiment here already. And yesterday as usual I took my scale out. This time we had 3 pounds of pods, 1 pound 4 ounces of beans with skin and just under 14 ounces of beans once skinned (28% of the pods' weight). We had enough for 3 generous servings.

The following recipe is inspired by this one, from Marmiton.org.
  • 3 lbs fresh fava beans (in pods)
  • 2 sprigs thyme or savory
  • 3 brown eggs
  • 3 calçot onions (or green onions)
  • 2 to 3 oz (60 to 85 g) goat cheese*
  • 1 tbsp Banyuls vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Boil the eggs for 10 minutes then plunge them in cold water.
  2. Remove the dark leaves and the outer skin of the onions and slice them thinly. Place them at the bottom of a salad bowl and cover with 1 tablespoon vinegar.
  3. Shell the fava beans. Boil them with thyme (or savory) in salted water for 5 minutes, then plunge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Pop the beans out of their pale green skin. Place them in the salad bowl.
  4. Peel and slice the eggs. Add them to the salad along with the cheese, shaved or diced depending on how hard it is.
  5. Season with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss.
  6. Serve or refrigerate.
* I used a fresh California goat cheese rolled in herbs that I had handy. I think a hard goat or sheep cheese would work even better.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Here is one of the wonderful surprises of this week's CSA box. As Andrew Griffin explains in the newsletter, agretti is the Italian cousin of the American West's tumbleweed. It starts out with slender succulent leaves with "a unique marine flavor and toothsome quality". As it matures, agretti becomes, like it's American cousin, a sprawling, dry and prickly shrub, which no-one would eat!

Here is what we did, with the help of the newsletter's recipes and advice:

Serves 2
  • 1 bunch agretti, clean (we pulled the leaves from the hard branches and rinsed in cold water twice)
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Tear the prosciutto into small pieces and pan fry until crisp. Remove from the pan and reserve.
  2. Heat up the olive oil and sauté the agretti until wilted (3 or 4 minutes are enough).
  3. Toss the agretti and prosciutto together and serve warm.
It was a little too salty for my taste (the original recipe called for pancetta) but the crunchiness of the agretti was great and the flavors really pleasant.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Red Cabbage Coleslaw

The recent books and TV shows about unhealthy foods are preaching to the choir, at least in my home, but it never hurts to think about one's eating habits and try and improve them one way or the other. I am getting a little more obsessed with the quality and origin of my food every time I read or hear about the subject. It has been many years now since we started buying most of our groceries at Whole Foods Market and on the farmer's market. But until recently I was relying on these "institutions" to make good choices for me; I read the labels without paying too much attention, trusting that all I could buy there would be equally "good". If you look closer, though, not all producers on the farmer's market are certified organic, and not all fruits and vegetables sold at Whole Foods are local (nor organic). To really make educated choices, it takes more than just going to the "right" place, one has to pay close attention to every bit of information (or lack thereof) on everything one buys... Phew.... So in the hurry of grocery shopping with 2 agitated babies, we ended up buying the same things over and over again (read the labels once, buy multiple times!) and it wasn't satisfying our need for variety and creativity.

Thankfully we live in one of the best regions in the world to accomplish what we were aiming for: buy local, organic, fresh, in-season produce without having to think too much about it. We have recently joined Two Small Farms' CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and so far it has been a great experience. We get a whole box of fruits, veggies and herbs every week, along with a 2-page newsletter explaining what's what and how to cook or prepare all these gems. The freshness surpasses anything we could find even on the farmer's market, as everything goes directly from the fields to our box to our fridge the day it is picked. The cost is significantly lower too... But what I like the best is that we don't know what's in the box until we open it (we could find out online... but it would spoil the surprise) and some of the veggies, we are seeing for the first time in our lives. I know it doesn't appeal to everybody, but to me this is heaven. It really feels like discovering a treasure every week and with ingredients that tasty, it's hard not to make something delicious. From green garlic to rutabagas to rapini greens or erbette chards, we never stop learning. Some items are even called "mystery" when the newsletter is printed before knowing what can be harvested that day. Love it!

We have been adjusting quite smoothly to the large quantity of produce getting into our fridge every week. I am guessing that the box is sized for a family of 4 adults. But so far we have managed to eat everything (and eat out for lunch). Hopefully we'll get to walk to the farmer's market once in a while because I absolutely love walking there from home and meeting the farmers and my neighbors. There is a social aspect to it that we lost with the CSA box.

Our first box contained 2 red cabbages. We had eaten red cabbage before (especially in Munich) but never cooked with it. So I turned to my Joy of Cooking, 75th anniversary edition cookbook and adapted the Becker Coleslaw based on what was in my box. It was crunchy, juicy, refreshing...

Serves 8 (nearly two 1.75-qt (7-cup) Pyrex containers)
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 3 carrots (mine were Chantenay carrots)
  • 1 heart celery
  • 10 sprigs curly parsley
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp french mustard
  • 5-10 dashes hot pepper sauce
  • salt and pepper
  1. Dice all the veggies (washed or peeled). Grate the lemon. Discard the stems from the parsley sprigs and mince the leaves. Place all in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the mustard, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Whisk well. Pour on the veggies. Add the hot pepper sauce.
  3. Toss, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Serve chill.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DIY Play Kitchen for Hanae and Luca

Is it in the genes or are they just mimicking our own behaviors? Hanae and Luca are really into cooking. We baked a quatre quart cake and a quiche lorraine with Hanae the other day. She did so many things on her own that I was impressed. Luca always wants to watch what we are doing and loves banging on pots and pans (well maybe that makes him a musician more than a cook...).

They do a lot of pretend cooking as well and we would love to encourage that. We shopped for play kitchens for a while but were either disappointed by the quality and look of the toys (the plastic ones) or horrified by their price (the wooden ones).

Right around the same time our friends launched a brilliant parenting website called Parents Guild. It is a community site that works much like Wikipedia, with its content being added by users. Questions are asked and answered by parents (and grand-parents, etc.) in a very friendly and honest way. One of the questions that came up was how to find a play kitchen that would be "gender neutral" (most play kitchens are pink or girly one way or another). Several links were posted showing DIY projects and that's how we got inspired to build our own kitchen...

It was a lot of fun to plan the design and the execution was a lot easier than we had anticipated. This is the kind of project that will keep evolving with new accessories but it is already functional and our chefs have been busy...

The table, wood board (sold as-is), pot hanger and stainless steel cookware are from Ikea. The "sink" is a cake mold from Smart and Final. The faucet and various screws and hooks are from Lowe's. The curtains' fabric is from Eddie's Quilting Bee (Sunnyvale). We reused the plastic stove and utensils that the children had received as birthday and Christmas gifts.

The project cost us around $90 total but it could have been cheaper (we bought everything new...). If anyone is interested I can give step-by-step instructions... Let me know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Herbes de Provence

When we first moved to the US (10 years ago already...) we came unprepared, that is without a very essential ingredient: Herbes de Provence. Getafix (a.k.a. Panoramix, the famous druid in Asterix's village of invincible Gauls) knew better and always had mistletoe (gui) in his pockets to prepare his magic potion. Herbes de Provence must be as widely used in France as ketchup is here. They are such a great addition to any grilled meat, fish and vegetables. They flavor baked dishes as well as stews. It's just hard living without them. So we looked for Herbes de Provence in gourmet stores but at the time all we could find was a mix of herbs that didn't smell or taste anything like what we were looking for. The mixes were either very bland or had the wrong kinds of herbs – we even found a mix that had lavender flowers in it and was just unusable. So the next time we went to France we brought back a jar of the true stuff. Ten years later things might have changed but we still bring our herbs back from France and I thought I'd share what's in the mix.

Well as it turns out not all Herbes de Provence mixes are equal there either (of course!). I recently bought a fancy glass jar (Ducros Label Rouge) with herbs that are certified grown in Provence, France. The ingredient list goes as follows:
  • Rosemary (romarin) – 26%
  • Savory (sariette) – 26%
  • Oregano (origan) – 26%
  • Thyme (thym) – 19%
  • Basil (basilic) – 3%
I also have a not-so-fancy plastic jar in my pantry (also by Ducros, which is a McCormick company since 2000) which ingredients are:
  • Savory, rosemary (25%)
  • Wild thyme (serpolet), marjoram (marjolaine), oregano, basil, thyme (7%)
Although this second mix looks more complex, with more herbs, the percentages don't total to 100... which means either there is something else in the mix (hay? :-)) or hopefully they just made a mistake. Oh and we don't know where the herbs were grown and with what kind of quality standards...

Lastly, my Larousse de la cuisine cookbook indicates that Herbes de Provence are made of:
  • thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (laurier) and savory.
I guess the best would be to make one's own mix with one of the above list of ingredients. Keep in a dry and dark environment.

[Update (04/08/2010)] Here is the official site for the "Label Rouge" certified Herbes de Provence (all in French... sorry). Also see my comment to this post.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happy birthday to me

There is always a good reason to bake a chocolate cake. I followed my favorite recipe (that you can find here) but used ramekins (6 of them) instead of a cake mold. I didn't butter the ramekins or line them with parchment paper; I just poured the dough right in. I reduced the baking time to 10 minutes. We ate the mini-cakes in the ramekins, which saved us the risky unmodling I described in my earlier post.
I used 6 of the 9.7 ounces of a Scharffenberger's 62% cocoa semisweet chocolate baking bar.

Other birthday celebrations included a delicious Southern lunch in the city with a dear friend plus cheese cake on Union Square, a just as delicious and fun Vietnamese dinner with more dear friends (at Xanh in Mountain View), an amazing day-after tapas lunch with Pierre (at Joya in Palo Alto), and Hanae singing "Happy Birthday to Maman" and telling me I turned 2.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Salmon en papillote

The funny things that happen in our brains. We met a long-time friend the other night and talked nostalgically about our lives in Munich. He had lived there before us (we spent six months in Munich in 2001) and was recently there again on vacation. We talked about how the littlest details could bring back so many memories, just like madeleines did to Proust. As he had stepped in the U-Bahn, the distinct metallic smell of the subway had hit our friend and brought him back many years in the past. We all shared stories about the fun things we had done there, the beautiful places we had visited, the great meals and beers we had savored.

A week later I went grocery shopping and picked without thinking too much about it, two bunches of fresh spinach. Then my eyes stopped on a root of ginger and I thought that it would make a good combination. I carried on, scratched my head in front of the fish and decided to go for some salmon. It's only when I put them together that I realized I was reproducing a dish I had eaten in Munich. Not that there is anything Bavarian about it. But we had been invited by French expatriates just after moving to Munich and they had served us baked salmon topped with cream, spinach and ginger. I had liked the dish as much as the warm welcome. It took nine years and a conversation to release this memory from my unconscious. The funny things that happen in our brains...

Baking fish en papillote is not to be mistaken with eating papillotes, the wrapped chocolates I talked about a while ago (here). It consists in wrapping the fish and accompanying topping (la garniture) in paper or foil to trap the steam and cook them in their own juices. The result is incredibly moist and flavorful.

Serves 3:
  • 1 salmon fillet (I bought Atlantic this time) – about 1/2 lb per person
  • 2 bunches fresh, organic spinach
  • 1 small fresh ginger root
  • 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp white wine (e.g. Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg
  • olive oil
  1. Pull out the stem of each spinach leaf (a technique beautifully explained by Julia Child here at time 1:30). Wash them well. Blanch them for 1 or 2 minutes in salted, boiling water. Drain and press to remove excess water.
  2. Rinse the salmon and pat dry between two paper towels. Cut the fillet crosswise into three portions of equal weight.
  3. Cut 3 squares of aluminum foil as wide as the roll (e.g. 12" x 12"). Pour a dash of olive oil in the center of each square. Place a portion of fish on the oil (skin down) and fold up the edges of the foil (forming a bowl around the fish). Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place a third of the blanched spinach on top of each fish portion.
  5. Peel the ginger root and grate 1 tsp over each papillote.
  6. Pour 1 tbsp of cream and 1 tbsp of white wine. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  7. Close the papillote tightly by bringing the edges of the foil together at the top and pressing firmly.
  8. Bake at 365 F (185 C) for about 20 minutes.
Serve in the aluminum foil so your guests will have the pleasure of opening the papillotes and unveiling the "surprise". You can then let them slide the fish (with topping and juices) in their plate and discard the foil. Then add a few spoonfuls of rice (simply boiled in salted water and butter) on each plate.

(the picture was taken before baking)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vote for me!

If you click on the above icon you can vote for my Broccoli Rabe and Breaded Veal Scalopini recipe to help it get published in Foodista's Best of Food Blogs cookbook.

Bloggers can enter as many of their 2009-2010 recipes as they want, so feel free to suggest other recipes (posted on this blog) that you think would be good candidates. Contest ends February 28 and winners will be announced in August.

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Baked egg custard

Buying the right amount of milk has become a bit of an issue lately as our daughter is growing out of toddlerhood. Her consumption is very irregular: she seems to have mostly given up on her morning and evening's cup of warm milk. But at times she wants to be just like her baby brother – and babies drink a lot of milk. So we continue buying 1/2 gallon whole organic milk every week and it isn't always used up. This is the perfect excuse to turn the soon-to-expire but still delicious ingredient into desserts the whole family can enjoy (I don't drink milk but I'll eat it!).

Flan aux œufs can be made with 2% milk but whole milk will make them a lot creamier

For 6 flans:
  • 1/2 liter (just over 2 cups) milk (whole, organic preferred)
  • 100 g sugar (I just measured it to be 7 tbsp, i.e. nearly 1/2 cup)
  • 3 large eggs

  1. Slowly bring the milk to a boil in a heavy bottom pot. Turn off the heat as soon as bubbles form on the surface.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until foamy.
  3. Slowly pour the hot milk on the egg and sugar mix, whisking continuously to prevent the eggs from coagulating.
  4. Pour one ladle of custard in each ramekin dish* (or other small oven-safe dish. I recycled Saint-Benoît and other yogurt ceramic containers).
  5. Place all the ramekin dishes in a big, flat, shallow, oven-safe dish and fill up with about 1/2 inch of water (this water bath is called a "bain marie").
  6. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes at 365 F (185 C). Be careful not to overcook. The flans should not be entirely set when you take them out of the oven. They will get firmer as they cool down.
Let the flans come to room temperature. Cover each dish with a piece of aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator (up to 3 days).

*You can turn these flans into "flans au caramel" by simply pouring one tablespoon of light brown caramel at the bottom of each ramekin dish before pouring the custard. It will be easier to spread the caramel if the dishes are warm (to prevent the caramel from hardening at the contact of a cold dish...).

To prepare the caramel:
  • Use a small stainless steel pot (which can stand direct heat at a high temperature).
  • Melt 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar (or sugar cubes) with 1 or 2 tbsp water over medium-high heat.
  • Watch closely as the sugar will change color rapidly once the appropriate temperature is reached.
  • Do not steer; simply tilt the pot once in a while to level the sugar and distribute the heat.
  • Remove from heat as soon as the caramel takes a light, honey color. Do not wait until it becomes brown.
  • Pour in the ramekin dishes immediately, using a metal spoon (caramel is very hot, over 300 F – 150 C). Tilt the dishes to fully coat the bottom of each dish.