Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Duck Pâté

I don't know if this is due to my lyonnaise origins (Lyon is renown for its fine charcuterie, or deli meats), but if you ask me what my favorite food is, there is a good chance I'll answer pâté (pronounced pah-TAY). It's hard to explain, but just thinking of it makes me salivate.

There are all kinds of pâtés. Some can be spread on bread, others are sliced and eaten with a fork and knife, like this one. Some are baked in a crust (my favorite). Others are baked in a terra cotta or ceramic dish, called a terrine. Although originally a country dish, they can be very refined—some contain truffles, foie gras, or other fancy ingredients. There's one for every taste (and in my case, I love them all!). If you ever go to France, stop in a charcuterie-traiteur (deli shop) and try a few. Each region has its own specialties. 

Since I am far from France, I make my own pâté from time to time. I tried various recipes over the years, but the one I'm about to give is my favorite. I found the recipe in a wonderful little French book called Terrines by Catherine Quévremont (Marabout, 2002). My first attempt was quite an adventure. I bought a whole duck, removed the skin very carefully so it remained in one piece, and then cut out all the bones... I spent the whole day fighting with this duck. I waited a few years before doing it again, and spent another frustrating day in the kitchen... The result was well worth my efforts, but the following time (several years later), I decided to cut a few corners (and I also adapted the spices and meat cuts to what's available here), and the pâté still tasted amazingly good.

Here is what I did:

48 hours in advance
Serves 8

  • 4 duck breasts with skin (about 2.2 lbs or 1 kg)
  • 12 oz (350g) salt pork
  • 10 oz (300g) veal for stew
  • 1/2 TBSP salt
  • black pepper (about 40 grinds)
  • about 25 white peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
  • 3 cloves, crushed in a mortar
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1 TBSP Cognac
  • 1 or 2 handfulls shelled pistachios (dry-roasted, unsalted)
  • 3 bay leaves

  1. Cut the salt pork in cubes and immerse in water several times to rinse off some of the salt.
  2. Gently pull off the skin of the duck breasts. Make sure to keep the skins in one piece, as they will be used to line the terrine dish. Use the tip of a sharp knife if needed to lift off the skin from the breasts.
  3. Grind three breasts out of four, as well as the veal and salt pork, using the large plate of a meat grinder* (or cut in small pieces with a knife).
  4. Cut the fourth breast in 1/2" cubes.
  5. Place all the meats in a large bowl. Add the salt and spices, egg, and Cognac. Mix well by using two forks (one in each hand) until homogenous.
  6. Add the pistachios and mix again.
  7. Line the terrine dish** with three pieces of duck skin. Place one skin at the bottom (with the outside of the skin facing down), and two skins on the sides (with the outside of the skin facing outward). 
  8. Fill up the terrine with the meat mixture. Press to remove any air pockets.
  9. Place the last piece of skin on top. Place the bay leaves on the skin. Close the terrine with its lid.
  10. Place the terrine dish in an oven-safe dish, and fill this one with water (at least 1" of water).
  11. Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes at 350ºF (280ºC). Let the pâté cool down in the oven. Remove the dish with water and keep the terrine in the fridge for at least 48 hours.
  12. To serve, cut thick slices. Remove the congealed grease. Serve with good bread and cornichons (French gherkins). Make sure to eat the jelly (it's delicious!), but don't eat the skin.
* I have a manual, tinned cast iron meat grinder made in Czech Republic by Porkert, and I love it.
** I just measured my terrine dish (from Ikea). It holds 48 ounces (1.5 quarts) and is roughly 9" long, 5" wide, and 4.5" high.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Kale pesto tomato tart

The other day we made a delicious kale and walnut pesto based on this recipe by Shutterbean. We ate about half of it with fresh pasta (yum!), and used the other half for this tomato tart.

I used my beloved quiche crust recipe, but used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and replaced the cream with water. Actually, I had made the dough in advance (I double or triple the proportions then divide the dough into small balls and freeze them), so I just had to unfreeze a ball of dough (20 seconds in the microwave), roll it out on parchment paper and voilà. I poked a few holes in the crust with a fork to let air go through and prevent the crust from bubbling up while baking, spread the kale pesto evenly, then laid thin tomato slices in concentric circles, starting from the edge of the dish. I sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, then baked at 350ºF (180ºC) for about 30 minutes.

Going through my pictures...

Purple Plum Radishes (September)

Spinach (July)

Romanze New Potatoes (June)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baked dry-rubbed spareribs

I think I had my first pork ribs on the banks of the Danube in Vienna some 15 years ago. I was touring Austria with my parents and my sister, in one of the very rare organized trips we ever took. We had hotel reservations for two weeks all around the country, but our days were unplanned and we visited whatever interested us on our own. No guided tours. But as we crossed the same travelers every evening at the hotel, and sometimes randomly during the day if we happened to be visiting the same attractions, we started building bonds. That evening in Vienna was one of our last before the end of the trip, and we decided to all have dinner together. The 12-or-so of us sat at a long and narrow rectangular table, the kind you see in movies where an idealized Italian family has lunch al fresco on the patio of a beautiful country house in Tuscany. Except that the table was on a river bank, a few yards from water on the majestic Danube. Not bad either. It was a really festive and joyful, warm summer evening. The kind of evenings you remember with nostalgia, I guess, and that brings back so many other memories of stunning Tyrolian landscapes, sumptuous castles and gardens (those of the famous Empress Sisi), beautiful streets and hidden plazas in Vienna, cute villages, music, old stones... Can you tell I miss Europe?

I can't think of ribs without going back to Vienna in thoughts. The power of food on my little mind... If I remember correctly the ribs were served as a whole rack, and must have been barbecued or grilled. The recipe I'm about to give you is more of Southern US inspiration, but if you know how Austrians prepare pork ribs, please share!

This dry rub is an adaptation of Joy of Cooking's Southern Barbecue Dry-Rub recipe. I didn't have all the spices at hand when I tried it the first time, but it turned out really well. I made a few changes the second time around and the ribs tasted even better. So here's my version:

Serves 3–4 people
Preparation: 10 minutes, 12–24 hours in advance
Baking: 1 hour

  • 1 rack spareribs (around 3–3.5 lbs)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 1–1 1/2 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp white peppercorn, crushed in a mortar
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seed, also crushed
  • 1/2 Tbsp ground Cayenne pepper

The night before (or in the morning):

  1. Pour all the ingredients of the dry rub in a 1-gallon freezing bag. Shake well to mix the spices.
  2. Insert the sparerib rack in the bag, close, and shake well to cover with spices evenly. Rub the spices into the meat through the plastic bag.
  3. Place in the refrigerator overnight (or from morning to evening).

1 hour before dinner:

  1. Take the sparerib rack out of the bag and place in a large enough oven-safe dish. Pour the juices and spices left in the bag onto the ribs.
  2. Bake for 1 hour at 375ºF (about 190ºC).
  3. Cut the rack into individual ribs and serve immediately.

Practical note: the sugary juices that fall on the dish around the ribs will likely burn... This doesn't affect the taste of the meat, which doesn't burn, but it makes it harder to clean the dish. Soaking the dish overnight seems to help a lot in cleaning out the burnt juices.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Warm Green Bean Salad

Last week I listened to an interview of Alice Waters on NPR (by Terry Gross on Fresh Air). It was so inspiring that it got me dreaming about opening a place of my own all over again. (This is a recurring fantasy... which shouldn't surprise you too much). I spent last night in my Dream Café, welcoming patrons with delicious yet simple, healthy, affordable food made from the freshest ingredients, presented in a short, ever-changing seasonal menu, and featuring a fun selection of small plates for children, and a place for them to quietly play and read after their meal, so grown ups can have a few minutes of respite. Sigh...

As I was listening to Alice, two thougts came to mind. First, she mentioned that she stopped seeing her friends when she got into the chaos of opening Chez Panisse. She also said that she stopped cooking there when she had her daughter... So this dream business of mine sounded quite incompatible with my dream life of the moment. Unless maybe I could have a cafe that required work only from 9 to 5 week days (i.e. preschool hours)? Sigh... My second thought, which alleviated my disillusion, was that as far as focusing on the quality of ingredients, I was definitely, albeit modestly, following Alice's path. Nothing is more pleasurable to me than eating vegetables and fruits (and meats and fish) that taste like themselves. In her interview, Alice said that finding the ingredients was 85% of cooking, and that the Bowl of Fruit was the item she was the most proud of on her menu. I found that comment truely admirable.

All this got me thinking about the vegetables that my family used to grow in France. We didn't have a garden, but my grandparents and several uncles and aunts did. All were growing, among many other delicious plants, green beans. I don't know if green beans are still in fashion in France's vegetable gardens. They certainly were 20 years ago. The kind that my family grew was what is called "haricots verts" in the US: small, thin, dark green beans, which are both firm and juicy and barely require any cooking at all. Just a few minutes of steaming or boiling in salted water, then you can eat them warm with a piece of melting butter on top. This is how we ate them most of the time—and they rarely made it to the table: we would snack on them as soon as they were ready. Another favorite was to add boiled potatoes to the beans and season either with butter (and decorate with lemon wedges) or vinaigrette dressing.

Summer is nearly over but I found organic green beans last Saturday, so there is still time to try out this recipe, which I prepared a month or two ago. As a matter of fact, I will receive filet beans (another name for haricots verts) in my CSA box tomorrow.

Serves 4–5
  • 1 lb green beans (preferrably thin, tender ones)
  • 8–10 small potatoes (about 1 lb). New potatoes of any variety, or small Yukon Gold for example. I prefer silky rather than starchy potatoes, but both make great warm salads.
  • 1 small shallot

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp old-style Dijon mustard (with whole grains), or regular Dijon mustard (Try to find a French brand, such as Maille or Amora, for a more authentic taste.)
  • 1 Tbsp Jerez vinegar (sherry vinegar from Spain), or regular red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil, or other mild-tasting oil
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (Try to find oil made with olives from only one country1—e.g. Greece or Italy—, extra-virgin, cold pressed)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start with the potatoes: peel them and boil them in salted water until cooked but still firm (stop cooking as soon as a knife can go through easily), about 15 minutes.

Hull the beans2 (unless they are very thin) by carefully snapping each end and pulling the string that runs along the bean (which is only a problem in more mature beans). Rinse the beans.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the dressing. Place all the ingredients in a small sealable container3. Close tighly with a leak-proof lid. Shake well until homogeneous.

Thinly chop the shallot and place at the bottom of a large salad bowl.

As soon as the potatoes are cooked through, drain them and place them in the salad bowl. Pour 2 or 3 Tbsp dressing on them and toss. The warm potatoes will absorb the oil and flavors of the dressing and shallot.

Steam or boil the green beans in salted water for no more than 5 minutes in a pressure cooker. They must be firm but not crunchy, soft but not floppy. They loose the brightness of their green color without really tarnishing...

Drain the beans and add to the salad bowl. Pour a couple more Tbsp dressing if all has been absorbed by the potatoes. Toss gently (avoid breaking the beans).

Serve immediately.

1 To me it's an indication that it was made in smaller, maybe more artisanal batches. But I don't know for sure. And the taste should be more distinct (unique to the country of origin) than if olives are mixed.

2 This is a social time in a French kitchen—at least it is in my family. Everyone grabs a few handfuls of beans to hull and chats around the kitchen table.

3 I use a recycled jam jar. If there is any left-over dressing, I just put the jar in the fridge. If there is very little left in the jar, I still keep it (French mustard is expensive over here!) and add more ingredients (in the quantities listed above) in the jar next time I need dressing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plum cake

My pear cake recipe (here) works well with other fruits. Tonight, my daughter and I made a plum version of this cake with the following proportions:

  • 5 ripe plums
  • 4 eggs
  • 180g (less than 1 cup) sugar
  • 1 stick (114g) butter
  • 170g (about 1 1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

We beat the eggs and sugar until foamy. We added the melted butter, then the sifted flour, then the baking powder, vanilla extract, and cinnamon, mixing well (with a whisk) while adding each ingredient.
We poured the dough in a buttered, round metal pan (the same old 10" x 2" I used in the pear cake recipe).
We placed the plums, halved and pitted, on the dough, cut side up.
We baked for about 50 minutes in a  340ºF oven.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fennel Bulbs au Gratin

Halved, steamed in a pressure cooker for a few minutes, then placed in a buttered pyrex dish, sprinkled with butter and grated Gruyère cheese, under the broiler for 5 minutes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lemon chicken with olives, in a tomato sauce, with yellow chard

Two of our closest friends moved to New Zealand last summer for a year and we were fortunate enough to visit them last month. It was so nice to spend some time with them and to discover this beautiful country (our first time south of the Equator!).

To welcome us, our friends prepared an amazing tajine dish* of chicken, green olives and preserved lemons (not exactly a typical Kiwi dish, but rather a nice reminiscence of our friend's childhood in North Africa). I must have had this dish in mind when I pulled ingredients out of the fridge the other night and prepared the chicken dish that follows.

Serves 4
  • 4 whole chicken legs
  • 1/2 jar (12 oz) strained tomatoes
  • about 20 olives
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 thin slices of pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup white wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved, stem removed
  • 1 bunch yellow chard leaves, whole or coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
I like whole (non pitted) kalamata or mixed Greek olives, in bulk (not canned). For chicken, I always go organic since chicken is cheap anyway. Same with lemons.

Marinate the chicken legs in lemon juice for about 1/2 hour or simply until the other ingredients are ready (chard washed, pancetta diced, etc.)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom pan or a cocotte. Add the diced pancetta and let it color for a few minutes. Set aside. Drain excess fat from the pan if necessary.

Drain the chicken legs (keep the marinade). Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan. Brown on every side.

Add the strained tomatoes, lemon juice marinade, olives, pancetta, garlic, and white wine. Stir. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 1/2 hour.

Move the chicken legs to one side of the pan then plunge the chard leaves in the tomato sauce. Stir until wilted (2 minutes maximum).

Serve with wild rice or bulghur (cracked wheat).

* Our friends' recipe more authentically Mediterranean than the above week-night "invention", and includes olive oil, onions, garlic, and most importantly ras el hanout (a North African spice blend).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A few pictures...

Barbecue-grilled beef tri-tip
 Tokyo turnips, braised in butter
Bok choy sautéed in sunflower oil with green garlic, in a wok

Flashy English peas and carrots from my weekly organic vegetable box

Lemon chicken with olives, in a tomato sauce, with yellow chard
(recipe coming up...)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yogurt Dip

Yesterday we were invited to a potluck Easter egg hunt party, and I remembered about the potluck part of it about five minutes before leaving. Thankfully we had all the ingredients I needed for a quick yogurt dip. I combined the ingredients listed below in a glass jar, cut up young and juicy carrots from our organic CSA box into strips, and I even got the time to take a picture! Now that's fast...
  • 1 6-oz (170 g) plain yogurt (Clover organic for instance)
  • 1 lemon (or Meyer lemon), juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
  • salt

This also makes a great sauce for grilled lamb chops.

A few years ago I blogged about my childhood Easter memories.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lemon Marmalade

Are Meyer lemons and navel oranges still in season? They were a couple weeks ago. Trees in our neighborhood were bending under the weight of hundreds of brightly colored fruits. A friend brought us a bag full of them, picked up in her backyard that very morning. And what do you do with citrus that has been lucky enough to grow without pesticides? Eat them with the skin! I made lemon marmalade that weekend (and brought a jar to my friend as a thank you gift), using a recipe from my mother-in-law*.

For about 8 jars
(I often reuse empty 13-ounce Bonne Maman jars.)
  • 6 Meyer lemons (organic or pesticide-free)
  • 2 navel oranges (organic or pesticide-free)
  • 1.5 kg (6 cups) sugar
  • 1 liter (about 1 quart) water

Day 1
  1. Rinse the fruits under running water. Pat them dry.
  2. Cut them in 4 lengthwise, then take the seeds out and place them on a square of cheese cloth that you tie with a string (in French it is called un noué). If you don't have cheese cloth, you can put the seeds in a tea ball.
  3. Thinly slice each fruit quarter (about 3-5 mm or 1/8-1/5 " in thickness).
  4. Place the fruit slices and the pocket of seeds in a large pot (I use my pressure cooker without closing it, althouth une bassine à confiturea jam pan—would be more authentic...). Pour 1 quart (about 1 liter) water on the fruits. Place a lid on the pot.
  5. Wait for 24 hours.
Day 2
  1. Place the pot or pan on the stove on medium-high heat, lid on. Boil for 50 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  2. Wait for 24 hours.
Day 3
  1. Find 8 or 9 empty glass jars with lids. Clean them if necessary and boil them in water for 5 minutes to sterilize them. Let them dry on a clean dish cloth.
  2. Open the pot or pan and remove the pocket of seeds. Pour the sugar and stir until it dissolves in the fruit juice.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook without lid for about 35 minutes.
  4. Use a ladle to pour the hot marmalade in the jars. Fill the jars up to the bottom of their rim. Close immediately. As the jam cools down, the air inside the jar will retract and the lid will pop. Store the marmalade for up to one year in a kitchen cabinet (or a cellar if you have one). Refrigerate after opening.
I use this marmalade just as any other jam, spread on whole wheat walnut bread for breakfast.

* I actually modified the recipe a little bit. Gisèle uses 12 true lemons, 2 oranges, and 1 peeled grapefruit with 2 liters of water and 3 kg (12 cups) of sugar. Her recipe yields about 16 jars. Since Meyer lemons are sweeter than true lemons, the grapefruit wasn't really necessary in my case.


Thursday, March 03, 2011


Simply boiled and eaten warm, leaf after leaf, with vinaigrette until getting to the best part–the heart. Yum!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Pork tenderloin and brussel sprouts

So little time and so much to do... On days like these (and they are becoming the norm as I just started a new job—and a new career—after a year of professional soul searching), I turn to my pressure cooker for a healthy, yummy, quickly-cooked meal.

Last night, I prepared dinner as follows.

For 4 small appetites (or 2 big ones)
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 1-2 lbs brussel sprouts
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 2 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 4 cloves
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 cups white wine (I used some Alsace riesling)
  • 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 tbsp butter

  1. Peel the onion and nail the cloves in it. Peel the carrots. Cut the base of the brussel sprouts and rinse them. Break 2 cloves of garlic off the head, but don't peel them.
  2. Bring about 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a pressure cooker. (I don't know if it really makes any difference but I always use coarse sea salt when boiling/blanching vegetables or when cooking pasta.) Boil the vegetables for 5 minutes.
  3. Drain the vegetables. Melt butter in the pressure cooker. Brown the pork tenderloin on all sides for 1 or 2 minutes.
  4. Add the pre-cooked vegetables, pour the wine (and optionally 1 cup water). Add the herbs and spices. Close the pressure cooker. Set it to its higher pressure setting (mine has 2).
  5. Bring the pressure cooker to full pressure over high heat, then reduce the heat and cook for 8 minutes.
  6. Cool under running water to release the pressure. Serve.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Soup du Jour

Follow my usual recipe.

Chop and sauté in 1 tbsp butter:
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 turnip (optional)
  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • 1/2 bunch mustard greens
Cover with water and add:
  • 1 Roma tomato (optional), cubed
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
  • 4 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • salt and pepper
Cook in a pressure cooker for 10-15 minutes, or in a conventional "cocotte" for 30 minutes. Blend. Serve with crème fraîche.

I unfreeze 1 ladle of soup at a time,
and serve it to my kids as an appetizer
while dinner is cooking.