Winter Warmers

29 12 2008

I’m talking about drinks – the kind that warm you from the inside out.  I’m currently recovering from a nasty bout with the flu (the cough is getting less and less frequent, and my voice is completely back to normal) and Paris has been hit by another cold snap.  The temperature has been hovering right around freezing, which makes it the perfect weather for wool socks, cozy sweaters, and hot toddies.

Just add hot water

Ah, the hot toddy.  I don’t really have a recipe, but I have my friend Jeremy to thank for teaching me how to make them and that they are the world’s best cold remedy.  It warms your belly, soothes your throat, and sends you peacefully off to sleep.  So how do I make it?  Bring some water to a boil.  Pour a slug of whiskey (I am digging the Irish whiskey these days, but use what you like) into a mug.  Add a slice of lemon (if you’re lucky enough to have access to Meyer lemons, they’re the best).  Pour in the hot water and sweeten to taste with honey.  Repeat nightly until your cough is gone or the weather warms up, whichever comes last.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Joyeux Noël!

25 12 2008

Thanks, Jody, for the great Christmas Eve dinner idea!

Merry Christmas, everyone!  Enjoy!

Cognac Hot Chocolate

 

In classic chocolaterie, “Champagne truffles” are truffles made with cognac, so I guess you could call this “Champagne hot chocolate,” but I don’t see any reason to confuse the issue.  Either way, this is a sinfully rich, grown-up twist on a winter favorite.  Go on, you’ve been good, right?

 

1 liter / 1 quart milk

60 ml / 2 oz. cream

3 Tbsp. cassonade or turbinado sugar

Pinch sea salt

250 g / 8¾ oz. bittersweet chocolate (I recommend 65-80% cocoa solids)

4 belts of cognac

 

  1. Combine the milk, cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan.  Heat until simmering, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, roughly chop the chocolate or break it into small pieces.  Pour some cognac into each of four mugs.  (I trust you to make responsible decisions regarding the strength of your drinks.)
  3. When the milk simmers, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate until all is melted and smooth.  Pour the hot chocolate over the cognac in the mugs.  Serve hot.

 Serves 4.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Inspiration

18 12 2008

It always pops up in the unlikeliest places, the most unexpected times.  I often find myself wandering the market aimlessly, without a clue as to what to do with any of the gorgeous produce on display.  And then I’ll be lying in bed, or standing in line at the post office, and all of a sudden my brain shouts, “Shrimp and chorizo frittata!  With green salad and sweet onion vinaigrette!”  This can be brought on by pondering the contents of the still-malfunctioning fridge (which, as of this afternoon, FINALLY, has been fixed – hooray!), but that takes a little more focus.  And then there’s the time you read a recipe in a magazine, cookbook, or food blog, and you realize you have all the ingredients in the kitchen already.  This is rare and awesome.  Usually it’s more like you read a recipe, decide you must have it right now, and run to the store for ingredients despite the rapidly wilting spinach in the fridge.

an enduring favorite

This dinner definitely falls into the latter category.  I read this post on [eatingclub] vancouver, and I loved the sound of a creamy fennel sauce on pasta.  Plus I am a total sucker for wild mushrooms, so it was a done deal.  I’m glad they didn’t post an actual recipe, that way free interpretation is much easier.

These girolles were straight from the forest

Like when I realized I didn’t have any roasted garlic, didn’t feel like making any, and didn’t care.  I just caramelized the fennel a bit to get that deep sweet flavor, then braised it in white wine until it was very tender.  With the aid of my trusty immersion blender, I puréed the fennel into a thick sauce.

Braised fennel sauce

I finished it with a little cream, and kept it warm while I sautéed the girolles with a little fresh parsley.

Sautéeing girolles

I stirred it all up with some whole-wheat spaghetti, garnished with some reserved fennel fronds (I just love how delicate they are!) and dinner was served.

Pasta with braised fennel cream sauce and girolles

Thanks for the inspiration, ladies!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Worthwhile French Beers: Moulins D’Ascq

15 12 2008

Looks like this French beer quest has some momentum!  It turns out that once you start looking for something, you really do see more of it.  Since I’m feeling optimistic, I’m covering two beers from the same brewery: the Blonde and the Ambrée from Moulins d’Ascq.  According to their website, the company was started in 1999 by Mathieu Lepoutre.  He decided to make organic beer because he believes it is the best way to preserve the natural flavor of the ingredients, as well as being better for the environment.  The beer-lover and tree-hugger in me are equally thrilled.

Moulins d'Ascq Ambrée

The Ambrée poured out cloudy, with a medium amber color.  It was quite effervescent, with a thin, quickly dissipating head.  Nick said it was fairly typical of unfiltered amber beer, with a nice balance of malt and hops.  Like the Félibrée, another organic beer, the Moulins d’Ascq Ambrée had a certain unrefined, farmhouse aspect to it, though I would be less likely to use the term “flawed” when describing it.

Moulins d'Ascq Blonde

The Blonde was cloudy as well (not surprising, considering all of Moulins d’Ascq’s beers are unpasteurized and unfiltered) with a thick head composed of large bubbles.  The golden-colored liquid has a grassy hop aroma which comes through on the palate as well.  Sweet, citrus-y yeast flavors balance out the hops for a very smooth quaff.

Moulins d’Ascq also produces Blanche, Triple, and Bière de Noël.  I will be on the lookout for those, especially the latter – ’tis the season!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





I Met Joël Robuchon Last Night!

12 12 2008

That's me getting cozy with 24 Michelin stars!

That is all.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Hot, Sticky, Sweet

10 12 2008

Dates have always been a special occasion treat for me.  (I’m talking about food, not my social life, just to clarify.)  When I was a kid, I used to go crazy for the Betty Crocker Date Bar mix, which we could only seem to find around Christmastime.  They were kind of a pain to make, with the crumbly bottom crust always getting stuck in the sticky date puree as you tried to spread it out, but the payoff was well worth it.  Crispy, chewy, and redolent with brown sugar, I could easily have polished off an entire pan of these at one sitting, though I don’t think I ever actually did.  I first tasted a fresh date when I was 25, working in the kitchen of a soon-to-be 5 star restaurant.  (We were using it on a cheese plate with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.)  I was blown away.  It was everything I loved about the date bar – sweet, caramelly, and luscious – without the hassle (or the shame) of the boxed mix.  Fresh dates, however, are difficult to find and can be expensive.  Luckily, I soon realized that dried dates were nearly as good.

Stirring cream into hot caramel for toffee sauce

Given my love of dates, and caramel, it is shocking that I took so long to attempt a sticky toffee pudding.  Traditionally it is a dense pudding-cake loaded with dates and drenched in toffee sauce.  What’s not to love?  But I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I wanted a seasonal variation, something that would sate my annual hunger for pumpkin pie, and that was maybe a tad less sweet (all those dates can make for a toothache-inducing dessert, if you’re not careful).  Since I was pretty sure I’d have more than enough Butternut squash to accompany the scallops, I set aside a little to use in my pudding.

Pour some toffee on me!

When the time came, I whisked the Butternut purée with some brown sugar, egg, vanilla, and melted butter.  I combined flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in another bowl, then mixed the two together.  Chopped dates and a bit of minced crystallized ginger were folded in, and I scooped the batter into my spiffy new silicone dome molds.  In a makeshift water bath consisting of a round ceramic tart dish and a piece of tinfoil, I baked the puddings until they puffed up a bit.  Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce (see photo above), finishing it off with a wallop of scotch.  “This is a pajama dessert,” I told Nick, so we got ourselves ready for bed while waiting for the puddings to cool.  I served them as soon as they were cool enough to handle, with a full coat of toffee sauce poured over the top.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding

Delectably sweet, and oh-so-comforting with the homey flavors of the squash and spices mimicking pumpkin pie even better than I expected.  This is definitely dessert you eat in your pajamas.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Pancakes aux Lardons

8 12 2008

When he was in high school, my brother used to frequent a place called The Original Pancake House.  He was a big fan of their Dutch Baby, a puffy, eggy pancake served with melted butter, powdered sugar, and lemon juice.  Every now and then, he and my Mom would bust out the cast iron skillet and make one at home, which, luckily, they were willing to share.  Anyway, as far as I knew, The Original Pancake House was just that – a one-off, family-owned breakfast joint.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that same familiar sign tucked behind the Albertson’s in another city at least 2,000 miles away.  Well, I had to give it a shot.  Not having been there in years, my memory of the menu was hazy at best.  But when I sat down, I was immediately drawn to the bacon waffles.  Who doesn’t love a nice plate of waffles drenched in maple syrup with a side of meaty, smoky bacon?  And when the bacon and the syrup chance to meet?  Bliss.  So the bacon waffle it was, and it was every bit as awesome as I expected it to be.

Mmmmm... bacon.

Fast forward to a few years later.  I’m living in Paris, and I have no waffle iron.  I do, however, make my fair share of pancakes on Sunday mornings.  I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this specifically before, but they sell these packages of lardons (i.e. pre-chopped bacon) in just about every portion size imaginable.  They’re totally convenient for adding small amounts of bacon to recipes, and you don’t even have to dirty a cutting board!  So, finding myself with a package of lardons in the fridge, I decided to whip up a batch of bacon pancakes.

It couldn’t have been easier.  I cooked the lardons and set them aside, then made a simple buttermilk pancake batter with a bit of medium-grind cornmeal.  As the pancakes cooked, I sprinkled them with the crisp bacon, flipped them, and breakfast was served.  Absolute heaven with butter and a liberal drizzle of maple syrup.

Breakfast of Champions

Bacon Pancakes

 

100 g (about 3½ oz.) lardons fumés, or chopped thick-cut bacon

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour (Type 65 if you’re in France)

¼ cup medium-grind cornmeal

2 tsp. cassonade or turbinado sugar

¼ tsp. coarse sea salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

½ tsp. vanilla extract or bourbon

 

  1. Cook the bacon until most of the fat has rendered, and desired crispness is reached.  Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.  Save the fat for cooking the pancakes.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Blend the buttermilk, egg, and vanilla or bourbon in a measuring jug.  Gently stir the two mixtures together until just combined.  A few lumps are nothing to worry about.
  3. Heat a little of the bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot and the fat is shimmering, spoon out the batter into the desired pancake size.  (This is a highly personal matter, but I think 3 Tbsp. is about right.)  As they cook, sprinkle a few of the bacon chunks over the raw pancakes in the pan.  When you see bubbles rising to the surface of the pancakes, flip them and cook a few minutes longer.  Keep them warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.
  4. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup. 

Makes enough for two hungry adults.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Must Be Scallop Season

5 12 2008

I love seeing the piles of whole in-shell scallops in the market.  Partly because scallops in this form are very difficult to find in the States, so my experience with them is extremely limited, and I do appreciate a challenge.  And partly because I love scallops so much.

Three whole scallops

Also, I know that when I buy them alive (as these were right up to the point where I cut their writhing adductors from their shells), they haven’t been frozen or treated with that stuff to make them retain water and weigh more.  These are scallops as nature intended. 

Now, I don’t need much prompting to order scallops in a restaurant, but cooking them at home is another matter.  I want that golden-seared crunch on the ends while the center is rare as rare can be, without being cold.  I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a total scallop disaster in my kitchen (In fact, my first-ever attempt at scallop cookery in culinary school was praised by a very-tough-to-please chef instructor), but I’m always slightly trepidatious that I’m going to ruin such a delectable, expensive ingredient.  But when I saw this post with glazed diver scallops and fried prosciutto, I had to run out and get some scallops of my own.  By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s statement that “nothing goes better with scallops than some fried pork.”

Look at all those juicy goods!

Except possibly vanilla.  In my first (maybe only) true VIP dining experience, one of the off-the-menu courses served was seared scallops on wilted spinach with vanilla butter sauce.  It still sticks in my mind, five years later, as a standout dish in an all-around incredible meal (in which we also ate a bowl of steamed cockles, a whole roasted branzini, and a rack of lamb). 

As luck would have it, the first vendor I saw at the market the day I went to buy scallops was a guy selling Bourbon vanilla beans.  I got five for two euros – not bad at all!  So vanilla beurre blanc was definitely going on the plate.  Since October through January is pretty much a never-ending winter squash-fest in our house, I ended up with a beautiful organic Butternut squash in my shopping bag, figuring I’d make a purée using crème fraîche and molasses to enrich and intensify its nutty sweetness.  Picturing the plate in my head, I knew I needed something green.  Sadly, the Parisian markets seem to be lacking in the leafy greens category.  There are tons of lettuces, but I have yet to see mustard greens or kale.  If you want to get your dark green leafy vegetable fix, you have the choice between spinach and Swiss chard.  That’s about it.  Bored of spinach and thinking that Swiss chard wasn’t quite right, I wandered through the stalls in hope of finding something different.  A large stack of bundled watercress jumped out at me, and it joined the scallops, vanilla beans, and squash in my bag.  I was about to head home when I realized I hadn’t picked up any pork products!  Enter the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese specialty stand.  I splurged on four slices of Serrano ham, and made my way home with an empty wallet and an exciting dinner just waiting to be realized.

Read the rest of this entry »





Fournée au Chèvre

4 12 2008

Or, to sound less fancy-pants, bacon-wrapped goat cheese.

How could I not buy this?

Here in France I am often stumbling across “convenience” products like this which I suppose are commonplace to French consumers but are totally awesome to me.  I mean, bacon-wrapped goat cheese?  For two euros?  That’s awesome.  You might be able to find something like this in the prepared-food section of some gourmet grocery stores with a huge markup, but in France, it’s at the supermarket.

Obviously, I had to buy it.  I hatched a lovely plan to pan-fry these beauties and serve them warm on a bed of watercress dressed in apple cider vinaigrette.  The watercress was already washed and waiting in the fridge, the vinaigrette was already made, it was going to be the fastest appetizer salad ever in my kitchen.  I busted out the nonstick pan (didn’t want to risk my precious cheeses getting stuck to the pan) and started frying.

The great duo of bacon and cheese

That’s when I went into the fridge to get the rest of the salad ingredients.  Vinaigrette?  Check.  Gave it a little shake in its tiny Tupperware and it was good to go.  Carefully washed, dried, loosely wrapped in a paper towel and an open plastic bag a day or two prior, my watercress should have been fine.  But it had all gone yellow.  Crap!  Nick, intrepid soul that he is, tasted a leaf as I asked hopefully, “Does it taste yellow?”  “Blech.  Yeah.” Came the reply.  Into the garbage can it went, and the warm, crisped cheeses went onto our plates alone.  And we ate them that way.  Smoky, salty bacon and creamy, tangy goat cheese, it turns out, need no other adornment.  I will be buying these again for sure.

I’m sending this to Chez Loulou for the monthly Fête du Fromage roundup.  Look for it on the 15th!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin

2 12 2008

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country means making certain sacrifices.  As a case in point, I have yet to see anything resembling a fresh cranberry in Paris.  The various American épiceries are fully stocked with jars and cans of cranberry sauce, but if you want to make your own (like I always do) you’re out of luck.  However, as you can probably imagine, the markets of Paris offer up an incredible bounty from which to devise seasonal dishes from locally-grown ingredients.

Naked Chestnut Squash

Like this potimarron.  I forgot to get a picture of it before I stripped it bare, but there’s a good before photo herePotimarron is one of the more commonly seen winter squashes in the Parisian markets, yet somehow I had yet to cook one.  A little research turned up some interesting facts about the potimarron: the thin skin is edible, the name is derived from the French words for “pumpkin” and “chestnut,” and it apparently increases in sweetness and vitamin content the longer you store it (to a point, I’m sure).

Potimarron insides, with paring knife for scale

I purchased the cute little squash about a week before Thanksgiving without any real plan regarding what to do with it.  The same market trip yielded a bag of fingerling potatoes, another impulse buy.  A few days later, when I realized it was high time I start getting my Thanksgiving menu in order, the two supremely seasonal vegetables jumped out at me.

*Peeling not required

Recalling a butternut squash gratin I have made in years past to generally good reviews, I thought I’d riff on the idea, working potatoes into the mix.  The potimarron, taking after its namesake nut, is one of the starchier winter squashes out there.  While this makes it able to hold its own when combined with potatoes, I didn’t want the dish to be too heavy (this was for Thanksgiving, after all).  I figured the tangy sweetness of leeks simmered in hard cider would offset the richness of the squash and potatoes.  Top it all off with my favorite fresh chèvre, and I had just the gratin I was looking for.  I may not have had sweet potatoes as usual, (ed. note: except that I did, on this salad) but it didn’t feel like I was sacrificing a thing. 

Click through for the recipe and Nick’s gorgeous photo.

Read the rest of this entry »








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