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.








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