You Know It’s Springtime When…

16 05 2011

… You finally get to take the sweaters to the dry cleaners.

… The flowers are in bloom, and the allergies go into overdrive.

… It’s starting to get light out when you go to work in the morning.  (Or maybe that’s just me.)

… The laundry dries in less than a day.

… Heaters, schmeaters!

… You bust out the sandals from the depths of the closet.

… Fresh produce abounds in the market: strawberries, lettuces, radishes, rhubarb, peas…

… Parisian café terraces are constantly full.

… Every food blog on the internet starts posting asparagus recipes.

Here’s mine, a warm herbed asparagus salad with poached eggs, at Girls’ Guide to Paris.  It’s not only great for brunch, but makes a lovely light supper as well.

On this day in 2008: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – still one of the best and most memorable dining experiences I’ve had in Paris.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Mustard in the Custard

2 05 2011

Longtime readers of this blog may remember my penchant for making breakfast strata on Easter.  And other times.  This year was no different.  Again looking to the contents of my fridge for inspiration, ham and cheddar sounded like a delightfully sandwich-y take on the strata.

Speaking of sandwiches, wouldn’t a little mustard be the perfect spice for eggy brunch sandwiches?  Monte Cristo breakfast casserole?  Ok, none of that sounds appetizing.  Let’s just say I put the mustard in the custard and get on with it.

mustard in the custard!

Layers: bread, caramelized onions (I seem to be incapable of making a strata without them), strips of ham, shredded Tillamook cheddar.  Repeat, finish with bread.  Custard: four eggs, two cups of milk, salt, pepper, a big spoonful each of grainy mustard and Dijon, and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Let it soak for at least half an hour, bake at 350F for an hour or so, and eat.  Champagne and Bloody Marys make perfect accompaniments.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it was so good.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 9th: Rose Bakery

18 11 2010

They’re lucky the food’s good.

Rose Bakery, Paris 9th

I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly, when I went to Rose Bakery for brunch a few Sundays ago.  Other than visions of sticky toffee puddings and Neal’s Yard cheeses, neither of which featured on the brunch menu, I guess I thought it would be an English tea room of the cozy, quaint sort.  I was wrong.

The front of the shop features a bakery case, a small refrigerated case with cheeses (no Stichelton, though, sniff) and English beers, a few English pantry items, and crates of organic vegetables piled up around the perimeter.  There’s a rather disorganized line of people, some waiting to make purchases, some paying for their meals, and some (like us) waiting for a table.  Fortunately, as a party of two, Nick and I didn’t have to wait long.

We were seated in the back dining room, a room whose decor left me puzzled.  Concrete floors, a bright orange Smeg refrigerator, flourescent lights hanging vertically on the walls… it was certainly more post-modern/poor man’s Dan Flavin than I had imagined.  The menu was equally minimal.  Bacon and eggs, salmon and eggs, savory tart of the day, coffee, tea.  And on the expensive side.  I have a hard time justifying paying 15 euros for simple, easy-for-me-to-make-at-home breakfast dishes like these, or 4.50 for a cup of tea, even if it is really good tea.  Nick and I both ended up ordering the cheese scone with scrambled eggs and braised endives, because they were out of the savory tart, and I wanted something I couldn’t whip up myself in five minutes.  Nick also ordered a coffee, and I splurged on a tea.

Coffee at Rose Bakery

The coffee was served in a homey-yet-modern ceramic mug, and came with a cute little shortbread cookie.  I eyed it hungrily and a bit jealously, as my tea had yet to arrive.  Nick said that the coffee was good.

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Breakfast, Stratified

23 07 2010

I’ve written about breakfast strata once before, which is why I declined Nick’s initial suggestion to photograph my process.  But after cutting into and tasting this one, I was reminded how truly awesome a meal it is, and anything I can do to get more people making it is a good thing.

Strata (a fancy word for casserole, if I ever heard one) is a wonderful way to use up any odds and ends you may have sitting around in your fridge or on your counter.  It’s best with day-old bread, and is extremely accommodating as far as flavors are concerned.  Does it taste good with bread?  It will be good in strata.  Will it play well with eggs?  It will make a good strata.  I like to make it a square meal by including meat, cheese, and vegetables.  Some of my favorite combinations: sausage, cheddar, and mushroom; bacon, apple, and gruyère; and serrano ham, caramelized onion, and manchego.

This one was born of an excess of bread and picnic leftovers from Bastille Day.  Namely chorizo.  I also had some leftover enchilada sauce.  And a thing of cream that was about to go bad.  Appropriate cheeses (cheddar and manchego) and vegetables (onions and hot peppers) were procured, and I constructed the dish on Saturday night for Sunday’s breakfast.  Ok, brunch.

I spread the slices of bread with sauce and placed them in a layer in a baking dish.  I topped this with deeply caramelized onions and peppers, followed by layers of chorizo and cheese.  Another layer of sauced bread went on top, and the rest of the vegetables.  I held off on the rest of the cheese for the moment.  Then I whisked together some cream, milk, and eggs and slowly poured it over the top.  (I don’t use a recipe and you don’t need to either – just make enough for the bread to soak up.  It’s ok  if there’s a little extra, but if there isn’t, just whip up a little more custard, or do as I’ve done and pour more cream on top.)  This I covered in plastic wrap and weighted down very gently before letting it rest in the fridge overnight. 

In the morning, I removed the plastic wrap – duh – topped it with the remaining cheese, and covered the dish with foil.  I baked it at 350F for a little over an hour, removing the foil about 45 minutes in so the cheese could get nice and brown.  You’ll know it’s done when it starts to puff up.  Let it cool as long as you can stand.  If you’re like me, this is 15 minutes, maximum, just long enough for it to not burn your mouth when you eat it.

Enchilada Sstrata

And there you have it.  Yes, there’s a bit of time investment and planning ahead, but when the majority of the time is hands-off and the result is so incredibly satisfying, it’s hard to say it’s not worth it.

This particular enchilada-esque strata actually pulled double duty – we ate it for brunch with slices of juicy melon, and again for dinner a few days later with a crisp green salad on the side.  Now I want to make one every week.

On this day in 2008: The Great Duo of Avocado and Shrimp (There’s a kickass gazpacho recipe)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cuisine: Pays Basque: Piperade

29 05 2009

Basque cooking is pretty much synonymous with peppers.  If you’re in a restaurant in France, and a dish is described on the menu as “à la basquaise,” it will probably be covered in bell peppers.  (Seeing as I am not exactly a bell pepper lover, this can be disappointing.)  Piperade is the name for a mixture of sautéed peppers and onions, usually seasoned with piment d’espelette and often involving eggs and/or ham.  Sounds like a pretty great breakfast to me, especially if I can swap out the bell peppers for my much-loved piquillos.

The beginning stages of piperade

Faced with yet another bunch of white asparagus from the CSA panier, I remembered a post by Mark Bittman in which he finally finds a way to enjoy the overpriced, underwhelming vegetable.  It involved peeling and cooking the hell out of them and then smothering them in a “broken hollandaise” of sorts.  I thought that some creamy, slow-cooked scrambled eggs would fit the bill, and the piperade would be the icing on the cake, so to speak.

S-L-O-W-L-Y scrambling eggs

I mean, we all know how great asparagus and eggs are together, right?  Now, if you’ll allow me, I have a short diatribe about scrambled eggs.  Don’t even think about cooking them all the way through.  Scrambled eggs should be smooth and creamy as well as fluffy.  They should never be dry.  Those cottony diner scrambled eggs with the browned bits and phony lard flavoring (or maybe it’s just rancid) turn my stomach.  The absolute best only way to cook scrambled eggs is VERY SLOWLY.  Over low heat.  In butter or olive oil.  Stirring constantly.  I mean it.  These are not a weekday morning project, that’s what fried eggs are for.  Oh, it’s going to take patience.  And time.  A whole lot of precious time.

Perfect!

Well, 25 minutes or so, anyway.  But it is time very well spent.  (And, as luck would have it, about the same amount of time it takes to steam white asparagus into submission.)

Brunch is served

Topped with a mound of soft-set piperade scrambled eggs, the white asparagus were indeed tolerable.  Good, even.  Although I can’t help but to think how much better it would be with green asparagus.  Or a few slices of cured ham, like a regionally appropriate jambon de Bayonne.  But then, what isn’t?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Muffins aux Carottes

26 01 2009

I woke up on Sunday thinking about carrots.  I don’t know why.  As luck would have it, we happened to have some in the root cellar, courtesy of the CSA.  We had eaten a fabulously indulgent dinner the night before at Astier (more to come on that, I promise), so we weren’t particularly hungry, but I thought something healthy might help overcome the guilt that always seems to follow an especially gluttonous evening.

Carrot meets grater

Carrot muffins sounded like the perfect antidote.  I wanted crunchy nuts, rich molasses, and whole grains.  A glance through my bookmarked recipes yielded nothing like what I was looking for, but a molasses and whole wheat muffin recipe from Paul Prudhomme by way of Cooking Books and a zucchini bread from 101 Cookbooks via Hopie’s Kitchen looked like good starting points.  Of course, Prudhomme’s recipe had no carrots (nor eggs, which I found troubling, and what looks on paper like WAY too much baking powder), and the zucchini bread had no molasses, though I did like the idea of incorporating crystallized ginger into the mix.

Noisettes grillées

Flipping back and forth between the recipes trying to figure out the correct amounts of baking powder and soda was giving me a headache, and I was getting steadily hungrier.  Ultimately, I guessed at the leavening amounts since I was changing the recipes so drastically anyway.  Enough math and chemistry, it was time to start baking!  Neither recipe had as much whole grain as I wanted, so I threw in some rolled oats for their heart-healthy properties, and I thought that the sweet crunch of hazelnuts would compliment the carrots and ginger nicely (also, that’s what I had lying around).  While mixing up the batter, I realized I didn’t have any milk, so in a very WWPPD moment, I added cream.  And then a little more.

MacGyvered muffin cups

I don’t have a regular muffin pan, but I do have some silicone molds in about the same shape.  Trouble is, I hate the way things baked in silicone molds come out with weirdly rubbery exteriors.  (Custards are an exception, as are pudding cakes and their saucy ilk, but anything with more flour than liquid comes out strangely.)  Lacking muffin cups, I fashioned some out of squares of parchment paper, which worked better than I expected or even hoped.

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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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