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.





A Savory Pumpkin Pie

16 12 2009

Patidou quiche, uncut

December.  Dreaded by pâtissiers around the world.  I wish I had something witty to say about this quiche I fashioned from last week’s CSA panier score, but I made over 100 kilos of ganache today at work. 

Before...

I used up all the chocolate (60 kilos) and all the cream (40 liters) and that’s why I stopped.  I have one more kind to make tomorrow morning before I spend another long day wrestling the hardened (well, not really hardened, more like firm-ened) ganaches into frames so that they can be cut, enrobed, boxed and sold for Christmas.  The skin on my hands feels like the sticky side of velcro, and all I really want is to dig into the leftovers of this roast patidou squash and shallot quiche, which is as luxuriously creamy as you could ever possibly want a quiche to be.

...and After

I’m counting on it to smooth out today’s rough edges.  As for my hands, well, that’s why God created shea butter.

A little slice of heaven

Read on for the recipe.

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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.





Spaghetti and Fried Eggs

10 11 2008

Sounds weird, I know.  I’ve had this recipe filed away in my mental recipe box for months now.  Every time I brought it up in the past, Nick would give me this look and say “So it’s just pasta?  With a fried egg?” in such a way that eventually discouraged me from pursuing it.

Frying eggs

So I was very surprised one day last week, when, while assessing the contents of our still-not-fully-operational fridge, Nick asked me, “didn’t you have some pasta-fried egg thing you wanted to try?”  Seizing on what was surely a rare opportunity, I agreed to make it the next night for dinner with the caveat that I add something to liven it up a bit.

A trip through the produce section of the supermarket the next day proved somewhat fruitless.  I had hoped to find some mustard greens, dandelions (I have yet to try them but am quite curious), or even arugula or spinach, but they were sorely lacking in the fresh greens department.  (Spaghetti with fried eggs and lettuce doesn’t sound the slightest bit appealing, does it?)  As I meandered through the aisles, searching for inspiration, I came to the realization that I had everything I needed for a great pasta dish at home.  Contemplating the pasta and fried egg concept, I recalled that I had seen it referred to as “poor man’s carbonara.”  Further reflection dragged up some memory of peas in carbonara dishes.  Well, I have a bag of frozen peas that need to be used… but what else can I put in there to make it more seasonally appropriate?  A quick mental scan of my pantry revealed some fresh rosemary and a jar of dried porcini mushrooms.  Now we’re talking!

A jumble of ingredients

This is a perfect dish for busy weeknights.  Fast, filling, infinitely variable – I will certainly be turning to pasta and eggs for future emergency dinners.  I started rehydrating the mushrooms and boiling water for pasta, and 20 minutes later I had dinner!

Stirring the pasta

The eggs were fried in a rather large amount of garlic-infused oil, just like the original recipe.  I threw the peas in with the pasta, timing it so they would be done at the same time, and meanwhile chopped up the rosemary and mushrooms.  I saved the mushroom soaking liquid to adjust the consistency of the final dish, which turned out to be necessary as the runny egg yolks combined with the oil to create a thick, rich sauce.

Quick, tasty, filling, and cheap - what more can you ask for?

For future reference, four eggs, when combined with the pasta and other ingredients, is a lot more than two people can eat for dinner.  Not that we didn’t enjoy trying.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Eggplant and Eggs

15 10 2008

You could say that I eat a lot of eggplant, and you would not be wrong.  I am going to miss it in the coming months, so I thought I’d give it one last hurrah before being replaced in my pantry by winter squashes and mushrooms.  I bought one while Nick was gone and ate half of it roasted, on a pizza with an improvised roasted garlic tomato sauce. 

Browning diced eggplant

Cooking for one almost always means leftovers, so the other half of the eggplant and the remaining tomato sauce languished in the fridge for several days, since I had used the last of the pizza dough and wasn’t really inspired to do anything else with them.  In an attempt to clean out the fridge, I noticed that I had some eggs that needed to be eaten.  Below them, lying forgotten in the vegetable drawer, was the leftover half-eggplant.  Eggs, eggplant… they must go together!  But what will bring them into perfect harmony?  Aha!  Roasted garlic tomato sauce!

Ragout/Ragù

I fashioned a ragoût using the eggplant and a shallot (I was actually running low on onions, plus I just wanted a subtle hint of onion flavor, so a shallot fit the bill nicely).  I seasoned it with red pepper flakes and oregano, and thought that an anchovy would be a nice touch if I had one.  Not wanting to dirty an extra dish, I scooped the eggplant directly into my serving bowl, dug a little well, and cracked an egg into it.  Covered with foil, it went straight into the oven to bake.

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Enfin une Quiche

3 07 2008

I actually make quiche on a not-infrequent basis.  It’s relatively easy, and since I know where to get cheap eggs, it’s a good source of inexpensive protein.  But for some reason, none of my quiches have made it onto this here blog.  Why?  Maybe I was embarrassed about using store-bought pâte brisée, maybe I didn’t get any good pictures, maybe I had better things to blog about.  But this time I made up my mind to document the quiche.

First things first: the crust.  (A funny story just popped into my mind – for my culinary school final, I drew a menu containing quiche Lorraine.  We were given ingredient lists, but no other clues.  The list for the quiche did not include ingredients for the crust because, honestly, if you don’t know what goes into pâte brisée, you don’t deserve to graduate from culinary school.  At any rate, the TA told me after the test was finished that I had been the only student to make a crust for the quiche!)  Anyway, the crust is easy.  I used to make it in the Cusinart, which certainly makes it a quick process, but the truth is that it doesn’t take long to do it by hand.  Mix flour and salt in a bowl, rub in cold butter, gently stir in cold water.  I use my hands, that way there are no pastry cutters or knives to wash later.  (I’ll put my recipe at the bottom of this post.)  A French pastry technique called fraisage, which involves smearing the dough on the counter, gives the crust long, flaky layers that are totally worth the mess.  After chilling the dough for an hour or so, I rolled it out and wrangled it into my rectangular baking dish.  I lined it with foil and, since I don’t have any pie weights, weighed it down with a few ramekins.  I parbaked it for about 20 minutes, and it was ready for the fillings.

Parbaked quiche crust

 It was one of those rare moments when we didn’t have any bacon in the house, so I decided to use a ton of caramelized onions.  (For those of you just tuning in, I absolutely love caramelized onions.)

Mmmm... caramelized onions

But wait, there’s more…

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Easter Brunch

26 03 2008

Usually we spend Easter Sunday with a bunch of friends, cooking up a big brunch, gorging ourselves on pork products, drinking champagne, and (last year, anyway) playing Wii.  This year, however, we were on our own (our current apartment isn’t exactly suited for entertaining, but the situation will soon be rectified), the Wii sitting idly in its box until we can procure a television.  As a result, we probably spent even more time than usual cooking ourselves fabulous Easter treats.  Strata has always been one of my favorite brunch dishes, and I am given to making it on holidays, since it takes some time to prepare, but most of the hands-on work can be done the day before.  We still had some Basque chorizo from the Salon in the fridge, so I decided to base this year’s Easter strata on that. 

First I had to track down some Basque cheese, and went to check out a nearby Basque-centric shop I had read about.  It seemed appropriate that the place was situated near the Pyrenées Métro stop.  The shop itself had a very weird vibe, though.  I walked in and the man there (the proprietor?), who was seated at a table, eating lunch, looked surprised to see me.  I asked if they had any Basque cheeses, since there didn’t seem to be any merchandise on display, and I felt as though I had just walked into someone’s home.  He said he did, and called to the back for his wife (or employee?  I really don’t know).  She came out, got a hunk of cheese from the fridge, and cut a small wedge for me.  Then both of them insisted that the ONLY way to eat this cheese was with black cherry jam.  I smiled and nodded and got out of there.

Cut to Saturday evening.  I had acquired a large bag of onions at the market on Thursday, and thought that caramelized onions would be excellent in the strata.  Nick, feeling industrious, took it upon himself to slice up about 4 onions and start them cooking right after dinner.

Onions, before  Onions, halfway there  Onions, after

Since we didn’t have any big plans for the next morning, I decided to put off assembling the strata until then.  Bright and early on Sunday, which was a gorgeously sunny morning, I woke up and got to work.  I buttered the baking dish and laid down slices of bread, like this:

Strata - first layer

There’s a prize for the first person to correctly identify the 3 slices of pain tradition (or tradi, as I just recently learned it is called colloquially).  On a side note, if you are ever buying bread in Paris, I strongly suggest you forgo the baguette in favor of the tradi.  In any given bakery, it is the bread that is given the most love and care in its preparation, and you can really taste the difference.  There is a bakery just down the street that somehow always has tradis fresh from the oven, still warm.  But I digress.  Back to the strata.

Strata - second layer

I topped the bread slices with a layer of onions, followed by layers of chorizo and cheese.

3rd layer  4th layer

After that, more onions and a final layer of bread slices – like a dish full of tiny sandwiches!

5th layer  6th layer

Then I beat some eggs with milk, cream, salt, and pepper.  I poured this mixture over the bread slices, making sure to coat each one.  I covered the whole thing with plastic wrap and weighted it down with the bag of onions in order to make sure the bread soaked up all of the custard.  (You can make this up to this point and let it sit in the fridge overnight, if you want.)  After an hour or so, it looked like this:

Oven-ready strata

I placed it in the oven and we waited, cleaning up the mess I had made and enjoying our leisurely morning coffee.  The total baking time was a little over an hour at 175C, and I rotated the pan halfway through.  And when it was done…

Baked strata - ready to eat!

We feasted!





Pig Day Salad

3 03 2008

Saturday, as you should all know, was National Pig Day in the United States.  Curious as to how this came about, I trawled briefly on the old Internets and came up with this, from holidayinsights.com: “Ellen Stanley, a Texas art teacher created National Pig Day in 1972. Her intent was to to recognize and be thankful for pigs as intelligent domestic animals.  There is no evidence to suggest that this is truly a ‘National’ day, which requires an act of congress.”  First of all, what is congress thinking?  This situation needs to be rectified at once!  Secondly, I’m afraid Ellen Stanley may have been a bit misguided when it came to inventing a reason to celebrate the pig.  I think most people would consider National Pig Day as a day to appreciate the multitude of flavors and textures given to us by the humble pig.  Homer Simpson said it best when he (unwittingly) referred to the pig as “a wonderful, magical animal.”  As evidenced by that first link, food-loving types will be overjoyed to have an excuse to indulge in as many pork products as possible.  (Side note: I am making those bacon bowls as soon as I get my hands on some decent cooking equipment.  If anyone gets to it before I do, I want to hear all about it!)

Upon learning of this holiday, Nick and I set out to build a meal around it.  Unfortunately, we had planned on having salads for dinner, in order to use up the last of that fine head of lettuce before it went limp.  Luckily, I have never been above putting pork products center stage in my salads.  So I decided on an old favorite of ours, the poached egg and bacon salad.  This pretty much has infinite variations, so I went to the store to see what I could find for tonight’s salad.  (Yes, I went to the store, not the market – it was Saturday and the market is on Sundays and Thursdays.)  Browsing the pre-packaged charcuterie section, I decided on a bag of lardons fumés.  Hey, the bacon is already cut up for me!  It doesn’t get much easier than that.  Blue cheese is always nice with bacon, and salads, so I selected a round of Fourme d’Ambert, a relatively mild blue cheese from Auvergne.  Roasted, salted hazelnuts went into my shopping bag next – I like nuts on my salad for crunch.

Armed with my salad fixins, dinner came together in a snap.  First I cooked the lardons over low heat in order to render the fat, then turned it up to get them nice and brown.

Browning Lardons

Once the lardons were crispy on the outside, but still chewy in the center, I took them out and added a julienned onion to pick up the fond.  (You don’t expect me to just leave all that bacon fat and fond behind, do you?)

Bacon-y Onions

When the onions were softened and sufficiently bacon-y, I removed the pan from the heat and replaced it with a pot of salted water for poaching eggs.  While it heated up, I began to put the salads together.  Lettuce, cleaned and torn, went on the plates first, followed by a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.  Next went the onions, lardons, and crumbled Fourme d’Ambert.  I poached the eggs one at a time and placed one atop each salad, then sprinkled them with the hazelnuts.

Salad for National Pig Day

We raised our glasses to the pig and dug in.  Happy National Pig Day, everyone!





Another Meatless Friday

29 02 2008

Ok, this was actually last night’s dinner, but tonight’s dinner is likely to consist of frozen (meatless) pizza, salad, and beer.  However, we had a quintessentially French meal last night that happened to contain no meat, so here it is. 

Eggs

That’s right, hard boiled eggs!  Yum.

Just kidding.  But these very eggs formed the base of a delicious omelette.  Nick got home pretty late last night, so I wanted to make dinner as simple as possible.   I started with two leeks, chopped, rinsed, and sautéed in butter.

Leeks

While the leeks cooked, I combined the eggs in a bowl with salt, pepper, and a little milk, and lightly beat the mixture with a fork.  As soon as the leeks started to get some color, I poured the eggs over the top.

Cooking the Omelette

If I had a proper oven, we’d be having a frittata for sure.  But no, this is France.  We must have omelettes!  So when the eggs were nearly cooked through, I sprinkled on some grated Emmenthal cheese and did my best to fold the thing in half.  (Which I realize is the American way of making omelettes, but how else are you supposed to deal with a six-egg monstrosity?  The French have the good sense not to make their omelettes so freaking huge.)

Omelette in the Pan…

I turned off the stove and let it finish cooking off the radiant heat while I made a quick vinaigrette and rinsed some salad greens.  The vinaigrette was really beautiful and emulsified due to the rather high proportion of Dijon mustard I used, but I got a little cocky and added the oil a bit too fast and next thing I knew, my perfect vinaigrette was broken.  Nick was particularly disappointed by this turn of events, as he had been marveling at my skill only moments before.  Broken or not, the vinaigrette was ready, the omelette was cooked, and dinner was served.

A typically French meal

It tasted even better than I thought it would, and was just the ticket for a late supper.  The bread came from one of my favorite local bakeries: La Boulangerie de Véronique Mauclerc.  More on her at a later date.








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