Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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Vegetable and Grain Salad

14 07 2011

You can try to plan it out.  You can try to make sure you have holiday-appropriate recipes all ready in advance.  You can spend hours taking that perfect photo.  You can read, and re-read, and edit.  You can post regularly, multiple times per week, or day.  There are lots of you who do, and that’s why your blogs are better than mine.  Me, I’m in a phase with my blog right now where I am just letting it come to me.  If I don’t have inspiration to write about something, I’m not going to force you to read my pained output.  I’ve got a couple of books I’ve been trying to write about for weeks now.  But I’m afraid the truth is I don’t have much to say about them.  What I am excited about right now, and what I want to share with you, is this:

Don't judge a book by its cover.

I know.  It kind of looks like barf.  But this is just one in a parade of such grain-and-vegetable salads I’ve made over the last few weeks.  I wouldn’t keep making if they weren’t tasty.  It started with a box of blé, which translates literally to “wheat” but often refers in French to a particular product that resembles wheat berries in the way that Uncle Ben’s resembles rice.  I acquired this box of blé when a friend was moving away, and Nick and I both actually like the stuff – it’s a nice change from rice or pasta – so using hasn’t really been a problem.  But one day it occurred to me, perhaps following a party at a friend’s where she served a couple of delicious grain-based salads, that I could use the blé as more than just a side dish.  Combine that epiphany with a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables and an uncommonly delicious salad dressing, and you’ve got what’s been a very popular dinner in my house of late.

So far I’ve done it with asparagus, broccoli, and zucchini, but I suspect it’s also good with green beans, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, winter squash… you get the idea.  When I finally ran out of blé, I bought and used petit épeautre* which was equally successful.  I originally wanted to type this up as a nice recipe (see above re: planning), but the more I think about it, the more I think this is something you should be able to play around with.

Here’s how it goes.  Cook your grains in a pot of boiling water.  (If they require it, as my spelt did, soak them ahead of time.)  While the grains are cooking, make the dressing** and prepare and cook your vegetables.  Roasting and sautéeing are my preferred methods, for the flavorful browned bits they produce, but if you’d rather just steam yours over the already boiling pot of water, that’s fine, too, and saves energy to boot.  When the grains are tender, drain them and gently stir in the vegetables and dressing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  A little crisped bacon, chunks of ham, or shredded cooked chicken would be good additions, too, but I assure you it’s just fine without the meat.  Some toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds add a nice crunch.  Fresh herbs like parsley or basil could add a fresh note.  See what I mean?  This “recipe” is so infinitely adaptable I see no reason to commit to just one version.

Have fun with it, and happy Bastille Day!

*Anyone who knows the difference between spelt and farro, and their respective names in French, is implored to comment here and enlighten me and my readers.

** I linked to the dressing recipe above, but here’s my paraphrased version: take a small pot of plain yogurt (about 125 grams or 4 ounces), add 4 big spoonfuls of tahini, a big pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves.  Blend them together.  The flavor of this dressing can vary according to the juiciness of the lemon and the pungency of the garlic, but it is always delicious.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





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.





Moving Week, or Eating Down The Pantry

12 04 2011

I had ambitions to write up a lovely parting post for my street this week. I went out on Saturday, which was gloriously sunny and took lots and lots of pictures, and even a little video, but now the thought of going through them all and writing something worthwhile about each one feels too daunting. I seem to have forgotten, despite the fact that I did it just one year ago, exactly how much physical and mental energy it takes to pack up your entire apartment. Time, too. The good news is that we did finally find an apartment, one we’re excited to move into, in a completely new neighborhood which will be fun to explore and get to know. Don’t worry, I’ll give my current neighborhood a proper sendoff. It will just be after the move.

Logic would dictate that the more things you eat out of your pantry and fridge before you move, the fewer things you have to move. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job with this.  The freezer is now empty, save for a few trays of ice cubes and a couple of ice packs, and the fridge contains mainly condiments.  Tonight I finished off the bag of frozen spinach, the tomato paste, the milk, the cream, and the harissa – all went into a bread pudding that smells delightful.

Last night I indulged in a fresh goat cheese crottin in the name of going through a large quantity of lettuce.

Salade de Chèvre Chaud

Yep. I made a lovely salade de chèvre chaud.  The rest of the baguette and cheese also ended up in tonight’s dinner.  Speaking of, the oven timer just went off!  Time to eat.

On this day in 2010: Fribourg d’Alpage (A wonderful cheese.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Secrets of Fruit Salad

4 04 2011

Fruit salad is a deceptively simple dish.  It seems like you could just throw in a bunch of cut up fresh fruits and call it a day, and a lot of people do just that.  I am not one of them.  And I am often complimented on my fruit salads.  So what’s the secret?  I’ve got several.

  • Honey. Try drizzling a little honey over your fruit.  An unusual or unique one, such as Tasmanian leatherwood honey or Corsican chestnut honey will make your salad much more interesting.  Taste different honeys and try to imagine them paired with various fruits.  A floral honey is nice with stone fruits or tropical fruits, an earthy or nutty one is great with berries or citrus.
  • Salt. A few flecks of crunchy sea salt will really make the flavors sing.  I like to use vanilla salt, which I make by scraping a vanilla bean into a jar of fleur de sel.
  • Acid. Particularly lemon or lime juice.  It not only brightens the flavor, but also acts as an antioxydant to keep more delicate fruits from going brown.  Go ahead and throw some zest in there, too, if you like a more pronounced citrus flavor.
  • Herbs. Mint, basil, and tarragon are three that compliment fruits especially well.
  • No “Kitchen Sink.” It may be cliché, but “what grows together goes together.”  Apples and oranges pretty much never belong in the same salad.  Try to limit yourself to a few well-chosen, seasonal fruits.

Some seasonal suggestions:

  • Spring – Early spring still relies on tropical fruits, but later on, strawberries, cherries and apricots steal the show.  Try them with a little crushed dried lavender.
  • Summer – Probably the best season for fruit salads, summer abounds with juicy stone fruits, berries, and watermelons.  Summery basil and refreshing mint are natural complements, but a little chili pepper makes for an unexpected twist.
  • Fall – Late-season melons, grapes, and plums provide a lingering taste of warmer days.  Crunchy nuts add contrast.  Fall is also a great time for compotes.  Essentially warm fruit salads, think apples or pears and dried cranberries, cooked with a stick of cinnamon to spice things up.
  • Winter – Winter is a great excuse to eat tropical fruits that might otherwise cause guilty feelings among the locavore set.  Pineapples, mangoes, papayas, and other exotic fruits combine with kiwis (grown in temperate climates, but in season in winter) to give a splash of color to the earth-toned palette of winter produce.  Lively citrus salads are made intriguing with a hint of tarragon.

kiwi salad

Kiwifruit Salad

A simple dressing of citrus, honey, and salt elevates ordinary fruit to new heights.

4 kiwis
juice of ½ lime
1 tsp. Honey (I used Tasmanian)
pinch of vanilla salt

  1. Peel the kiwis by cutting the ends off and slipping a spoon between the skin and the flesh. Cut the kiwis into lengthwise quarters, then horizontal slices. Place in a bowl.
  2. Add the lime juice, honey, and vanilla salt and stir to combine. Let the flavors mingle for about 10 minutes, then eat.

Serves 2.

On this day in 2008: New Ganga (a now defunct Indian restaurant)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 4th: La Reserve de Quasimodo

15 02 2011

Yes, it sits in the shadow of Notre Dame, one of Paris’ biggest tourist draws.  And yes, the chalkboard menus are in English as well as French.  But don’t let either of those usually deterrent factors stop you from paying a visit to La Reserve de Quasimodo, one of Paris’ most affordable, least pretentious, and – dare I say it – off-the-beaten-path wine bars.

La Reserve de Quasimodo

Wine bar can be a tricky term.  Some fit the description well: bars that serve a larger-than-usual variety of wines, and maybe some nibbles to go with them (Le Baron Rouge and Tombé du Ciel are two good examples).  Others are really more like restaurants, requiring reservations and serving full-on meals (think Le Verre Volé or Chapeau Melon).  Often food purchases are required, due to liquor license intricacies.  Many operate as wine shops during non-meal hours.

So what kind of wine bar is La Reserve de Quasimodo?  Well, it has a wine cellar, from which you can buy wines by the bottle.  You can either take them away and do as you see fit (Nick and I are looking forward to summer, when we can stroll in, pick up a nice bottle of something chilled, and then take it to the river bank to sip), or you can enjoy them in the dining room.  The droit de bouchon, or corkage fee, is a mere six euros – probably the cheapest in Paris.  It is one of those places where eating something is required, but if you aren’t in the mood for a full meal, they offer cheese and charcuterie plates to share.

Cheese plate at La Reserve de Quasimodo

I have yet to try the charcuterie, but I’ve had the cheeses twice.  A little round of aged chèvre, a slab of piquant bleu d’Auvergne, a hunk of earthy Saint Nectaire, and a quarter-wheel of creamy Camembert.  The Camembert is the standout, but all are good, and a little variety is important, no?  On an unrelated note, did you know that a pie chart in French is called a Camembert?  I find that hilarious and awesome.

Duck and foie gras salad

Making up a large part of the menu are salads and tartines.  The salads are big enough for a meal, the selection of hearty toppings ranging from duck prosciutto and foie gras terrine (pictured above) to jambonneau with Puy lentils (below).

Jambonneau and Lentil salad

The tartines are of the open-faced sandwich family, as opposed to the bread smeared with butter and jam ilk, and are piled high with goodies like cheese, tomatoes, and anchovies.

For those hungry for something warmer and stodgier, there are hot menu items as well, though I can’t vouch for them as I haven’t tried any.  Yet.

The space itself is worth a visit.  Steeped in history, it’s been operating since the 12th century, and among other things, once served a s a hangout for the infamous Cartouche, Paris’ most notorious criminal of the early 18th century. But you can read all about that, and other historical tidbits, on the signs out front.  Inside, the front room is like a glass-enclosed patio which offers great views over the Seine of the Hôtel de Ville, while the back room feels much older with its exposed beams of dark wood.  The toilet is, just as they claim, “atypical.”

Door

La Reserve de Quasimodo serves both lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, and the wine shop is open continuously from 10:45 am.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Céleri Rémoulade

11 11 2010

I really don’t know why I haven’t made this before.

close up

Céleri rémoulade, a classic of French cuisine, is absolutely delicious.  And it even improves in flavor, if not looks, over time.  (You see, celeriac, also known as celery root, has a tendency to brown when it is exposed to air.  You can minimize the effect by having the rémoulade dressing ready to go when you grate the celeriac, but after a few days in the fridge, chemistry wins.)

capers, mayonnaise, mustard, shallot, parsley

It’s also one of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  I’ve never made it before, yet I dove right in, without even consulting a recipe. Remoulade is a mayonnaise-based sauce not unlike tartar sauce, which I do off-the-cuff anyway.  So I winged it.  Two or three heaping soup spoons of mayonnaise (I used store-bought, but I’m sure it would be even better with homemade), two coffee spoons of capers, chopped, a minced shallot, two heaping coffee spoons of grainy mustard, the leaves of about six stems of parsley, chopped, and several twists of black pepper from the mill.  (You’ll notice I used curly parsley, but that’s only because I couldn’t find any flat-leaf at the store.)  And that’s it for the dressing.  Mix it all together, taste it, and then get going on the celery root.

Scrub and peel the celeriac, cut it into pieces that are manageable for your grater, and grate away.  If I had my Cuisinart, you can be sure I’d use it to make fast work of the grating.  Then simply mix the shredded celery root into the remoulade.  It should be mostly vegetable – the dressing is just that: dressing.  It shouldn’t be gloppy at all.  In fact, when I was mixing it I wondered if maybe I should add more mayonnaise, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t.

And there you have it!  A classic French appetizer salad.  It’s certainly going to be a staple in my winter cooking repertoire, giving me just one more reason to look forward to this tasty root vegetable showing up in my CSA share.

On this day in 2008: Worthwhile French Beers: Les 3 Brasseurs

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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