Jardinière de légumes printaniers

jardiniere2If I were a vegetable, I’d like to start my life in spring. The tenderest peas, the sweetest onions, the most darling little carrots and turnips emerge at this time of year. The markets in France are overflowing with beautiful young veggies. And what better idea for a chef that to combine them in the bright and lovely dish known as a jardinière — literally, a garden box — of vegetables.

Jardinière de légumes printaniers / Spring vegetable medley

There are many variations on this dish. It may include baby leeks, baby fennel, artichoke hearts, or any other spring veggie — and it may also include bacon, a favorite with the younger set. The veggies (except the peas) are sautéed in olive oil until they just begin to brown. Then they are braised briefly in water — this produces a succulent sauce. The peas are added at the last minute. Et voilà — a dish that marries well with just about anything, and that can also achieve star power on its own, accompanied by a salad and perhaps some cheese. Happy cooking!

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Entrecôte bordelaise

entrecote bordelaise2If you are from the Bordeaux region you probably know the difference, but if you’re from anywhere else, you may not: entrecôte bordelaise, one of France’s great steak dishes, is served without a wine sauce. The steak is grilled over charcoal or pan-seared, topped with minced shallots, sprinkled with sea salt and parsley, et voilà. That’s all. But entrecôte à la bordelaise is a different matter — the à la means it will be served with a rich sauce of shallots, butter and wine, preferably Bordeaux.

Entrecôte bordelaise / Pan-seared steak with shallots

entrecote a la bordelaise2Today’s recipe includes both styles of preparation. The key is to use a premium cut of beef. In France, these dishes are traditionally made with the steak known as entrecôte, which literally means between the ribs. Good substitutes include rib-eye, sirloin, Porterhouse, New York strip, club, Scotch fillet and Delmonico.

ferrandi1And now for something completely different. I had the pleasure yesterday of lunching at the Ecole Ferrandi, a cooking school that has been praised in France as the Harvard of gastronomy. The occasion was a gathering of the Reuter Dinosaur Club (read: aging journalists who have worked for Reuters and lived to tell the tale). It was so impressive that I took some photos to share with you.

ferrandi2From the menu, I chose a starter of a foamy soup of smoked haddock with asparagus tips and cockles. For the main course I had fillet of red mullet and bream, bouillabaisse style, replete with tiny langoustines and a delicious rouille (saffron mayonnaise). This was followed by a cheese plate and, for dessert, an absolutely gorgeous lychee Bavarian cream on a pink biscuit accompanied by Champagne-flavored sherbet.

ferrandi3All of the cooking and serving is done by students at the school, who may begin their training as young as 15, or enroll after completing their high school education. The service was a little slow, but what the heck? These kids were turning out gourmet meals that would not have been out of place at a three-star restaurant. In fact, the school’s board is headed by Joël Robuchon, one of France’s greatest chefs. And the lunch costs just 30 euros, a bargain for this kind of meal.

ferrandi4Would I go back? Yes, definitely, providing I had plenty of time and a very big appetite. It was so much fun!

And in the meantime, happy cooking.

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Asperges au parmesan

asparagus parmesan4There are so many beautiful things to be done with asparagus in the springtime that sometimes it’s hard to choose. In a quiche? In an omelet? Wrapped in a crêpe with melted cheese? Served in solitary splendor as a first course with a vinaigrette? Braised to a rich and savory brownness? At a recent dinner party, I decided to experiment and combined this spring’s first asparagus with parmesan and nut-brown melted butter. To applause…

Asperges au parmesan / Asparagus with parmesan

One of the many appealing aspects of asparagus is its beauty — the elegant fresh green spears will enliven any platter. Another is its history. People have been serving asparagus since at least 3000 B.C. when Egyptians depicted it on a frieze. As I’m currently studying early humans, I often try to imagine their mealtimes — and that frieze is proof of their good taste. Finally, the health benefits of eating asparagus have been recognized since the days of the ancient Greeks, and some societies considered it an aphrodisiac. Here in France, Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, liked to be served what she called “love tips” (points d’amour). I can’t vouch for asparagus as an aphrodisiac, but certainly it is a source of pleasure in itself. And that’s enough for me. Happy cooking!

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Risotto au safran

saffron risotto2Risotto is one of the world’s great comfort foods, and this particular kind — with saffron — is one of my favorites. It makes a fine starter and works well as a side dish. I served it the other evening alongside rolled roast of duck with walnut sauce. Simple fare with a slightly sophisticated edge — and quite different from the relentlessly modern food one risks encountering these days at some of the reputedly hottest restaurants in Paris.

Risotto au safran / Saffron risotto

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am a big fan of Shaun Kelly and the creative cuisine he brought to the restaurant Au Passage — fresh, seasonal and invariably inventive. Shaun was preceded at Au Passage by another young Australian chef, James Henry, who went on in late 2012 to open a new place, Bones, also in the 11th arrondissement. It’s had great reviews, and I had high expectations when a friend and I went there last weekend. But, alas, we were disappointed — and not just because, after arriving at 8, we had to wait more than an hour for the first food to appear.

It was something we hadn’t ordered, a palate teaser of indeterminate nature. On the tiny plate, it looked like two mouthfuls of merguez (spicy sausage). But looks can be deceiving, as we discovered on tasting what turned out to be a mixture of sea urchin, grated carrot and botargo (salted mullet roe), encased in an unidentifiable wrapper. By 9:30, we were still waiting for the first course when the waitress appeared with a second palate teaser — two slices of barely cooked duck heart. “It looks like it’s still beating,” said my friend.

When at last the actual dinner appeared, the dishes were neither bad nor great. One combined asparagus, sea scallops and citrus fruit, another starred monkfish cheeks in broth. By the way, it’s a set menu with no choice possible except the main course. I chose veal, which came with mini artichokes and whipped cream — quite tasty. My friend had a microscopic serving of lamb with kidney (James Henry specializes in offal). This was followed by a clear-the-palate salty orange granita. We were more than ready to leave by 11 when they finally brought the dessert, which was — wait for it — jerusalem artichoke ice cream.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m all for inventive cuisine, but sometimes it feels like chefs are trying too hard to push the margins. It’s like they’ve forgotten that restaurant goers may enjoy creativity, but we are above all seeking a good meal. In addition, the restaurant was incredibly noisy, with a young crowd of (mainly) foreigners. Not surprising, as the French would not tolerate being made to wait 90 minutes for the first course.

Meantime, I just revisited Au Passage, which was as fabulous as ever although there is now a brand new chef. Ah oui, mes amis. Shaun Kelly has gone off to a new place, Yard, also in the 11th. Haven’t tried that one yet — it opened only this week — but when I do I’ll let you know. The new chef at Au Passage, an English friend of Shaun’s, is Edward Delling-Williams, and I’m delighted to report that he is maintaining that bistro’s fine tradition. Without recounting everything we tried, I’ll just say that the dish of cockles with bacon and salsify (an edible root popular in France) was to die for. So much so that I will attempt to replicate it for you in a future post. And in the meantime, happy cooking!

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Coquelet à la géorgienne

Georgian chicken2Take a moment to consider the humble walnut. It is said to have health enhancing qualities, and even life extending properties, possibly because it contains antioxidants. Now let’s consider the Georgians and their beautiful, mountainous land on the shores of the Black Sea — the land where Jason is said to have gone in search of the golden fleece. Is it because walnuts play such a large part in the cuisine of the Georgians that are among the longest-lived people on earth? They combine walnuts with garlic, spices and herbs to make a spectacular sauce that they serve often, sometimes with grilled chicken, as in this recipe.

Coquelet à la géorgienne / Chicken with walnut sauce

I served this to guests the other day, using the small, young chicken known as the coquelet in France. Tried it out on my daughter first. Her reaction? ‘Trop bon!’ (French kidspeak for ‘awesome’). The sauce is made ahead of time, the chicken roasted at high temperature to crispy succulence, and when you bring it to the table be prepared for oohs and aahs. This same sauce works brilliantly on cooked vegetables like green beans or spinach. I plan to serve it next week on roast duck. But is it French? Mais oui, now it is. It’s been a star of my Parisian table for decades.

When considering the great cuisines of the world — Indian, Thai, Persian, Chinese, Italian and, of course, French — mention is rarely made of Georgian cooking. This will undoubtedly change over time through globalization. In the meantime, one woman has done quite a lot to make Georgian cuisine accessible to everyday chefs in the West. She is Anya von Bremzen, whose masterful Please to the Table, which came out in 1990, contains recipes from all the republics of the former USSR.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Anya recently about her new book, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, which despite its title is not a cookbook but rather a fascinating history of the Soviet Union viewed through the lens of food. If you’d like to see the interview, it’s here on a French literary site called Paris Writers News.

One more thing on the literary front: I’ve just begun a new blog on the craft of writing that may be of interest to the readers/writers among you. As a journalist and writer with nearly four decades of facing the blank page on a daily basis, I decided to share some thoughts. The first post, Is This a True Story, considers the ethics of changing the names of people portrayed in a memoir. If you read it, please add your thoughts. I’d love to see them.

And by the way, it’s spring. Happy cooking!

Posted in 6. Poultry | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mousse aux fraises

strawberry mousse1Who would have thought that something like strawberry mousse could spark a sex war? But that’s what happened the other day when, experimenting with this recipe, I took two versions of it to a friend’s place for a lunchtime dessert. There were six at the table — four women and two men — and a truly Parisian cacophony erupted when I asked which version they preferred. All of the women liked the first, in which the uncooked strawberries release a bright burst of flavor. All of the men preferred the second, creamier sort, in which the strawberries are briefly simmered before being incorporated into a mousse.

Mousse aux fraises / Strawberry mousse

Of course we’ve all seen the way the pleasures of the table can be appreciated differently by women and men. Pardon the generalities, but I’ve found that women like their coffee brulant, as they say in French — burning hot — while men prefer to let it cool down a bit. Women often have more of a sweet tooth. Men like to take their sugar via alcohol. Et cetera et cetera. (If you have other examples, please share them.) In this case, I was very surprised by the outcome — but pleased that everyone liked both versions. It was a matter of degree, but all agreed that strawberry mousse — elegant, light and oh so flavorful — is a perfect dessert for spring. And by the way, preparation is simple and incredibly quick.

Site news: If you have a moment, please check out a site called Provence Guru, which as of this week will from time to time be featuring recipes from The Everyday French Chef. It’s not a food site per se, but rather an ‘insider’s guide to Provence,’ with articles on restaurants, culture, wine, rentals and many other themes. Run by a genial Englishman named Jamie Ivey who left his job as a corporate lawyer to enjoy a more relaxed life in Provence, and who became an author specializing in rosé wine in the process, it is packed with useful information about that particularly beloved corner of France.

Even if you’re not heading that way, you can enjoy dreaming about it. And in the meantime, happy cooking!

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Artichauts à la barigoule

barigoule2Artichokes simmered lovingly with garlic and parsley — this dish is served throughout southeast France and Italy, and probably has been since Roman times. There are many variations, often with pancetta, breadcrumbs, tomatoes, onions, carrots or white wine. I prefer the simplest Provençal variety — no bacon, no wine, just trimmed artichokes, olive oil, garlic and parsley. It’s good, earthy peasant fare and, for me, a rite of spring.

Artichauts à la barigoule / Artichokes with garlic and parsley, Provence style

But what, you may well ask, is meant by barigoule? I had the same question. As it turns out, it’s a Provençal word for a kind of mushroom found on the roots of a thistle-like plant, field eryngo, that grows wild in the region. This mushroom — aka the king oyster mushroom, among other names — was chopped and used in a stuffing for artichokes. That practice has fallen by the wayside, but the word continues to be used to describe a method of preparation in which the artichokes are trimmed, their chokes removed and the centers stuffed with whatever.

The first of two culinary sources — Andrée Maureau, author of Recettes en Provence — remarks that the barigoule, or bérigoule, mushroom lent its name to a flat straw hat worn in the Arles region more than 200 years ago, before the French Revolution of 1789. She gives two ways of preparing artichauts à la barigoule — one, with just parsley and garlic, from the Lourmarin area north of Aix-en-Provence, and the other, with onions, garlic and tomatoes but no parsley, from the Alpilles mountain region further west.

My second source is Corinne Patin, whose web site, Le Festin de Corinne (Corinne’s Feast), is worth a look by anyone interested in Provençal cuisine. She says that peasants in the region originally cooked their artichokes in the same way as they cooked the mushrooms — grilled with salt, pepper and olive oil. Only later did they begin braising artichokes stuffed with chopped barigoule mushrooms, various herbs and salt pork.

I had similar dish a little more than a year ago in Sicily, where my friend Gisella, a superlative cook, prepared carciofi trifolati as part of her Christmas Eve feast. The artichokes were not stuffed but rather trimmed, sliced and simmered with garlic and parsley for what seemed an eternity. The result was a sultry, smoky dish to die for.

Artichoke season is just beginning. Happy cooking!

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Saumon à l’oseille

salmon sorrel4At some point in the wee hours of this morning, Paris time, views of this culinary blog soared past 100,000. That’s not huge by web standards. Last year I met a fellow at a cookbook conference who told me his videos on pastry making got 250,000 hits a day. But for me this is a milestone that deserves celebrating — and so I give you one of my favorite recipes, a fish dish that is supremely French, quick and easy to prepare, and certain to win applause when brought to the table. A perfect dish for an everyday French chef.

Saumon à l’oseille / Thick-cut salmon with sorrel sauce

A quick word about the recipe before turning to the blogging past and future of this site. If you can’t find sorrel, not to panic. Baby spinach leaves are a perfectly acceptable substitute — you will just need to add some lemon juice to the sauce to replace the tanginess of fresh sorrel. The salmon may be fresh (preferable) or frozen. The sauce is the crowning glory.

Now, getting back to the 100,000. First and foremost, I’d like to thank every reader of this site for your interest and support. When I started The Everyday French Chef a year and a half ago, it was more or less on a dare — from my then 12-year-old daughter. After a period of giving cooking lessons in my Paris kitchen, I wanted to publish a cookbook. I contacted a top cookbook agent, who told me that I would first need to have ‘tens or hundreds of thousands of followers.’ Tears ensued. This is where my daughter stepped in. ‘Mom, don’t cry,’ she said. ‘Just start a web site.’

mayonnaiseI took her up on it, and it’s been an adventure. Plenty of things have gone wrong. Like the day last winter when a friend came over to shoot a video of me making mayonnaise and the sauce kept curdling. We couldn’t figure out why — until my hands started shaking so hard that I dropped the bottle of oil, which spilled all over the floor. Only then did we realized how cold it was in my kitchen. The only heat source was from the adjacent bathroom, and we’d closed the door to get the light right for the video! Well, mes amis, without warmth mayonnaise won’t ‘take’.

But what’s amazing is how many things have gone right. I’ve had visitors from the States get in touch via this site to attend cooking lessons — and made some fascinating acquaintances as a result. Lots of other bloggers have been in contact, usually to propose some sort of recipe sharing. Last fall I had the thrill of meeting — and cooking for! — Georges Blanc, one of the most famous of France’s three-star chefs. And, best of all, more and more people from across the globe are signing up to follow this site.

After 18 months of forgetting about the cookbook idea, I’ve now started thinking about it again. It wouldn’t be the all-encompassing Julia-Child-modernized type of book I originally envisaged. That’s what this site is for — the full range of French cooking — and I’m having so much fun with it I’m not about to stop. Instead I’m thinking about doing a smaller book with a theme, for example French veggies, French soups, French desserts. Or — or — or — maybe a book of seasonal menus with recipes attached. The menu section has proved to be one of the most popular on this site. If you haven’t yet been there, check it out. There are everyday and weekend menus for vegetarians and vegans as well as for omnivores like myself — and by the way I’ve just posted the latest menu update.

So here’s a request for input from you, my wonderful worldwide network of French cooking enthusiasts. What kind of book would you like to see? Or do you think the site stands alone and no cookbook is needed? It’s true that one can find recipes of any kind on the web. But personally I still enjoy browsing through books of recipes and taking them with me into the kitchen, learning the lore of another chef and being creative in new ways.

Mes chers amis, I will look forward to your suggestions. Tonight I will raise a glass to you all — and to the joys of French cuisine. Thank you! And happy cooking.

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Soupe aux betteraves à l’ukrainienne

borshch1This is one of my favorite soups, a recipe I picked up after returning to Paris from a long posting in the USSR. But is it French? In a word, nyet. On the other hand, it’s ‘French style’ for a couple of reasons explained in the recipe. The original borshch hails from Ukraine, a place many of us have been thinking about these days as what appears to be a revolution unfolds before our eyes. I won’t make any predictions about what may ensue (hint: watch for developments as soon as Sochi closes down), but I will dedicate today’s post to the Ukrainians standing their ground against surrogate Kremlin rule.

Soupe aux betteraves à l’ukrainienne / Ukrainian borshch, French style

Now let’s talk about borshch. If the word evokes a thin red liquid with bits of beet floating in it, then you’ve had the same sort of borshch that was served to me in my childhood in the States. But no, my friends, real Ukrainian borshch is totally different. It is loaded with vegetables — cabbage, carrots, onion, potatoes, sweet pepper, parsley, and of course the beets. It’s one of the healthiest starters around, and you can also make a meal of it, served perhaps with a salad and cheese. With wine or a couple shots of vodka on the side.

My personal history with borshch goes back several generations, to the great-grandparents on my father’s side who emigrated to America in the late 1800s. My great-grandma Sarah always said they came from Odessa, but in fact, I later learned, what she meant was that the boat left from Odessa. They lived further inland, presumably within the pale of settlement to which Jews were confined in those days. This was big borshch country, and although I was never served the real thing as a child I must have inherited some sort of atavistic food gene, for I recognized this soup as deeply familiar upon tasting it in the Soviet Union. The flavor is earthy, the colors magnificent. And it’s a soup for all seasons. Here’s to the future of Ukraine. And happy cooking.

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Omelette au saumon fumé et aux épinards

spinach salmon omelet3One of the keys to making a great omelet is having a great omelet pan. It doesn’t matter too much what it’s made of. I’ve used all kinds — cast iron, stainless steel, nonstick steel or aluminum. What you need is a pan that will cook the omelet evenly and allow the eggs to move around and slide out without sticking. And then, of course, you need great ingredients — like this combination of smoked salmon, spinach, cream and dill.

Omelette au saumon fumé et aux épinards / Smoked salmon omelet with spinach

Getting back to the omelet pan, Julia Child recommends a plain iron pan of the French variety. We used that sort of pan when I worked as a chef in Ithaca, New York, at the Café Dewitt, where omelets were a specialty. I was surprised when I started there to learn that the omelet pan was never washed. Every day before the restaurant closed, the omelet pan would be salted and wiped clean with a paper towel. This ensured that we always had a seasoned pan ready to go the next day.

I’ve tried this at home, but my kitchen is small and there’s just not enough cupboard space to reserve one pan only for omelets. The solution? A high-quality nonstick pan. These didn’t exist when Julia Child wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or she might have recommended one, too. They’re practical as they can be used for cooking many things, and washed. And they’re still ready to go when you want to make an omelet.

On other fronts, I attended an amusing event last week at the American Library in Paris — a discussion between Patricia Wells and Ann Mah on their approaches to food and cooking. Patricia Wells, one of my French cooking gurus, has just published a new book, The French Kitchen Cookbook. Ann Mah, whose book Mastering the Art of French Eating came out a couple of months ago, posted a funny account of the evening on her blog. Their verbal jousting elicited the surprising disclosure by Patricia Wells that she thinks it’s fine for French restaurants to serve frozen food. Well, not top-class restaurants, but ordinary cafés. This is a hot topic in Paris at the moment due to growing public anger over the practice by certain restaurants of serving reheated food that was prepared somewhere else. I’ve had the experience myself and, believe me, I was not impressed. Nonetheless, it’s a trend that has taken root deeply enough for the government to get involved.

Now, under a brand new law enacted yesterday, restaurants in France may label a dish homemade — fait maison — only when it is prepared using fresh ingredients. We should all applaud this measure, which by the way is less extreme than a previously proposed law, never enacted, that would have banned eating establishments from calling themselves ‘restaurants’ if they used any sort of pre-packaged food in their establishment.

After all, French cuisine is all about cooking with respect for the food being prepared — using the freshest ingredients, locally produced if at all possible, and taking the time necessary to create a superlative dish. It’s about cooking with love. And on that note, Happy Valentine’s Day. And happy cooking!

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Leave a comment