Céléri rémoulade

celeriac remoulade5It is always a comfort, on a cold, damp Paris day, to walk into a bistro at lunchtime and encounter a plate of céléri rémoulade, the classic French starter of grated celeriac bathed in a tangy mustard mayonnaise. This earthy salad is one of the dishes I longed for when far from France for long periods on journalistic assignments. You won’t find it in Moscow or Manila, nor for that matter in many of the trendy new cafés sprouting up in Paris. But what it may lack in chic it makes up for in flavor. A good reason to make it at home.

Céléri rémoulade / Celeriac remoulade

The key — once you have located one of the knobby, dirt-covered bulbs known variously as celeriac and celery root — is to make the remoulade sauce yourself, beginning with homemade mayonnaise. This is easily done, and the result bears no relation to the store-bought variety. If you’ve never tried it before, you can watch me make it in this video. The mayo is then enhanced with Dijon mustard and mixed with the grated root. It took me less than five minutes to prepare the salad shown in the photo above, and that includes making the mayo. (I was in a rush to watch CNN on the results of the elections in Iowa.)

crudites1Celeriac remoulade can be served on its own as a starter, set on a bed of tender leaves or garnished with fresh herbs. But here in France it is most commonly seen as part of the mixed veggie starter known as assiette de crudités. It makes a magnificent partner to the other salads on the plate — most often of grated carrots, chopped beets, sliced cucumber and/or boiled potatoes, topped with vinaigrette and accompanied by half an egg.

eggsmayo1And speaking of eggs, while preparing this week’s post I took time to revisit another of my favorite classic French starters — oeufs durs mayonnaise. What could be simpler than eggs boiled just long enough to harden, their yolks remaining a bright orange-yellow, and topped with fabulous homemade mayonnaise? In this season where anything can happen politically, but where the weather (at least in Paris) is bound to remain relentlessly gray, we need — in fact, we deserve — a cheery start to a meal.

Happy cooking!

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Poulet yassa

Yassa4The French colonial empire once stretched across the globe, with the happy result — once independence was restored to the colonized — that the cuisine of many cultures is now available in France. Poulet yassa, or chicken marinated in a sauce of onions, lemon juice and mustard, is one such happy dish. Originally from the Casamance region of southern Senegal, it is now highly popular throughout former French West Africa, and also in Paris.

Poulet yassa / Chicken yassa

The other day my daughter had a hankering for chicken yassa, which France’s huge community of expatriate Malians, Senegalese, Guineans, etc., serves at home and in restaurants. It is also available at the African stand of our local street market on Sundays, but on that particular day it was raining so hard that I decided to skip the market and make it myself. I used a recipe from an African cookbook, Cuisines d’Afrique (Edisud, 1995), and tweaked it with tips from a former Senegalese student, Awa, a brilliant cook.

Chicken yassa is a great party dish. If you’re cooking for a smaller crowd, you can either halve the recipe or refrigerate the leftovers for another day. It only gets better with time. Traditionally the chicken is served in a large dish brought to the table, with diners helping themselves. It may be served with rice or couscous, and I like a green salad on the side.

I first encountered chicken yassa in the West African country of Mali, a very special place for me as it is where I adopted my daughter. Although one of the world’s poorest countries, Mali has a very rich culture in music, art and … cuisine. It is a generous culture where sharing is everything. An extra guest will always be welcome at the table. With dishes like yassa, there is always enough for one more.

Yassa may also be made with meat (usually lamb) or fish. You can use the same recipe and simply substitute meat or fish for the chicken. In West Africa, the chicken, meat or fish is traditionally grilled sur la braise — over the embers of a wood fire. Small barbecues for such grilling dot the red-earth roads of cities like Bamako or Dakar at night, with families gathered around as they prepare their dinner. But as that is not always practical for those of us who live in cities in the west, the chicken may be grilled in a skillet as well. Another variation is to substitute lime juice for the lemon juice. Both produce a deeply rich dish.

Potimarron5Back to Paris… Cold  weather has finally set in, prompting me to revisit some of the winter dishes already posted here, with new photos. The first, potimarron farci (stuffed pumpkin), emerged as one of the site’s 30 most popular dishes when I made a tally a couple of weeks ago. A small pumpkin is stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, onions, cream, wine, thyme and grated cheese. It is then baked and served whole or in slices. Applause guaranteed.

Risotto radicchio1The second is a risotto with radicchio, a specialty of Venice with a unique and surprising flavor. The bitter leaves are shredded and partially cooked before being added to rice simmered in broth, with butter and parmesan added at the end. This is comfort food at its best, and can work as a main dish or a side with grilled meat or fish. Easy to make, this risotto will warm the coldest evening.

Both of these dishes are vegetarian, and they can be adapted for vegans by substituting coconut milk for the cream, olive oil for butter, and omitting the cheese.

Happy cooking!

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Raclette

Raclette2When winter comes to France, it’s time for raclette. This immensely popular dish of potatoes smothered in melted cheese, accompanied by cured meat and pickles, has come down from the Alps to become a favorite nationwide. It evokes memories of ski slopes, where of a snowy evening you could gather with friends to enjoy a restaurant meal of raclette, with a half-wheel of cheese brought to your table and melted under an electric grill.

Raclette / Raclette

These days, raclette may be made at home using a smaller grill with little trays for pre-cut slices of cheese. It’s a great party dish — everyone gets into the act. Lacking a raclette machine, you can melt the cheese in the oven. The results are no less spectacular, and tasty. And if you’re feeling rustic and have a fireplace, you can melt the cheese over the embers, as they did in the very old days. Remember Heidi, the Swiss children’s story?

Choosing the right cheese is, of course, essential. The cheese now called raclette has a pungent, fruity flavor. It is softer than your standard gruyère or comté, but hails from the same general region, so either of these would be an acceptable substitute. It is also important to choose potatoes that have a bit of flavor and will hold together when boiled.

Serve raclette with a crisp chilled white, and perhaps a salad to aid digestion. For the cured meats, prosciutto, coppa and bresaolo make a good combination, or use your imagination.

Now, on to some news about The Everyday French Chef. During the holidays I updated the list of the site’s 10 most popular dishes, featured in the column on the right of this page. Veal scallops with cream remains the overall favorite, followed closely by Green salad, French style. The veal was one of the first dishes I posted, in the early days of the site more than three years ago, so longevity may account for some of its popularity.

I thought it could be fun to take a look at the runners-up — those that follow the top 10. And here they are, in order: Pan-seared steak with parsley butterRed onion tart; Grilled pork chops with rosemary and thyme; Omelet with fresh sage; Mayonnaise; Tomato-mozzarella salad; Savoyard potato gratin with bacon (Tartiflette);  Baked turbot with creamy butter sauceMussels in a light curry sauce; French peasant soupBoeuf bourguinon; Chicken stewed in red wine (Coq au vin); Stuffed pumpkin; Georges Blanc’s pumpkin gratin; Steak with bearnaise sauce Roast beef, French style; Kouglof cake from Alsace; Pumpkin soup; Duck breast with black currant sauce; Creamy lentil soup.

The main surprise of this list, other than the popularity of pumpkin (three recipes), is the near total lack of — desserts! The only dessert in the top 10 is Profiteroles, and in the 20 that follow only Kouglof appears. I’m wondering why. Could it be because this is a site for everyday cooking, and desserts often require a bit more time? Please send feedback! I’d love to hear your ideas on the kind of recipes you’d like to receive.

This being said, there are so many recipes on the site now — nearly 300 — that I have decided to take a break from weekly posting and instead to post once every two weeks, at least for a while. I would like to compile some of these recipes, and new ones, into a cookbook, and that takes time. My new year’s resolution is to bring this project and other literary endeavors to completion by the end of 2016. So watch this space, and…

Happy cooking!

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Soupe au chou

cabbage soup2On the eve of the end-of-year holidays, here is a recipe that is renowned in France for its excess-fighting qualities. Ah oui, mes amis — once the festivities are over, it’s time to take action to counteract the effects of all the wonderful holiday dishes, sweets and drinks we may have indulged in. Rustic cabbage soup is the antidote. In fact, it is an open secret among French women and men who want to start the new year in their best form.

Soupe au chou / Rustic cabbage soup

You may notice potatoes in the photo above. They are optional. Purists will omit them during the lean-and-mean slimming period. And that period can last for up to a week. Cabbage soup for lunch and dinner, possibly supplemented by lean meat or fish — this is the French miracle method for battling holiday excess. It must be noted, however, that this is also a classic French soup that can be embellished with cream, grated cheese, croutons, or all of the above. A fine winter’s meal, preferably served by the fireside.

Before leaving you for the holidays, I’d like to mention an amusing article that appeared in The New York Times this week. It’s a list of new words that have entered the food lexicon over the last year. Would you believe piecaken? This multi-layer dessert consists of a pie (or pies) layered — or actually baked — between or inside rounds of cake. For example, cherry pie inside a chocolate cake topped by pecan pie inside a vanilla cake, the whole thing held together by generous amounts of buttercream icing. From this side of the Atlantic, it sounds, well, revolting, but apparently it’s a big fad in the States. If you try it, there’s only one next-day solution: bring on the soupe au chou.

The Everyday French Chef will be on vacation for the next two weeks. I will be back on January 8 with new recipes for the new year. In the meantime, you might want to check out the updated Holiday Menu suggestions when planning your special feasts. Here’s wishing you all a sparkly holiday season. Happy cooking…

And Happy New Year!

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Cake au roquefort et aux noix

walnut roquefort cake1Walnuts and roquefort marry well, as they say. The combination turns up often in salads and as an after-dinner treat, perhaps with some pear slices alongside. In this savory cake, traditionally served in France at cocktail hour, the sharpness of the roquefort is offset every so slightly by the sweetness of the walnuts and the mild flavor of olive oil. It makes a festive offering for guests as we enter both the holiday season and the darkest days of the year.

Cake au roquefort et aux noix / Walnut-roquefort savory cake

But what is cake, French style? This is one of those cases when the French take an English word and tweak it ever so slightly for their purposes. A French cake is always made in the shape of a loaf — never round or square. It comes in both sweet and savory versions. You will find cake au chocolat (in a loaf), which is generally denser than gâteau au chocolat (round). The most common sweet cake is rum flavored and filled with candied fruit, although lemon cake is also popular. In recent years, savory cakes have come barreling into fashion. A recipe for cake with olives, bacon and pistachios can be found here.

I was inspired to make the walnut-roquefort cake by my friend Ann Mah, the food and travel writer, who served a similar version when I went over to her Paris place for drinks last August. (For her slightly different recipe, click here.) It made an elegant partner for Champagne — and was so irresistible that I’m afraid to say I had more than one slice.

With the holiday season nearly upon us, I have begun updating the Menus section of this site. New autumn menus for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans are now posted, and new holiday menus will be up by the end of the weekend. If you’d like to add a French touch to your festivities this year, please take a look. And…

Happy cooking!

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Vin chaud épicé

hot wine4Hot spiced wine is a traditional French party drink around this time of year, when short days and long nights inspire those of us in northern realms to light up our homes and invite some friends to brighten the gathering dark. The making of the drink is a party in itself — take some wine, add cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cloves, star anise and orange peel, and heat it just long enough for the flavors to meld. For an extra kick, throw in a little brandy.

Vin chaud épicé / Hot spiced wine

Another tradition in France in December is the advent calendar, usually a decorated box with 24 little windows hiding chocolates inside, with one to be opened each day until Christmas — a way to make it easier for the younger generation to wait for the big day. This year, one village in eastern France decided to have a living advent calendar — each day from Dec. 1 to 24, one household throws open its doors and invites the rest of the village over for hot spiced wine. What a great idea!

Another idea, for a low-key present, could be to give a bottle of wine with a pretty little bag attached containing the other ingredients for hot spiced wine, along with the recipe. I just may do that myself this year. Friends, be forewarned.

As you can imagine, the French were not the first to concoct hot spiced wine. It apparently originated with the Romans, who called it conditum paradoxum. As far as I can tell with my rusty Latin, that translates as ‘paradoxical spices’. But there’s nothing paradoxical about this drink. Take a sip, and you feel happy. When you’ve had a full glass, you feel very happy indeed. As the merriment spreads among those gathered, tip your hat to the Romans, the French and — why not? — to all humanity.

‘Tis the season of good cheer, so here’s a toast from Paris. In our rough, mean, overheated world, let us all try to be human together — and let the planet live happily ever after.

Cheers!

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Mousse aux châtaignes

chestnut mousse2For an original winter dessert that’s fun to make, why not try your hand at chestnut mousse? Preparation time is reduced by using canned or frozen chestnuts. The chestnuts are boiled until tender and then puréed. You mix the purée with beaten egg whites with the yolks folded in. Whip some cream and fold it in, add a couple of adult ingredients, and voilà — a mousse with an edge. Serve it topped with cream or Greek yogurt, and you’ve got a winner.

Mousse aux châtaignes / Chestnut mousse

But now that you’ve prepared your mousse, how to serve it? I would never have asked myself this question if I’d not had the privilege of attending a major French powwow on food last Friday. The occasion was the the Rencontres François Rabelais, a gathering of foodies from all horizons that is held in Tours, a noble city on the Loire. This year’s president was Olivier Roellinger, a celebrated chef who sent shockwaves through the French world of gastronomy in 2008 when he decided to turn in his three Michelin stars — the highest accolade — in order to devote himself to a new calling.

This year’s theme was hospitality (recevoir in French), and in his opening speech Monsieur Roellinger, a genial man, amused the audience by saying that the essence of recevoir (receiving) was donner (giving). We should all keep that in mind over the holiday season. But getting back to how to serve…

I took part in a round table on hospitality in various cultures at which one of the panelists, Galina Kabakova, spoke about traditions in Russia dating back to the time of the tsars. This is where I learned for the first time that there is something called service à la russe (Russian-style service): each guest’s plate is brought to the table with the food already on it. Just as we are generally served in restaurants today. Turns out it’s Russian. Who knew?

This contrasts with service à la française, in which guests are seated before empty plates. A serving dish is brought to each guest’s left side and the guests help themselves. Of course the English do it differently. With service à l’anglaise, the serving dish is brought to the guest’s left side and guests are served by the waiter or hostess. (Hope I got this right…).

At many of my own dinner parties, all the main dishes are set on the table and passed for guests to help themselves. We could call this service à la Meg, but in fact the French have a term for it: à la bonne franquette. This term, which does not translate readily into English, has a warm connotation. It derives from the word franc (also at the root of France), meaning frank or straightforward, and harks back to an earlier day, when French country people would gather around a table and share a simple meal. Happily, many French families continue to dine this way — together, and not separately in front of the TV.

How to serve the chestnut mousse? A la bonne franquette or however you like, as long as you’re with friends and family to enjoy it.

Happy cooking.

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Dinde à la française

Roast turkey1It’s the time of year when roast turkey appears on many holiday menus, including in France, where a meat stuffing is often used. Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Vonnas, north of Lyon, to attend a French version of a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by the three-star chef Georges Blanc. He stuffed his turkey with a mixture of ground pork and veal studded with walnuts and seasoned with thyme. It was fantastic.

Dinde à la française / Roast turkey, French style

Monsieur Blanc is not only a fabulous chef, he’s an amiable fellow who gladly shared some tips for how to prepare a turkey his way. One of the notable differences from the typical American turkey is that the French birds are generally younger and smaller, hence more tender. Georges Blanc used a dinde de Bresse, a turkey raised in the Bresse region east of Macon. Poultry from this area is the most highly regarded by French gastronomes. The birds are fed with corn and have an unmatchable flavor. While they are available in Paris, they are out of the price range of most mortals. I used a less expensive free-range bird when I made the turkey in the photo above, and it was nearly just as delicious.

If you’d like to try doing it the French way this year, for Thanksgiving, Christmas or another occasion, be forewarned — the stuffing is practically a meal in itself. Georges Blanc served his turkey and stuffing with roasted figs, pan-seared porcini mushrooms and a pumpkin gratin to die for. The recipe for the gratin is here, and tips for roasting the figs are included in this week’s recipe.

Here’s wishing you a joyful and peaceful holiday season. And…

Happy cooking.

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Gnocchi au four sauce tomate

gnocchi2What could be more satisfying on a cool autumn evening than gnocchi enveloped in a rustic homemade tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella and baked in the oven? For an everyday chef, the beauty of this dish lies also in the ease of preparation: 15 minutes of cooking time, then pop it in the oven, and in 10 minutes more you’re done. A warming dish turned into a meal with the addition of a crisp green salad and a bottle of hearty red. Voilà.

Gnocchis au four sauce tomate / Baked gnocchi with rustic tomato sauce

Now here’s the question: are gnocchi French? The answer: no, and yes. The written history of these little dumplings made of potato and flour dates back to the 15th century, when the Florentine statesman Laurent de Médicis (Lorenzo il Magnifico) praised gnocchi in poems he wrote for the pre-Lenten carnival. Around that time, today’s French city of Nice was part of the House of Savoy, and thus part of Italy. The gnocchi served in Nice were called niocki (same sound, different spelling). In 1880, Emile Zola wrote about ‘nioky with parmesan’ in his novel Nana. It’s a dish with historic roots in both countries.

These days the French serve a dish called gnocchis à la parisienne in which the dumplings are made of cream-puff dough (pâte à choux) and baked in a béchamel sauce. But the French also serve potato gnocchi, and in fact this recipe is inspired by a former little bistro down the street from me in Paris where the baked gnocchi were out of this world.

Meantime, Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming and, in honor of these occasions, I plan to post a French recipe for roast turkey next week. The recipe is inspired by my visit two years ago to the restaurant of the three-star chef Georges Blanc, who created his version of an American Thanksgiving. The turkey is stuffed with ground veal and pork, with walnuts and thyme instead of chestnuts and sage. Watch this space…

And happy cooking!

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Salade de betteraves aux noix

beet walnut salad3Behold the humble beet. Part of our culinary heritage since the time of the ancient Greeks, it is an inexpensive, low-calorie and nutrition-packed food. These days it’s getting a makeover in Paris, where it is served in chic restaurants in new varieties — from pale yellow to pink-and-white striped — sliced thin and added raw to salads. The familiar deep red beet has been around since the Middle Ages, when a salad such as this one may have been served.

Salade de betteraves aux noix / Beet salad with walnuts and herbs

The salad combines grated beets with garlic, walnuts and cilantro — a great combination, with echoes of Georgia, the land by the Black Sea where the legendary Jason and his argonauts sought the golden fleece. The French touch comes from the addition of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If you’ve never tried this combination, prepare to be surprised.

Georgia is in traditional beet territory, which covered a wide swath of Europe from Germany to Russia. When the beet came to France, it got a boost from Napoleon, who responded to a British blockade of French ports by imposing a ban on sugar imported from British colonies in the Caribbean — and initiated cultivation of the sugar beet.

When I was a child in the States, beets were served warm as a side dish, without any particular sauce. They were far from my favorite food. The revelation came when I arrived in France, where beets bathed in mustardy vinaigrette are a star of assiette de crudités, the starter in which heaps of different veggies appear side by side on an inviting plate.

The return of beets to food fashion was signaled some years back by the appearance of beet chips in packets of root vegetable chips far tastier than the standard potato chip. I expect I may well see beets in one form or another tonight, when I’m being taken to a reputedly fabulous Paris restaurant called KGB (no connection to the former Soviet Union). Will let you know all about it next week. In the meantime, my friend Ann Mah’s latest entry on her food and travel blog describes three hot new Paris restaurants that you may want to put on your to-try list for the next time you’re in town. They may well serve beets too.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments