burrata5A whole creamy burrata beside a nest of tender greens strewn with roasted hazelnuts and surrounded by a drizzle of raspberry sauce — I wish I had dreamt up this combination myself. But in fact I was served it at a neighborhood bistro, and have been dreaming about it ever since. The combination creates an explosion of flavors that is, frankly, kind of addictive, with the very lightly sweetened raspberry sauce as an exclamation point.

Burrata-mesclun-noisettes / Burrata with mesclun and hazelnuts

Burrata is appearing more and more frequently on Paris menus these days, but I hadn’t thought about it much before encountering this dish. So what is it about burrata that’s so special? I had to look it up, and discovered that it’s basically a cream-filled mozzarella. When you cut into it, the creamy center oozes onto the plate. The flavor is mild with a just bit of tang. Ultra-sensual. Need I say more?

The raspberry sauce is easily prepared. You cook the fresh berries with a little water and sugar, then strain the sauce and reduce it. In fact, the whole salad can be made in about 20 minutes — and that includes roasting the hazelnuts. It makes a fabulous start to a meal, or  a main course at lunchtime. Serve it with a good bottle of red and some crusty bread.

And speaking of fabulous combinations, I have just discovered a fusion restaurant that crosses Cuban and Asian tastes and style. It’s not in Paris,  but Manhattan, where this everyday French chef is currently on vacation.  The restaurant, Asia de Cuba, is on Lafayette Street in the Village. My first course was grilled octopus with garlic chips, various steamed veggie spears including possibly cactus and, of all things, lychees. What can I say? It was fantastic. This was followed by spice-rubbed scallops and cauliflower on a bed of rice and black beans drizzled with a delicious creamy sauce — just a drizzle.

I was invited to this dinner by a friend who had been to Asia de Cuba before and was hoping I’d have insights about the ingredients. In other words. how do they do it? As this was not immediately apparent, I may just have to go back there for another try.

Happy cooking!

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Tarte aux abricots amandine

apricot tart2A highlight of the French summer is the rosy-cheeked apricot, which arrives from the south, generally Provence, and appears in abundance at farmers’ markets at this time of year. And a delight of the French table is a tart of apricots with almond cream. The flavors marry perfectly, the almonds adding a touch of majesty to the humble fruit. Serve it with a glass of something dry and bubbly, and prepare for applause…

Tarte aux abricots amandine / Apricot-almond tart

If you’ve lived in France, you may know the term égaliser, which takes on a special meaning at the table. It’s the tendency of guests to cut off just a tiny extra slice of a pie or cake to even the edges — viewed here by the silhouette-conscious as not as guilty as asking for seconds. This is what happened this week when I served the apricot tart pictured above to three friends. By the time they were done, an extra slice had disappeared.

This, of course, is highly gratifying to the everyday chef who decides actually to make a dessert in a country where everything one could possibly want is available at patisseries. Mais non, my friends, not everything. There is nothing like a homemade fruit tart for finishing off a meal on a warm summer night.

Do great minds think alike? As I was sitting down to write this post, a notice arrived in my inbox. The wonderful food blogger David Lebovitz also wrote this week about summer fruit tarts with almond cream. His recipe is more complex — you need to prebake the empty tart shell, which is always a bit of a challenge. But it looks delicious, and he takes fabulous photos. If you’d like to check out his version, click here.

Or you can go the less complex route and try my recipe. As this site says right at the top, ‘The modern cook’s guide to producing fabulous French food the easy way.’

Happy cooking.

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Poulet basquaise

basque chicken1The Basque country of southwest France is much appreciated for its culinary contributions. Across the Pyrenees in Spain, three-star chefs have taken regional cuisine to new heights of refinement. In France, Basque cooking retains its earthy traditions. The dish known as poulet basquaise sets grilled chicken on top of sautéed sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic, with a hint of spice. The result is a rustic, satisfying dish.

Poulet basquaise / Basque chicken with peppers and tomatoes

This is country fare, and there are as many versions as there are households nestled amid the mountains. Sometimes cubes of dry-cured country ham are added, sometimes not. The dish is often flavored with piment d’Espelette, made from mild local red peppers. But whatever the version, the dish is based on piperade — the sautéed pepper-tomato combo.

piments2Peppers are popular throughout the southwest, and come in many varieties, from mild to searingly hot. They are often smaller and thinner than bell peppers. I found some Basque-style peppers at my local market last weekend when shopping for ingredients. They were red, yellow and orange. I added a green bell pepper to achieve the right color combination.

When I served the dish to a couple of friends on Tuesday, a question arose. Why is the dish called poulet basquaise when poulet (chicken) is a masculine word in French, while basquaise is feminine? The answer is that usage has elided the words à la, meaning ‘in the style of.’ The same is true of boeuf bourguinon, and probably many other dishes.

As we enjoyed the dish indoors, there was a raucous tumult outside, for June 21 in Paris marks not just the solstice but also the annual Fête de la Musique, when people pour into the streets to hear the performance of anyone with a microphone and enough nerve. A woman  in front of the pizzeria across the street was giving voice to a barely recognizable version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The crowd started dancing. Noisy, but fun.

We had started our meal with melon and Bayonne cured ham, and planned to finish with strawberries but had to stop. Poulet basquaise, typically served with rice, is quite filling, and we had had enough of everything but wine.

That was Tuesday. Now it’s Friday morning and Britain has voted to leave the European Union. The result is a terrible shock for those of us who believe that the EU, despite its unwieldiness and questionable political decisions, has been a bulwark against the kind of European divisions that led to the second World War. Already we are seeing a domino effect, with rightist populist leaders in France and Holland calling for similar referendums.

My feeling — and this is beyond the usual scope of this blog, so if you are not interested in politics, please don’t read on — is that EU leaders erred badly a) when they opened the union’s borders to citizens of member countries whose poor flooded into richer lands, creating national identity crises, and b) by allowing unelected European policy makers to make decisions affecting national budgets for unrepresented populations, creating resentment over loss of national sovereignty.

I was up much of the night following the British election returns. Until 3 in the morning, the BBC was still running polls predicting a solid victory for the Remain camp. By 6, it was clear that those who chose to Leave had won by more than a million votes. Wishful thinking on the part of the pollsters? Who knows? It is a gray dawn over here.

And on that note, happy cooking.

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Soupe de petits pois à la menthe

pea soup6One of the rites of spring is a trip to the market for fresh peas, which appear in abundance in June. In this recipe, the peas are blended into a textured soup enlivened with a hint of peppery mint. Serve the soup hot or cold, as is or topped with thin strips of Parma ham, a dollop of crème fraîche, a spoonful of coconut cream or finely sliced shallots and mint leaves. Meaning that this is a soup for everyone — omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.

Soupe de petits pois à la menthe / Fresh pea soup with mint

Another rite of spring here in Paris is the French Open tennis tournament, and now we’re starting a month of championship soccer (football). This affords the opportunity for occasional sports fans such as myself to spend happy moments shelling peas in front of the TV. But here’s a secret. You can use frozen peas for this recipe, and the results will be equally fine. Just don’t tell anyone — they’ll never know.

Meantime, with summer around the corner, I have updated the Menus section of The Everyday French Chef with new seasonal recipes. Check it out when you have a moment — it’s an easy way to figure out what’s for dinner without sorting through all the recipes on the site. There are separate pages for everyday and weekend menus, including special pages for vegetarians and vegans.

And now, as the sun has finally broken through in France after weeks of rain (and floods),  I am off to the country to tend my garden.

Happy cooking!

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Gratin d’aubergines

eggplant gratin2It’s been a long rainy spring. We needed a hint of summer. The solution? Eggplant gratin with homemade tomato sauce, topped with bubbly cheese. This is a lighter version of a familiar dish, also known as eggplant parmesan, because the eggplant slices are steamed instead of fried before going into the gratin dish. It’s fun to assemble — the whole family can get into the act. Add a sprig of fresh basil and voilà. Summer has arrived.

Gratin d’aubergines / Eggplant gratin

It’s not just the rain this spring, it’s the general climate in France. They have a word for it over here that translates just fine into English: morose. Strikes plus cold gray weather. I have been waiting for a sunny day to go tend my garden in Burgundy. The sun made a rare appearance this week but I couldn’t make the trip because workers are blockading the country’s oil refineries, leading to a gasoline shortage. I had enough in the tank to get down there, but not enough to come back. Meanwhile, it’s tomato planting time…

If this sounds a bit depressing, it is, so let me move on to other subjects. After I posted the cod with pistachios recipe two weeks ago, I realized I had left out the vermouth-flavored sauce that was served with the original version I’d enjoyed at Gustibus, a neighborhood bistro. If you’d like to try it, make a bechamel and add two tablespoons white vermouth. Spoon around — not over — the fish just before serving.

Meantime, after seeing the cod with pistachios post, a friend sent me a similar recipe — cod with a hazelnut crust. Thank you, Mary Bartlett! It’s apparently a big favorite in Oregon. So here it is:

For 2 servings:
1 (10 ounce/300 grams) cod filet
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or other dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
salt and pepper

Cut the cod filet into four portions and season each with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a shallow dish. Mix the panko crumbs and the nuts together in a small bowl.

Dip the cod in the butter and then in the crumb and nut mixture to coat completely.

Arrange the fish on a small baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 425. Bake the fish until the crust is lightly browned and the center is opaque (about 15minutes.)

Serve with lemon wedges.

Happy cooking!

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Cabillaud aux pistaches

cod pistachios2‘I do not cook, I practice art.’ These words, pronounced by the divine actress Stéphane Audran toward the end of the film Babette’s Feast, give voice to the feelings of many of us when we enter the kitchen. Such were my feelings when I set out to duplicate a dish I had recently tasted at a nearby bistro. The dish? Cod crusted with pistachios, and served alongside a creamy purée of potatoes flavored with horseradish. Simply divine…

Cabillaud aux pistaches / Cod crusted with pistachios
Purée au raifort / Potato purée with horseradish

The bistro was Gustibus, a small place on the Rue St-Sébastien around the corner from me. I had walked past it many times without taking special note. But then a friend visiting from abroad convinced me to try it. The room is warm and intimate, the owner smiling and gregarious. Nadia is also a genius in the kitchen, where she and her husband prepare meals inspired by the cuisine of their native northern Italy.

In this recipe — my interpretation, as Nadia did not reveal her secrets — pistachios are peeled and crushed with a rolling pin, then patted onto the fish. The cod is lightly floured and pan-seared in olive oil. The horseradish purée is a variation on standard mashed potatoes, also very quick and easy to prepare. This versatile purée could accompany many other dishes, from meat or poultry to a vegetarian spread.

artichaut vinaigrette1Over the last couple of weeks, I have been on a cooking spree, revisiting dishes already on the site in order to update their photos. The first is artichauts vinaigrette, or artichokes with mustard vinaigrette. With artichokes appearing in markets now, it seemed a seasonally appropriate choice. It also allowed me to revisit my recipe for the vinaigrette, an attentive reader having noticed a discrepancy between the amount of oil called for in the recipe and a different amount in the accompanying video. This has now been rectified — thank you, reader! — but the bottom line is, for a sharper sauce use less oil. The French standard version would be with more oil for a satiny, flavorful sauce that doesn’t bite.

grillled pork1The second revisited recipe is porc grillé aux herbes de Provence, or grilled pork chops with rosemary and thyme. With summer just around the corner, this is another seasonal dish, as the chops are best when grilled on the barbecue. But lacking a barbecue, you can grill them in a skillet, as I did on a rainy day in Paris. The combination of garlic and fresh herbs produces an aroma that will draw family or guests to the kitchen to see what’s cooking.

smashed potatoes1I have also added a bistro classic that was long overdue — écrasé de pommes de terre, or smashed potatoes. This dish, which has become popular on menus in recent years, is actually a throwback to the time when potatoes were roughly crushed with a fork instead of being puréed with a blender, as is usually done in France. These potatoes marry well with just about everything.

Whether you prefer your potatoes smashed, puréed with horseradish or in any other form is not important. For, as they say in Latin, de gustibus non disputatam — there is no accounting for taste. This is the phrase from which Nadia and her husband plucked the name of their bistro. Another translation: enjoy, enjoy.

Happy cooking.

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Purée de fèves épicée

Fava spread2Consider this a Mediterranean version of guacamole. Fava beans (aka broad beans) are cooked to tenderness and puréed with olive oil, lemon and garlic, with a little cayenne pepper for bite. A perfect spread as warm spring days edge toward the sumptuous evenings of summer. Right? That’s what I thought when I made this spread for guests a couple of weeks ago. But I was wrong. April in Paris was a bust this year. Truly the cruelest month…

Purée de fèves épicée / Tangy fava spread

But even on cold, gray, rainy days, this spread will brighten up a meal. It may be served during cocktail hour on toast, or at the table as a starter alongside other Mediterranean salads — topped with roasted pumpkin seeds or a bouquet of fresh mint or cilantro. It is definitely a dish for spring, when fava beans are in season. You can find them in outdoor markets in France beside other seasonal produce — artichokes, peas, strawberries.

Fava beansI first encountered this spread maybe 20 years ago at the home of a Lebanese woman who lived around the corner from me in Paris. A superlative cook, she used canned fava beans for the spread, and this is a fine option in other seasons. You can also make the spread with frozen fava beans, a huge convenience as it allows you to dispense with shelling the beans (and they need to be shelled twice…). But in spring, fresh beans are best.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Petit Larousse des recettes du potager (Larousse, 2008), a compendium of recipes featuring garden veggies. Their original version of the fava spread uses sesame seeds instead of pumpkin seeds, and ground cumin in place of cayenne. Try it that way too.

The Larousse, which calls favas  ‘the princess of peas’, has three more recipes featuring the humble bean: cold blended soup of favas and cottage cheese; a salad of baby favas, green beans, alfalfa sprouts, mint and quinoa; and a warm salad of favas, ginger and green onions. And that is just the fava part of the 37-page bean section, which also covers coco beans, green beans, peas and snow peas. It is a wonderful book for anyone interested in healthy cooking, and may hold special appeal for the vegetarians and vegans among you.

And on that note, I will wish you all warm sunny days in May. Frozen ice was falling from the sky in Paris three nights ago. May it return to the clouds and stay there till next winter.

Happy cooking.

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Quiche aux asperges et pleurotes

asparagus quiche4The other day I wandered into a local lunchtime place and was served the most delectable quiche I’d tasted in a long time. Both light and rich, it veritably hummed with the flavors of spring — in the form of green asparagus and oyster mushrooms. The place was the Rose Bakery. I wrote to them to ask for the recipe, but they didn’t reply. Never mind. I made it anyway.

Quiche aux asperges et pleurotes / Asparagus quiche with oyster mushrooms

Usually I use milk in a quiche filling, often with a sprinkling of grated cheese, but those flavors were absent in the original. To replicate its melt-in-the-mouth richness, I used just cream and eggs, with a little salt and black pepper. The result? Tasty!

The Rose Bakery, which is run by a British-French couple and has been around for more than a decade, won plaudits when it first opened in Paris. It is similar in style to Moosewood, the flagship American gourmet vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, where I worked as a substitute chef in the 1970s. The foodie site Paris By Mouth has since dropped Rose from its list of its 350 favorite restaurants in Paris. No reason was given, but rudeness would be top of my list.

No restaurant can be expected to share a recipe, although many do so willingly. I was once politely refused a recipe at Merci, the very cool three-café restaurant across the street from me on Boulevard Beaumarchais. But I do believe that a request should at least receive the courtesy of a reply. And speaking of rudeness, my friend Nicole and I had not originally set out for Rose when we met for lunch that day. We first stopped in at Rachel’s, another trendy Anglo-style place in the neighborhood, but left when they refused to seat us at a proper table, instead insisting that we lunch at a tiny square wedged in beside the door that lacked enough space for two plates…

All of this is happening in a neighborhood of Paris that was totally lacking in chic until a few years ago. The trend started with the arrival of some art galleries and Merci — which also has a huge clothing and furniture emporium. Now the boulevard is lined with expensive clothes stores (Sandro, Kitsune, Melinda Gloss) and bobo (bourgeois bohemian) restos (Grazie, Fisch, Blend). The high note came last spring when the gourmet deli Maison Plisson opened its hallowed doors directly across the street from my apartment. On nice days, ladies who usually lunch in Left Bank neighborhoods come slumming over here to sit at Plisson’s outdoor tables.

Only a few blocks away, other Parisians are currently spending their nights protesting at the Place de la République in the movement known as Nuit Debout, the French version of Occupy. Hundreds were at the square last night when President François Hollande went on TV for a so-called dialogue with citizens about the accomplishments (or not) of his term in office. A giant outdoor screen was set up on which the protesters watched the two-hour spectacle of Hollande being hammered over everything from excessive taxation of small businesses to recruitment of terrorists at Islamist schools to the state hand-outs being given to hundreds of migrants in the depressed Calais region who are waiting, mainly in vain, to make their way to Britain. Things turned violent when youths enraged by the broadcast set out to march on the Elysée — the French presidential palace — and began smashing store windows, cars and bus shelters en route, prompting intervention by the CRS riot police.

What does all this have to do with quiche aux asperges? Just as asparagus is a rite of spring, so is protest in the streets of Paris. This spring promises to be particularly hot given the political climate change enveloping France. People are angry across the spectrum. Standards of living have declined significantly for many — not the clients of Plisson, of course, but working people living on 38 euros a day, the current minimum wage, or on even less among the ranks of the un- or under-employed. The Nuit Debout movement lacks the revolutionary humor of the May ’68 student-worker protests (‘It is forbidden to forbid’, ‘Beneath the cobblestones, the beach’). Its spirit is just plain tense at a time when tensions are already high following the terrorist attacks of last year and the anti-Europe, close-the-borders feelings they have elicited.

Living within a stone’s throw of the current protest’s nerve center, I find that retreating into the kitchen is a way of remaining zen. Make a quiche, open a bottle of wine, and hope that the embattled leadership of this country will find a way to meet the present challenge.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 4a. Savory Tarts and Tartines | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Steak au poivre

steak au poivre2A dish that can bring down the house — literally — is steak au poivre, the classic French bistro offering of tender beef crusted with cracked black pepper and topped with a cognac-cream sauce. When I embarked on this recipe, my kitchen nearly went up in flames — twice! The skillet I used to pan sear the steak caught fire when I started the sauce, with bright yellow flames shooting two feet into the air. Oh là là

Steak au poivre / Steak au poivre

Does this explain why steak au poivre, while ubiquitous in restaurants, is rarely served at home? In my 40 years in France, I have never been treated to this dish by a host or hostess. And yet, once you get the knack, it is not only quick and easy to prepare, but results in a magnificently elegant dish. So what went wrong?

Before embarking on my version of steak au poivre, I consulted at least a dozen recipes by chefs from Julia Child to Joël Rebouchon. Almost all said to sear the steak in a combination of oil and butter, remove the steak, cast off the fat and then prepare the sauce in the same skillet. The first time I tried this, I neglected to cast off the fat. There wasn’t much, and I didn’t want to lose the beef juices. So I removed the steak and, with the skillet still over a high flame, added the cognac. Whoosh! Flames shooting into the air. The second time, I did the same but decided to add a little water to deglaze the pan before adding the cognac. Whoosh and double whoosh! The water caught fire as well.

Perplexed, I decided to consult the nearest expert — the chief butcher at Plisson, the gourmet food store across the street from my home. He not only made fun of me for having failed to cast off the fat, but also berated me for my choice of olive oil and butter for searing the meat. Non, non, said he, one must never use olive oil for frying, but rather grape seed oil, which can reach a higher temperature before smoking. And butter? Rebuchon be damned. Une erreur, madame!

Much abashed, I bought another steak from him. But before I could try again, my daughter decided to cook it for her supper. So back I went to Plisson, where this time another butcher proved more helpful. He is Andrew, a young Texan chef who somehow pitched up at this Parisian temple of gastronomy. Andrew and I have developed a friendly joshing relationship over the past year, and I have often asked his advice. For example, what about the grape seed oil? I know it’s trendy, but it’s certainly not an oil that has been a traditional component of French cuisine over the years. I didn’t want to use it for this recipe because it’s not part of the kitchen repertoire of most everyday chefs I know, including myself.

Andrew suggested using any mild vegetable oil, like sunflower oil, and searing the steak on both sides first before adding a little butter to the pan. Like his boss, he warned that the skillet would catch fire if the fat was not cast off before adding the cognac. I bought a couple more steaks, went on home and tried the Andrew method. With spectacular results! The rich, cognac-infused sauce and sharp peppercorns made for unbeatable flavor power.

For the record, this is the most expensive dish I have ever made for this site — not because it’s expensive per se, although buying top-quality beef is essential, but because I had to try so many times to get it right. I hope you’ll try too. The results are well worth the effort.

Happy cooking.

P.S. For those of you who asked about the recipe for the rhubarb-ginger cake mentioned in my last post, it appeared in The Guardian in the recipe column written by Dan Lepard. Here’s the link:

Posted in 7. Meat Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Salade d’hiver aux oranges sanguines

orange salad1One recent Sunday during a visit to England, I was lucky enough to be invited to lunch in the picturesque town of Sevenoaks, in Kent south of London. My friends served me a spectacular meal, beginning with a salad of ruby-streaked blood oranges piled on thinly sliced finocchio and red onion, and scattered with Kalamata olives and watercress. Blood oranges would still be in season when I got home to France. I had to have the recipe.

Salade d’hiver aux oranges sanguines / Winter salad with blood oranges

For most of recent history, it was believed in France that the words ‘British’ and ‘cuisine’ were a contradiction in terms. Not true! At least, not anymore. My friend Penny, a remarkable cook, got the lunch off to a flying start with homemade tarama, light and tangy and bearing no relation to the store-bought variety, served with a crisp white wine.

We repaired to the table for the salad, which was followed by a piquant Georgian beef stew, pumpkin roasted with red pepper flakes and fresh sage, and cabbage steamed to delicate tenderness. The menu reflects Penny’s many travels abroad, including long stays in Russia and various forays to the Middle East. I have made the stew myself — using the same recipe, from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table, a compendium of the cuisine of the former Soviet Union — but never managed the same meltingly rich results.

The main course was followed by an assortment of English cheeses, including tangy Lord of the Hundreds, made of unpasteurized ewe’s milk and a serious rival to France’s brebis Basque. (The cheese apparently got its name from a Saxon lord who held 100 parcels of land.) We took a break to watch Philadelphia Story, but the meal wasn’t over. After the movie we returned to the table for upside-down rhubarb cake with fresh ginger. Fabulous!

With spring just around the corner, I will not try to replicate the pumpkin dish just now — but when autumn comes, watch this space. I may have a go at the rhubarb cake, however. The bottom line is that English cuisine, like French, has lapped up influences from around the world for the palate’s delight. And after all, it’s faster to get from Paris to London now — just over two hours on the Eurostar — than to reach Marseille. So I, for one, plan to integrate the English style into my everyday French repertoire. You too?

Happy cooking!

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments