Tagine de veau aux petits pois et citron

veal tagine1This Moroccan dish is unusual in that it uses fresh lemons, which marry perfectly with veal and first-of-the-season peas to create a zingy blend of flavors. The tartness of the lemon juice is softened by honey and cilantro, and the slow cooking results in a rich and succulent sauce. While lemon is often used in Moroccan cuisine, most recipes call for preserved lemons, which are pickled in salt and have a flavor so strong that they can be overwhelming.

Tagine de veau aux petits pois et citron / Veal tagine with fresh peas and lemon

Moroccan tagines, or stews, typically combine meat or poultry with fruit or olives in an exotic blend of flavors that can feel almost Persian. When I first arrived in Paris (40 years ago — sigh) it was hard to find a tagine on a menu anywhere but at a Moroccan restaurant. But times have changed, and tagines have entered the French repertoire. You can now encounter a tagine pretty much any day of the week at a neighborhood Paris bistro.

I like to serve tagines with couscous and a green salad on the side, although this is unorthodox — in Morocco, tagines are served in the clay pots in which they are cooked, with nothing on the side except perhaps some local flatbread. A meal would typically also include some Moroccan starters — like carrots with cumin, chick peas, spicy eggplant caviar, olives or roasted red peppers and tomatoes — and it would end with a light dessert, perhaps orange slices with cinnamon. Sound good?

Happy cooking!

Posted in 7. Meat Dishes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Omelette au chèvre frais et à la menthe

goat cheese omelet2Mint grows wild in Corsica, and little goats gambol on hillsides descending to pale blue seas. The sunlight is so intense and the Mediterranean vegetation so lush that the combination has earned Corsica the nickname ‘Isle of Beauty’. In this traditional Corsican omelet, mint and fresh goat cheese combine to create an earthy, vibrant flavor that may inspire you to dream of the island and — why not? — your next trip there.

Omelette au chèvre frais et à la menthe / Omelet with fresh goat cheese and mint

I’ve been to Corsica many times, usually to the northwest shore in the area between Calvi and l’Ile Rousse, a region known as La Balagne. The smell of the pines, the chirping of cicadas, the rustling of olive leaves, the sultry heat make it an irresistible spot for relaxation. The mint there is known as mintrastella — island mint — and grows nearly knee-high around little streams in the hills. Corsicans gather it to use not only in omelets, but in soups, savory tarts and deep-fried snacks.

One year we had to decamp in a rush from our rented house up in the hills overlooking the sea when wild fires encroached on the property. I grabbed my child, jumped into the car and drove like a madwoman down a rutted road crossed by lines of flames, hoping our vehicle wouldn’t catch fire and explode. We made it to the seaside, which was perfectly calm except for the hum of fire-fighting planes overhead. When we went back the next day, our house was intact but the garden had been transformed into a landscape of blackened tree trunks. My daughter, then 5, burst into tears.

Still, we returned the next year, to the same place, and found much of the vegetation restored. Corsica is magnetic, and I couldn’t stay away despite the drama of our previous visit. The light, the sounds, the wild odors and lovely sea, and of course the food — it is truly an island of beauty. Happy dreaming — and happy cooking.

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | 2 Comments

Salade de pissenlits aux lardons

dandelion bacon salad1What to do with those pesky dandelions that pop up at this time of year? The French solution: make a salad. The slightly bitter leaves marry perfectly with bacon, which is how I first discovered this salad, at a Parisian brasserie many years ago. It is sometimes served with croutons or eggs, or both. These days dandelion salad is seen less often at restaurants, so I make it myself. Crisp, fresh and incredibly nutritious, it’s a fine way to bounce into spring.

Salade de pissenlits aux lardons / Dandelion salad with bacon

My most memorable experience making dandelion salad was in Moscow, where spring comes a couple months later than in France. I was at the dacha of an acquaintance with my friend Lindy Sinclair, who in those days wrote a cooking column for The Moscow Times. When we spotted a lawn bursting with fresh dandelions, we gathered them into a basket, fried some bacon and made the salad. She later included dandelion salad in her cookbook The Wistful Gourmet (which is now available for viewing online). Lindy, who now divides her time between London and the Ardèche region of south-central France, blogs regularly about her superb garden at fruitfulresearch.com.

I’ve often wondered why dandelion, which derives from the medieval French dents-de-lion (‘lion’s teeth’, because of the jagged edges), has turned into the far less elegant pissenlit (‘piss in bed’) in current French. Apparently it has to do with the diuretic qualities of the leaves, although I have never experienced this effect myself. The French, with their long rural history, have many colorful expressions linked to plants, and the dandelion is no exception. My favorite: manger des pissenlits par la racine — ‘eating dandelions from the roots up’, meaning the situation you’ll find yourself in once you’re dead.

Which I hope will not be anytime soon for any of us. Happy cooking.

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Poulet à la citronnelle façon Thaï

chicken lemongrass2And now for something completely different… With the proliferation of Asian restaurants and groceries in Paris, as in many other cities, Thai cooking is currently within reach of anyone who wants to try it. And thanks to my sister-in-law, who sent me a fabulous Thai cookbook for my birthday last fall, I have been trying it quite a bit. So here, for the first time on The Everyday French Chef, is a Thai-style recipe with a French touch.

Poulet à la citronnelle façon Thaï / Chicken with lemongrass, Thai style

The trick to making this dish is to simplify by cutting out hard-to-find ingredients. But don’t tell anyone — they won’t guess, because the flavor is supremely Thai. The one essential ingredient is the lemongrass. Here in Paris it is available at some outdoor markets and at Asian grocery shops. After experimenting, I found that it’s entirely possible to leave out more exotic ingredients, like galangal, kaffir lime leaves or coriander root, and substitute simpler ingredients, for example lime juice and fresh cilantro.

The cookbook I received for my birthday has been a perfect guide. It is New Thai Food by Martin Boetz, who runs a Thai restaurant in Sydney. For anyone who’s really serious about Thai cooking, I highly recommend it. His book does not contain this recipe, although it certainly inspired me to try my hand at Thai cooking — and to innovate. Chicken with lemongrass has now become a staple in our home, and wins applause when I serve it for guests. So if you enjoy Thai flavors but prefer to cook in an everyday style, do give it a try.

Meantime, I learned this week that Saveur magazine has opened nominations for its annual Blog Awards. If you enjoy The Everyday French Chef,  I would be thrilled to be nominated by you in any one (or more) of the various categories, which include Best Writing, Best-Designed Blog and Most Delicious Food, among many others. Click here to go to the awards page. Nominations close on March 13.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 6. Poultry | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cake apéritif aux olives, lardons et pistaches

cake olives1Guests are coming and you’d like to do something really special for a festive cocktail hour? This rich and savory apéritif cake, studded with olives, bacon and pistachios, will knock their socks off. I discovered it a couple of weeks ago when invited to dinner by my friend Valérie, a transcendent cook whose recipes have appeared on this site before. She served it with a dry white as guests gathered beside the fire in her casual/arty Paris apartment.

Cake apéritif aux olives, lardons et pistaches / Savory cake with olives, bacon and pistachios

Since readers have been asking me lately to describe the order of dishes in a typical French meal, I thought I might share with you the dinner that Valérie prepared. (Of course, her dinners are anything but typical. But the dishes came along in the usual order).

We began around the fire with the savory cake, wonderful tarama she had picked up at a neighborhood bistro, Le Taxi Jaune, and thinly sliced saucisson sec, the dried French sausage that looks like hard salami but tastes completely different. When we repaired to the table, Valérie served as a first course une crème de choufleur — not a soup but a satiny purée of cauliflower, blended smooth (she later confessed) by the addition of cold butter.

The main course was a seven-hour leg of lamb, meaning that it had been roasted at low temperature for … seven hours, resulting in ever-so-tender slices, served with sliced carrots that had been in the roasting pan, slow-cooked turnips and leeks, and potatoes baked in their jackets. Too much of a good thing?

No, because we went on to a salad of tender leaves and a spectacular cheese platter, with pungent Saint Nectaire from central France, a goat cheese, a fruity Comté and — imported from England — Stilton. And yet there was more to come…

At this point, I must admit, I was feeling like I couldn’t take another bite. But out came the dessert — a vanilla cream with truffles, served in deep small cups — and as the oohs and aahs erupted around the table, I dipped in my spoon. Pure bliss.

Valérie’s husband, Philippe, has the accent of southwest France and is well-versed in the products of that sunny region. He served a variety of regional reds with the various courses. When we’d had the last drop, we returned to the fireside for more conversation and a welcome pause. But then they brought out the chocolates…

The damage? Two kilos, according to my bathroom scale the next morning. But it was worth it. A couple days of cabbage soup, and the kilos had melted away.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 1. Starters | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Soupe au céleri-rave

celeriac soup3As Paris suffers through this winter’s fifty shades of grey (and wet, and cold), I find myself seeking comfort in small things. A warm smile, a good book, a purring puss on my lap, and — why not? — a bowl of soup to chase the blues away. This soup of puréed céleri-rave — aka celeriac or celery root — is one of my winter favorites. Its rich, earthy flavor makes it a satisfyingly full-bodied way to give yourself a boost at lunchtime.

Soupe au céleri-rave / Celeriac soup

Why celeriac is so rarely found on menus outside of France is a mystery. It’s packed with vitamins and minerals, has an amazingly long shelf-life and has been cultivated around the Mediterranean since Egyptian times. It’s a versatile vegetable that can be grated into salads, served as a thick purée, roasted as a creative side dish or braised. So, come on, world — this vegetable deserves to be (re)discovered!

Other forgotten veggies that the French continue to serve, or are reviving, include salsifis (salsify), topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes) and crosnes (Chinese artichokes). This week I’ve had a lot of visitors from out of town and have been going out a lot. The other evening, at a neighborhood bistro, I was served turbot on a bed of salsify that was ever so delicious. Yet even here salsify is rarely served, and I have never seen it outside of France.

The only explanation I can find for why these veggies have fallen from fashion is the difficulty of their preparation. They need to be peeled, and as they are bulbous and irregular this can be a time-consuming process. But don’t let that discourage you. Once they are peeled, they are very easy to handle. And the results are well worth the effort.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 2. Soups | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Salade d’épinards aux oeufs et oignons rouges

spinach egg6Egg salad with onions and mayonnaise — des oeufs à l’oignon — is a dish often served among the French Jewish community. This is most likely due to the Polish or Russian origins of many French Ashkenazi Jews. I first encountered the dish at the home of my boyfriend many years ago, and found it a delicious variation on the egg salad with celery and mayo I had known growing up in the States. But times have changed and many people prefer their egg salad lighter these days. In this version, the eggs are chopped, placed on a bed of tender spinach leaves, and seasoned with red onion rings, lemon and olive oil.

Salade d’épinards aux oeufs et oignons rouges / Spinach salad with egg and red onions

The charm of this salad lies in its simplicity. It can be prepared at a moment’s notice, in any season. It makes a lovely lunch dish, served with toast or Russian-style black bread, and can be enhanced by any number of side dishes — soup, thin-sliced country ham, a cheese plate, or another salad. For a festive touch, sprinkle some red caviar over the top. Or place some fresh herbs on the side for a burst of extra flavor.

As an everyday chef, I have nothing against packaged baby spinach leaves, or other greens, which are pre-cleaned and sorted and thus far easier to use. If instead you buy your spinach at the market, wash it at least twice to remove all the sand. And by the way, if you prefer you can use a different sort of tender leaves: arugula, baby chard, curly endive, Belgian endive or lamb’s lettuce are some of the possibilities.

There is finally a scent of spring in the air here in Paris, and new vegetables and fruits are poking up here and there at the markets. Last weekend I bought my first fresh peas of the season (imported from Morocco), and walked past stands of brilliant red strawberries, withstanding temptation only due to the high price. The flower sellers are offering small pots of narcissus, hyacinth and amaryllis, which you can take home to provide an early touch of springtime. It’s cheery after the long, gray winter. Here’s wishing you all a beautiful early start to spring on Valentine’s Day, with hearts, flowers and sweetness.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 3. Salads | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gâteau de fête au chocolat

chocolate cake6Valentine’s Day is coming, and what better way to express your love than a magnificent chocolate cake decorated with hearts or flowers? This is not an everyday recipe — it does take time. But it’s fun. The cake, a chocolate genoise, can be assembled in many forms. You will be both architect and artist as you build a structure, coat it with glossy buttercream icing, and decorate it at your whimsy to make a one-of-a-kind creation.

Gâteau de fête au chocolat / Decorated chocolate cake

I first began making this cake when working as a chef at the Café Dewitt in Ithaca, New York. Over the years, I’ve created birthday cakes, wedding cakes, a cake in the shape of a house for a friend’s moving-in party, a cake in the shape of a heart one Valentine’s Day (for the house, use a rectangular pan; for the heart, use one square pan and one round pan of the same diameter, cutting the round in two and placing the half-circles on two continguous sides of the square). I think my masterpiece was a wedding cake with nude bride and groom sculpted out of tinted almond paste, lying in a jungle setting…

The cake pictured above was made recently for the 45th wedding anniversary of some friends here in Paris. It’s amusing to watch as the guests attack the cake — sometimes layer by layer, but sometimes they go straight on through to get multilayer slices. The cake is sprinkled with cognac inside, and the layers spread with both jam and icing. If kids are involved, you can skip the cognac. For birthdays, try to find long, thin candles, which make a spectacular impression placed close together around the top of the cake.

chocolate cake4One unusual way to decorate such a cake is with fresh flowers. I’m a fan of roses, but have used many other varieties according to the season. For greenery, you can add some fresh herbs — sage, for example — or snipped pine branches at Christmas time. The one thing I can guarantee is that you will enjoy yourself as much as the contented recipients of your creativity. Happy cooking!

On a different subject, I shop every Sunday at a street market near my home that is one of the best in Paris. For a colorful description, see this recent blog post by my friend Adrian Leeds, a regular chronicler of things Parisian, whose recent trip to the market in search of artichokes makes a fun read.

Posted in Desserts | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Légumes d’hiver rôtis

roasted winter veggies3The succulent aroma of roasting root vegetables is so enticing that it may have you wanting to take them out of the oven too soon. But the key to this recipe is a long roasting process that leaves the veggies both caramelized and meltingly tender. A fine antidote to the bleak end-of-January weather here in Paris in which the sky seems to weep with longing for spring.

Légumes d’hiver rôtis / Roasted winter vegetables

This is a versatile dish that can combine whatever vegetables you may have on hand at the moment. In the version pictured above, carrots, parsnips, red onion and potato make a succulent mix. Another combination might be celeriac, finocchio, garlic and pumpkin. Preparation is ultrasimple — pare the veggies, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary or thyme, grind on some black pepper, and prepare for pleasure.

Root vegetables are among the oldest foods consumed by humanity. Tens of thousands of years ago, our forebears in Africa used digging sticks to get them out of the ground. Full of healthy vitamins and minerals, and packed with slow-burning energy power, they have been bred over the centuries to take on the shapes and colors we recognize now. But what goes around comes around. Wild carrots, for example, came in tones of white and purple before being bred to become the familiar orange of today. But now, at my local farmers’ market, new varieties in purple and yellow are being sold — for higher prices than orange — as the trend in ‘heritage’ vegetables gathers steam.

When not in the kitchen, I’m working on a project about the deep past of humanity — a time when there were no ovens and cooking was done over an open fire. It’s lovely to imagine our early ancestors foraging for early versions of the vegetables in this dish and roasting them however they could to come up with a similar creation — guaranteed to take the chill off a winter’s day and elicit murmurs of satisfaction when served. Happy cooking!

Posted in 8. Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Brandade de morue

brandade2How to reconcile brandade de morue, one of my favorite winter dishes, with the modern era? A sublimely satisfying purée of salt cod, garlic, olive oil, and milk or cream, with or without potatoes, it has traditionally involved 24-36 hours of desalinating the fish and the use of a mortar and pestle to achieve the final blending. Not ideal for an everyday French chef who may be pressed for time. But now, with the wide availability of fresh cod and the use of an electric blender, making a fine brandade can be both easy and quick.

Brandade de morue / Pureed salt cod and potatoes

But will it still be a classic brandade? In fact, there is no such thing. As Andrée Maureau, author of Recettes de Provence, puts it, ‘Each home has its secrets.’ In the south of France, where salt cod has been a staple for centuries, truffles are often added to brandade. Sometimes garlic is used, sometimes not. Potatoes are controversial. But here in Paris, truffles are rarely seen in brandade and potatoes are almost universally included. In my recipe, I use milk instead of cream to cut down on the richness of this hearty dish.

Brandade may be served either as a starter or a main dish, accompanied by a salad and a crisp white or rosé. It may be prepared in advance and reheated just before serving. Triangles of toasted white or country bread, sometimes rubbed with garlic, are often tucked into the sides of each shallow bowl of brandade. In France, frozen desalinated salt cod is now available — this lends an authenticity of flavor to the dish, while cutting down hugely on the work involved. But I have also made brandade successfully many times using fresh cod, with the addition of sea salt to approach the traditional flavor.

On a separate front, a reader wrote in a few days ago to ask about the order of dishes in a classic French meal. Briefly, the traditional order is: starter, main course, salad, cheese, fruit and/or dessert. I will be posting about this at greater length in the near future. In the meantime, the Menus section above provides many suggestions for seasonal meals, including the order of dishes to be served. Happy cooking!

Posted in 5. Fish and Shellfish | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment