Crème de chou-fleur

The humble cauliflower takes on elegance and class when transformed into crème de chou-fleur, a magnificent winter soup that is both light and packed with vitamins. It is essentially a purée of cauliflower with a spoonful of cream. Ground coriander seeds, lemon and dill enhance the flavor, while trout roe adds a bright touch — and more flavor. It makes a satisfying lunch dish and sparkles as a first course at dinnertime. Try it and see.

Crème de chou-fleur / Cauliflower soup

It took me a long time to embrace cauliflower, a vegetable many of us remember from childhood as dreary. Moving to France helped — chou-fleur translates as ‘cabbage flower’, a linguistic tweak that somehow changed my perception. As did the many French ways of preparing the pretty white flowerets: as a gratin, as a purée, as a savory tart, as an addition to an assiette de crudités, or sautéed with a bit of garlic.

Cauliflower has been in favor in France for more than 400 years, since Louis XIV had it grown in the gardens of Versailles. And it’s played it’s role in French history. When the calendar was redrawn after the French Revolution, with names tied to the seasons — Brumaire (foggy) for October-November, for example, and Floréal (flowery) for April-May — chou-fleur had its own day, the 7th of Frimaire (cold), which fell on November 27.

These days cauliflower comes in a rainbow of colors, from orange to green to purple, and in forms from round to spiky. These newfangled varieties are on sale across the street from me at Maison Plisson, but I admit I have yet to try them. Would you believe purple soup? No, the classic variety is just fine.

Happy cooking.

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Strudel aux pommes

Some days you just need comfort food — so why not make an apple strudel? This delightfully flaky dessert has been popular in France since it was introduced at Versailles by Marie-Antoinette, who came here from her native Austria after marrying the future Louis XVI. It is exceptionally easy to make these days thanks to the availability of filo dough, which eliminates the painstaking step of stretching out kneaded dough until it is paper thin.

Strudel aux pommes / Apple strudel

Marie-Antoinette would have enjoyed other types of strudel when growing up in Vienna. Strudels filled with soft cheese, sour cherries and poppy seeds were all popular at the time. The pastry, defined by its rolled-up shape (strudel translates as ‘whirlpool’), can also be filled with meat or vegetables. It is said to derive from Turkey’s baklava, which entered Austria during the Ottoman occupation. It has many cousins, among them savory cheese pies like Greece’s tiropita, itself a variety of southeast Europe’s borek (watch this space).

You may be wondering whether strudel was what Marie-Antoinette had in mind when, upon being told that the peasants had no bread, she said ‘Let them eat cake’ — words reputed to have helped spark the French Revolution. Although whether she actually said this is far from sure, what is certain is that the phrase has nothing to do with strudel. In French it’s ‘qu’ils mangent de la brioche‘ (rough translation: ‘let them eat egg bread’).

Things didn’t end well, of course, for Marie-Antoinette, who lived a life of opulence and splendor only to be arrested, imprisoned and finally guillotined in public at the Place de la Révolution, today’s Place de la Concorde. Such are the risks of power when it is abused — glitz and wealth offer no protection. As we endure this bleak January, with or without strudel, we can take comfort in imagining that this may still hold true today.

Happy cooking.

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Endives gratinées au jambon de pays

This recipe adds a couple of twists to a French classic, endives au jambon, which is enjoyed across the north of the country in the winter months. Twist Number 1: Dry-cured ham is used instead of the traditional baked ham. This adds sophistication and flavor. Twist Number 2: Cream is used instead of béchamel sauce, making for a lighter dish. Travesty! Yes, for purists, but just try it.

Endives gratinées au jambon de pays / Endive gratin with country ham

Endives, aka Belgian endives, figure prominently in the cuisine of northern France and, you guessed it, Belgium. In the usual version of this dish, the endives are first boiled or braised and then covered with ham, smothered in béchamel and topped with grated cheese before being baked. The problem is that the béchamel, made with flour, butter and milk, is a bit heavy for contemporary tastes. Even in winter. And baked ham lacks the pizzazz of dry-cured hams like France’s Bayonne, Italy’s prosciutto or Spain’s serrano.

This version produces a flavor-packed one-dish meal that may be happily enjoyed at lunchtime or, of a winter’s evening, by the fireside, accompanied by a glass of hearty red and a green salad. For a more elaborate dinner, start with something from the sea — perhaps a curried crab remoulade or shrimp with homemade mayo. And for dessert, something fruity, like pears poached in red wine or a French apple tart.

With the start of the new year, I’d like to wish you all the very best for a pleasant, healthy and peaceful 2017. Including many cheery moments in the kitchen.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 8. Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Galettes de pomme de terre

There is an art to making potato pancakes, known in French as galettes de pomme de terre, or potato flat cakes. The basic recipe is very simple — grate the potatoes, mix with a beaten egg, season with salt and pepper, and fry in oil or duck fat. A humble dish served in many forms around the world, potato pancakes are supremely satisfying when they come out crisp and light. But achieving this is more difficult than one might think.

Galettes de pomme de terre / Potato pancakes

I know, because I have been making potato pancakes once a year for as long as I can remember. The occasion is Hanukah, the eight-day festival of lights, which is celebrated by Jews around the world in late November or December, usually before Christmas. This year, in a rare confluence of the moon and the Western calendar, Hanukah begins on Christmas Eve. One night or another during the week, guests will come by and we will begin our festive meal with potato pancakes, aka latkes.

However, potato pancakes may be enjoyed on any occasion. They make a great side dish for roasted poultry or meat, and could also feature nicely in a festive Christmas dinner.

Potato cakes are perhaps most familiar to the French as rösti, a specialty imported from across the border in Switzerland. In that version, the cake is larger and thicker, more akin to American hash browns. German potato pancakes tend to include flour and baking powder, a definite no-no in my opinion. What you are going for is a cake that is lacy and light. This also precludes using mashed potatoes, as some recipes suggest.

So how to get it right? One trick is to press the grated potatoes dry with paper towels before adding them to the egg. This will remove some of the starch. Some recipes call for actually rinsing the grated potatoes, but I find it’s not necessary. The other key is to fry the pancakes in plenty of oil or, if you have it on hand, duck fat.

Some Jewish families serve potato pancakes with a little chopped onion or sour cream/crème fraîche on the side. My mother liked to serve them with applesauce. Personally, I prefer them on their own.

In this darkest season, they add a cheery note. Happy holidays!

And happy cooking.

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Canard rôti au miel et au thym

roast-duck2Roast duck is a festive dish in any season, but perhaps never better than in winter, enjoyed with a glass of hearty red beside a crackling fire. In this recipe, the duck is coated with a glaze of honey, thyme and balsamic vinegar, with garlic added to the roasting pan for a dish imbued with the flavors of southern France. Want to stay with the provençal theme? Serve the duck with pan-seared baby artichokes, this week’s second recipe.

Canard rôti au miel et au thym / Roast duck with honey and thyme
Artichauts poivrade grillés / Pan-seared baby artichokes

Now let’s talk about French duck. When I went to the market to order the duck for this recipe, I was told very firmly by my poultry man, Didier Breton, that I couldn’t get a canard (male duck) at this time of year, but would need to get a canette (female duck). This is because they save the larger males to put on the market closer to Christmas.

Monsieur Breton said he could offer me a canette de Barbarie, a breed of duck that, oddly, is primarily known as ‘Muscovy duck’ in English and as ‘creole duck’ in Spanish. Upon investigation, I discovered that the Barbary duck looks somewhat akin to a turkey, with red wattles around the bill. This is all academic, however, as when I went to pick up the plumed bird, it looked just like any other duck.

Not at all, said Monsieur Breton, who informed me that the four main breeds of duck used in French cuisine are all rather different, and that one of them — the canard mulard — is mainly reserved for the making of foie gras. The advantage of the canette, he added, is that it’s small enough to make a pleasant holiday meal for two to three people — a good solution if you happen to be celebrating in a small group.

roast-duck1Duck is served in many guises in France, although it is rather rarely seen roasted whole. The most common versions are magret de canard, or duck breast, for example in a sauce made with cassis — black currant liqueur — and confit de canard, in which the duck is preserved in salt and duck fat.

Duck is indeed so popular in France that it has entered the lexicon in various amusing ways. As a young journalist, I loved it when I learned that un canard also meant a newspaper. And back in the days when I still went out on dates, I enjoyed it when, after a meal, a snifter of cognac was brought to the table with, beside it, a lump of sugar with which to faire un canard (you dip the sugar into the cognac, like a duck dipping into a pond). Meantime, in Paris these days, il fait un froid de canard, meaning it’s cold as the dickens — literally, it’s cold as a duck.

As for the artichokes, I thought they’d make a nice change from the usual seasonal vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potatoes or celeriac. The artichoke season theoretically ends around October in France, but these days artichokes seem to stay on the market much longer. It’s an easy recipe, and one that may grace your table at any time of year.

For more ideas about what to serve during the coming festivities,  check out this site’s Holiday Menus page. And…

Happy cooking!

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Deux tartes fines

mushroom-pizza2We’re galloping toward the holiday season, so this post kicks off a series of recipes that you may enjoy pre-, post- and during the end of year festivities — beginning with two tartes fines, the French version of pizza. The first marries bacon and fresh sage, while the second sets baby spinach and mushrooms on a layer of cream. These are of course not holiday dishes, but they’re perfect for serving between the feasts — quick, simple, crowd-pleasing.

bacon-pizza1Tarte fine bacon et sauge / French pizza with bacon and sage
Tarte fine champignons épinards / French pizza with mushrooms and spinach

Coming next: roast duck with thyme, and galettes de pomme de terre, the French version of potato pancakes. These two dishes may be happily combined for a holiday dinner, and may work well in a year where the Christmas-New Year season and the eight days of Hanukkah coincide.

There are already many holiday dishes on the site — you can see them by clicking on Holiday Menus. I’ve included some of my favorite recipes, like roast partridge with pears, pumpkin gratin and wild mushrooms with herbs, as well as a variety of holiday desserts. In addition to the traditional menus, there are selections for vegetarians and vegans, as well as a ‘from the sea’ menu consisting entirely of fish and seafood.

As for today’s tartes fines, the recipes are adapted from Simplissime, the cookbook I wrote about in my last post. It was hard to choose which ones to try because the author, J.F. Mallet, includes ten of them and they all look delicious. I’m happy to say they were a success on the first try. If you like this style of recipe please let me know. There will be more to come in the new year.

Happy cooking!

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Risotto au potiron et au thym

pumpkin-risotto7A couple weeks ago, on a bright October day, I made this dish for a friend who was coming to dinner. I’d had pumpkin risotto at lunch that week at Merci, a café with creative cuisine across the street from me, and found it so delightful I wanted to try my hand at it. Now, in this dreary season, it’s good to have dishes like this to turn to for solace. Pumpkin risotto is comfort food at its best, and escaping into the kitchen is, for me, a kind of zen.

Risotto au potiron et au thym / Pumpkin risotto with thyme

As if things weren’t bad enough, this morning we learn of the passing of Leonard Cohen, a poet who touched so many of our lives with grace. But this is supposed to be a cooking column, so I’ll stick to that for the moment. Two things:

First, this week I was given a cookbook I’d like to tell you about. It’s called Simplissime: Le Livre de cuisine le + facile du monde (translation: Ultrasimple: The World’s Easiest Cookbook). Written by J.-F. Mallet, apparently famous in France although I’d never heard of him, it features easy recipes similar to those on this site — in fact, there is considerable overlap (eggplant gratin, saffron risotto, spaghetti with small clams, etc.). What is wonderful is indeed the simplicity. Recipes are laid out over two pages, with photos of the ingredients and very brief instructions on the left-hand side, and a photo of the finished product on the right-hand side. If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas — or simply want to get something nice for yourself — this is a winner (providing you can read French).

Second,  I learned this week that The Everyday French Chef has been included on France Magazine’s new list of the best French food blogs. To be in a group that also includes some of my favorite food sites — Chocolate and Zucchini, David Lebovitz, Manger, Patricia Wells — is truly an honor, for which I am very grateful.

Now then. Returning to Leonard Cohen, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of his best-known songs — poetry of humility and wisdom. As he says, in what could be an epitaph for himself, ‘a blaze of light in every word.’

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Happy cooking.

Posted in 9. Pasta, Rice, Grains | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Crème aux herbes potagères

garden-greens-soup3This fantastic recipe comes to me from Rodolphe Paquin, chef at the bistro Le Repaire de Cartouche down the street from me. Its genius is not just the use of garden clippings that are normally discarded, but also the addition of whipped cream, which turns the soup into a frothy confection. Serve it in small quantities as a dinner-party palate teaser before moving on to the first course. Or be totally decadent and make a pot of it just for yourself.

Crème aux herbes potagères / Soup of mixed garden greens

For the ecologically minded, it’s hard to imagine a better soup than this. The Rodolphe Paquin original uses carrot fronds, radish leaves, watercress or sorrel and fresh tarragon, along with whatever other greens he may have on hand. The greens are cooked in a gentle broth, with the whipped cream swirled in at the last minute. When I first tasted it, I had to have the recipe, and Monsieur Paquin, being a generous gent, was happy to oblige. I then served it at a dinner, and the guests virtually swooned in delight.

This is food from yesteryear, with a contemporary touch. Moving on, let’s consider the food of tomorrow. The international edition of The New York Times ran a special section on the subject this week, and I was so surprised by what I read in an article by Chris Horton that I’d like to pass it along.

Can you imagine that 3-D food printing is already underway? One machine on the market will produce a pizza ready for baking — all you need to do is to fill its capsules with the ingredients. A Spanish chef with two Michelin stars — Paco Pérez of Miramar in Llança near the Mediterranean coast, just a few miles south of the French border — is turning out quiche lorraine with another 3-D printer, known as the Foodini. The printers can create food tailored to an individual’s specific nutritional requirements or turn out pasta in shapes that cannot be made by hand. For the moment, all they apparently lack is an oven.

The article reported that 3-D garden farming, while still in development, is also on the way. A machine called the FarmBot will use a mechanical arm to plant, water and weed a small garden plot. This will be on my mind today when I head down to my garden in Burgundy, which hasn’t been tended much this year and is a mass of weeds. On the other hand, just as I doubt I’ll ever invest in a 3-D food printer — cooking is too much fun to relinquish to a machine — I don’t think I’ll be buying a farming robot anytime soon.

Getting my hands into the dirt and planting seeds that will turn into food is one of my great pleasures in life. Harvesting home-grown produce and bringing it to the table gives me such joy that I find myself thanking Mother Nature for her abundance as I sit down to eat. Forget about 3-D food printers. As we approach the Thanksgiving season, let us be thankful for the world as we know it, for the satisfaction we take in preparing delicious, healthy food in our home kitchens with our own hands. Food like an elegant, frothy soup of mixed garden greens.

Happy cooking.

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Poule au pot

poule-au-pot2Every French school child learns that, back in around 1600, ‘good King Henri IV’ wanted to put a chicken in every pot. How much truth there is in this legend is still being debated by historians. What is incontestable, though, is that the dish called poule au pot to this day carries royal connotations. And yet, it is so simple. A chicken (or a hen) is boiled with vegetables to make a two-dish supper: first the soup, then the chicken and veggies.

Poule au pot / Poule au pot

Henri IV hailed from the Béarn region of southwest France, and this dish is sometimes served béarnaise style — stuffed with a mixture of cured ham, the bird’s liver and gizzard, bread, garlic, shallots, parsley and tarragon. I’ve done it that way, but it’s a lot more work and not really necessary as the dish is succulent enough without the stuffing. The vegetables are typically carrots, turnips, leeks, cabbage and potatoes. The chicken is cooked to total tenderness, creating a rich broth — even richer if the dish is made with a hen, which needs to cook longer.

Getting back to the legend, Henri IV is seen now as a ‘good’ king, but during his lifetime (1553-1610) he was a controversial ruler. Today he is remembered for having halted the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants that had lasted for 40 years. In order to be crowned king of all France, the story goes, he converted to Catholicism, saying, ‘Paris is well worth a mass.’ He then issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted religious freedom to the Huguenots. He had plenty of enemies, however, and survived a couple of assassination attempts until he was finally murdered while stuck in a Paris traffic jam.

As for poule au pot, Henri IV is said to have remarked during a conversation with the Duke of Savoy, ‘If God keeps me in life, I will ensure there is no laborer in my realm who does not have the means to have a chicken in his pot.’ By ‘laborer’, he meant a peasant with a plow who could work the land (labourer) . This story was attributed to Henri IV years after his death, and nobody seems to know exactly when the conversation took place. Or indeed what was said. A version popularized in the 1800s has Henri IV saying that the French should be able to have chicken for dinner every Sunday.

And so a myth is born. When I first arrived to live in Paris in 1974, it did seem that roast chicken was the dish most often presented when I was invited to friends’ homes for Sunday lunch of dinner, usually surrounded by roasted potatoes. These days, that tradition is waning, and poule au pot is seen even less frequently, both in homes and at restaurants. But now that the days are growing colder, it’s a great time to revive this hearty, healthy, earthy dish.

Happy cooking!

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Soufflé au fromage

cheese-souffle2Soufflés are often regarded as too difficult to attempt at home. I found this to be true when, as a young woman inspired by Julia Child, I set out to make one. Julia’s recipe for cheese soufflé in Mastering the Art of French Cooking stretches across nine pages, with long paragraphs on subjects like how to beat egg whites by hand. Not to be intimidated, I tried — with dubious results. Only after moving to Paris did I discover there is an easier way.

Soufflé au fromage / Cheese soufflé

Soufflés require a certain amount of organization, but once you have your equipment prepared you can whip one up in about 15 minutes. Separate the eggs, grate some cheese, make a sauce of butter, flour and milk, stir in the cheese, then the yolks, beat the whites, fold in and you’re done. And guess what? You don’t have to beat the egg whites by hand.

Now don’t get me wrong — I adore Julia Child. But once I began meeting Parisian friends who showed me how to cook wonderful French dishes without spending hours in the kitchen, I took a new look at Julia’s recipes. Her modus operandi, I impertinently concluded, was: ‘Why to make it simple when you can make it more complicated?’

No, you do not need an unlined copper bowl. A glass, ceramic or aluminum bowl will work just fine. You don’t need to add cream of tartar to the egg whites — in fact, I’ve never, ever seen anyone use cream of tartar over here. No, you don’t need to coat the soufflé dish with grated cheese or breadcrumbs. The soufflé will rise perfectly if the dish is simply buttered.

So why is Julia Child’s approach to French cuisine so painstaking? I think there are two reasons. First, she studied classic French cuisine in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu, where the standards were very rigorous — so rigorous, in fact, that she failed her final exam and had to retake it! This cooking school was turning out chefs who could work at top French restaurants. When Julia wrote Mastering, she had her school’s standards in mind. Second, she was writing for American readers, most of whom had little or no experience of French cuisine at the time the book was published in 1961. My theory is that Julia wanted to give her readers authenticity, never mind how complex the recipes became.

She simplified in later books based on her television appearances as The French Chef, but her approach remained far more complicated than the style of the French ‘chefs’ I encountered in their own homes. I still consult Julia Child’s cookbooks quite regularly, but over the years I learned to speed things up by paring away the unnecessary steps, without sacrificing authenticity. And this is what I am seeking to pass along to you, dear readers.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 4. Omelets, Soufflés, Quiche | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments