Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ratatouille Burgers

Q: How can you make a sworn carnivore squeal with delight over vegetables?

A: Mix them with beef!

We found ourselves with a zucchini, half an eggplant, a bell pepper, onions, garlic, and a small bunch of tomatoes. There was no getting around a batch of ratatouille. Which is a dish I love, so I wasn't too upset about it. So I stewed it up in a big pot. Which reminds me that interestingly, there are actually two schools of thought regarding ratatouille. The first insists that the vegetables must be cooked separately and then combined at the end. The second goes for communal cooking of the ingredients. Both camps are extremely adamant about the fact that it's only true ratatouille if it's made by their method. I actually have no opinion on the issue, but I usually cook everything together because it minimizes dishes. Why dirty 5-6 pots... when I can just use one...?

It's really a handy dish. You only one pot needed to make it, it's awfully flexible (you can adjust proportions of vegetables, seasonings, cooking times), and the possibilities of what to do with it are endless.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sushi Night: So Fun, No Fish

There's something so inviting about sushi. Perfect little bundles, in a variety of colors and flavors. That soft, dense sticky rice texture, the sweet-saltiness, the burn of wasabi, the crunch of pickled ginger...

But then there are a couple of outright uninviting aspects of sushi: first, it's not cheap. Second, there's an element of déjà vu after a while, because pretty much every Parisian sushi restaurant is exactly like every other one. And not only that, they don't give much of a crap about the whole endangerment of Bluefin Tuna thing. I kind of do, so that kind of kills my buzz.

So I tried making sushi at home. Sure, it was easy enough to make some (occasionally wonky) cucumber and avocado rolls, but that's not novel for very long, either. I have to admit I love fish. So I made fish sushi at home, but felt a little awkward about eating raw fish whose path to my plate was completely mysterious to me, plus I didn't save all that much money, on top of it. So what was to be done?

Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, finally had an answer for me. God bless that man.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Le 4th of July

I'm often asked by French friends what exactly constitutes traditional American food. Everybody knows hamburgers, hot dogs, and Coca-Cola, but the French, whose culinary tradition is quite varied and quite important, seem to want to believe that there's more to American fare than MacDo might have them believe.

I consider myself a defender of the American culinary heritage to those who might deny its existence or its legitimacy, even if it can be a bit unclear to me, too, exactly what it is. I guess in the U.S. we're at a point of trying to figure out what exactly American Cuisine could be. It's partly in this exciting stage of exploration and transition, but we draw so heavily from other, more established culinary traditions (read: the French), some people have trouble believing that some of these things could really be called American Food (read: the French). 

So American Food remains, in the eyes of many, things like burgers and Coca-Cola, because those are the most obvious answers; the things that are really ours. In American restaurants in Paris, they basically serve dressed-up versions of what you can get at McDonald's (burgers, fries, hot dogs, chicken wings), which only reinforces this perception. The one notable exception to the rule was Chez Haynes, who served soul food from 1949 to 2009 to a Parisian clientele, but sadly 2009 was last year, and I never got to go, much less drag my French pals.

So it's up to me to whip up what traditional American food I know of. I've been developing my Chicken 'n' Dumplin's skills. I'm an old hat at cornbread. I've been working on perfecting my buttermilk biscuit. Next on the list is the yeast roll. (Note: When I visited my family in April in the United States, during Easter lunch at my grandmother's I downed not one not two but count 'em SIX of her yeast rolls, yes thank you, I missed them that much). But this 4th of July, seeing it as the occasion to do so, I pulled out the big guns.

Pulled Pork. North Carolina-style. Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Home Fries. Buttermilk Pie.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chilled Zucchini & Avocado Soup

I have to confess that I never really got cold soup. It was a concept introduced to me rather late in life, I suppose, as I don't have any childhood memories of it. For me, there was soup, which was hot, and then there was juice, which was cold. To some degree, I guess I still think this way. Take tomatoes for example. In their hot liquid form, they are tomato soup. In their cold liquid form, they are Bloody Marys tomato juice. So why did Gazpacho have to cross the Atlantic/the Pyrenees and ruin everything?

I don't really like Gazpacho. Not even its cousin Cucumber Gazpacho. I think it's the impression I have of drinking salsa in my spoon, or maybe just the fact that I keep thinking how much more satisfying soup is when it's warm. And so it was that I'd never really come across a cold vegetable soup that I truly liked (cold strawberry soup, however, had me at hello). Sometimes, on a particularly hot summer day, I would even crave the idea of a cold vegetable soup, but never quite end up loving it when it came time to actually eat it.

Until now! Enter the avocado. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch in Lyon

My recent lack of activity is mostly not due to laziness, and is certainly not due to a lack of food tales to tell, but is in very large part due to a week of vacation around France which fed and apéritif-ed me into a deep blog coma. It is only now, after a week of catching up on work and digestion, that I am able to crawl my way back to you.

Our trip included various villages of Provence, then Marseille, then Lyon, and a detour an hour out to the old Clément Family Farm. As we visited quite a bit of Clément's family, we were received with multi-course meals and flowing wine, and as we explored the gastronomic capital of France, we ate some serious restaurant meals. Serious in many ways. There was no messing around.

There are many meals and food moments that I could describe to you, like the one where I tried Os à Moelle (bone marrow) for the first time at the enormous Brasserie Georges in Lyon, or the Amarena Cherry Sundae at the little glacier across the street from a carousel in Marseille (whimsical, eh?). I could even rave to you about Clément's grandmother's homemade Vin de pêche (sweetened, peach-leaf infused wine). But, for (a) pure gratuitous shock value and (b) lack of photos of other food, we're gonna talk pig parts.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Molasses Rhubarb Tartelettes

Fun fact: Rhubarb is a vegetable. And vegetables make some of the funnest desserts. Rhubarb is also very tart. Logically, therefore, it makes good tarts.

I've eaten rhubarb pie before -- I remember the first time I ate it, the rhubarb was very green, and the texture seemed so vegetal that I was very weirded out by my pie. But, as I'm making an effort to explore new produce, I decided to cook up some of my own and bought some rhubarb last weekend from a very puzzled man at a produce stand. What are you going to do with it?, he asked me in a fascinated but ashamed almost-whisper, as I'm sure a produce man selling rhubarb can lose face a bit by not knowing what it actually is.

Some restaurant guys had me get ahold of some for them, he explained, but I have no idea what it is. How does one cook this?

I must admit I was ill-equipped to really educate the produce man, but I was able to explain that it's very tart and people usually cook it with plenty of sugar to make desserts. I, personally, would be making tarts, I offered. Yes, I had already decided their sugary fate.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Leisurely Spring Breakfast

It's Spring! At last! Today it must have hit 80 degrees, and Spring produce is really finally showing up at my neighborhood farmer's market; or, more precisely, the omnipresent asparagus and strawberries are starting to come from France instead of Morocco. And a few exciting seasonal extras, such as rhubarb, are showing up here and there as well. So of course, this weekend, we had no choice but to come home with ALL OF THESE THINGS. 

It's a bit disappointing for me, actually, that one can go to one of the many Parisian farmer's markets and not buy a single thing that was grown within in the Ile-de-France region, or even the country! Even at the farmer's market, so much is imported, whether it be from neighboring countries like Spain, from the DOM-TOMS (overseas departments and territories, such as Guadeloupe), or just warmer, more southernly countries where stuff grows earlier and longer. I miss living in small town America where the goat farmer came every Saturday to peddle his wares, even if they were only green garlic and goat cheese with green garlic in it. In Paris, the markets are expansive and impressive and you can find so many things! But they lack that neighborly feeling, and that relationship with the physical terrain, that terroir that the French celebrate so. It's practically easier for me to find out where my vegetables come from when I buy them at the supermarket. How confusing for someone who tries to buy things responsibly and think about her carbon footprint!

But fortunately, now that the produce is starting to come from France, the vendors seem happy to advertise this fact. And I was happy to listen to them.

So today, we dug right into our Spring produce with a late breakfast of Fresh Chèvre and Dill Scrambled Eggs, Asparagus Salad, and Strawberry Scones.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

on Salted Butter Caramel Mousse, Mistakes, and Magic

There is something you absolutely have to do immediately if you have not already done so in your life. Bored? Had a bad day? Having an existential crisis? Or simply craving dessert?


I personally made it for the first time over week ago, and now I can't stop making caramel. I don't want to stop making caramel.

All the times you make caramel will be delightful experiences, but the first is the best. I hear they say that about a lot of hard drugs, too. I guess caramel has a lot in common with hard drugs. But seriously. It's magical. You're worried, you hear that your sugar will reach a way-beyond boiling 338ºF and if you manage to drop it on your face you'll pretty much be sad. You watch your scalding sugar boil away and wonder if it will ever really turn to caramel or if it will simply disfigure you and your favorite saucepan. Does caramel only happen in the movies? Does it only happen to people richer, more attractive, and more successful than me? But then your sugar starts to turn brown, and then browner, and browner, and behold!


Here's how.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Savory Mini Puff Pastries

One of my favorite institutions of French culture is the ritual involved in eating, most especially the ritual known as the Apéro.

The apéro is a mysterious beast, as it is not simply the little appetizer snacks one might have before dinner, although it frequently includes peanuts, radishes and butter, chips, or other such little nibbles. It also includes alcohol, especially before-dinner drinks like Pastis, Muscat, Martini (the sweet, wine-based kind, which is a mix of wine, plant extracts, vermouth, and sugar), or the always-acceptable wine or beer. An apéro can be a short little appetite-teasing affair before the meal begins, but it can also be an entire evening in itself, followed by no meal whatsoever. When ample food is involved, this can be referred to as an Apéro Dinatoire. Otherwise, it's just what we English-speakers would call a party.

The apéro has been getting some media attention lately in France, as Facebook users have been organizing Giant Apéros in various regions of the country where hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people show up in a public space to "meet people" / drink a lot. There have been reports of comas, and even one death in the most recent apéro géant. Police are cracking down, as the events, being unofficial and unregistered with the local government, are illegal. The Parisian apéro géant, which is foreseen for May 28th, was to be the biggest one yet, but apparently lots of people are dropping out, as the police are getting ready to squash them. And nobody likes for their apéro to be squashed.

A recent, more life-sized and less dramatic apéro of my own was accompanied by these savory puff pastries. Which actually made it fairly dramatic. I'd never successfully made a pâte feuilleté before, but I was surprised to find that the recipe was quite easy, and yielded delicious, buttery, flaky results. A batch of these is a perfect snack with the people you'll share your dinner with, over a little kir, perhaps, just to make your meal that much more ceremonious.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Green Tea Cupcakes

Belleville is a very international neighborhood of Paris known especially for being home to one of the two Chinatown districts in the city. It's not far from my own neighborhood, conveniently enough, and it makes for some pretty fun grocery shopping. Even better, if you get tired while exploring the endless aisles of curious delicacies the shops have to offer, you can take a pork bun break at one of the Chinese bakery counters, and go back to your shopping nourished and invigorated. 

A trip there last week resulted in an array of sauces, noodles, and vinegars I'm excited about exploring. Tamarind paste is one thing I'm looking forward to getting into. But the big revelation I had was to get on to the baking with matcha train.

It all started when I impulsively picked up a pack of green tea noodles (which I later ate simply dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil, and thoroughly enjoyed), and got to thinking that there's a lot of potential in green tea. I could make green tea flavored anything. And it was with this thought in my mind that I purchased my first powdered green tea.  

My matcha baking debuted the very next day, with the need for a last-minute dessert to contribute to the dinner a good friend was making. I searched the internet for interesting green tea dessert recipes, and ended up choosing cupcakes, partially I think due to a recent cupcake catastrophe that occurred when I tried to make these puppies, Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. It sounded great, and it would have been great, if I had made about 1/4 of the icing the recipe called for. But instead, I made the full recipe (which was supposed to correspond to the quantity of cupcakes also involved in said recipe...), and piled 'em high with pillowy frosting. To my horror, they were so sweet and so rich, they actually caused me to entirely lose my desire to eat cupcakes. They were basically nauseating, and on top of that it sparked yet another conversation about how us Americans eat such rich food, etc. etc. So this time I was hoping to avenge my last cupcake failure with something less sweet and more subtle. This was my big chance!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dirty Sticky Rice and Scallion Galettes

Last week, I bought a bunch of scallions to try my hand at Pad Thai. It worked out well, but afterward I had quite a bit of scallions leftover. What's a girl to do with a million scallions? Scallion galettes, that's what. So the next day, we made the galettes by briefly boiling some scallions, draining, and blending them, mixing them with egg, flour, and more chopped scallions, and then cooking them in some oil. They were lovely. Clément also prepared some ground pork seasoned with soy sauce and sesame oil like he remembered eating with another version of scallion galettes in China. 

Then, after a weekend of buying ingredients for specific recipes, we had the fridge full of lots of assorted leftover ingredients, plus some pork and a few galettes. It was clearly a fried rice moment. But fried rice with ground pork, this was clearly reminiscent of Dirty Rice. And so was born Dirty Sticky Rice. 

I had also made a carrot-ginger salad dressing from Smitten Kitchen last week, and we still had carrots and ginger in our hot little hands, so I made it again (it's fantastic), and we thus finished off the leftover salad and cucumber. Success! Now we can fit beer in the fridge again!

Monday, May 3, 2010

BRUNCH PARTY! + Mini Chèvre Cheesecakes with Strawberry Coulis

It's Spring, it's Sunday, and we had friends in town. What better occasion for a BRUNCH PARTY?

Hoping to wow said friends with my sparkling culinary wit and American brunching know-how, as soon as we decided that the BRUNCH PARTY would be held chez Clément and I, which happened Friday evening when I got home from work, I immediately started planning the menu. Sundays can sometimes be a little tricky for errands, and Saturday was May 1st (French Labor Day), so forget doing major shopping then, as many shops are closed. I had to get the ball rolling, as they say. And roll it did.

Until, of course, I came home from the store starving and sleepy, and pretty much ate dinner and went to bed. It pretty much stopped rolling then.

But then, like a Brunching Superhero, I woke up early Saturday morning, bought the couple of ingredients I couldn't find and/or forgot to buy on Friday (all while fending off aggressive Lily-of-the-Valley hustlers, the relentless May Day flower pushers that come out once a year--ok, maybe they're 7 years old, but that's no excuse), and did some preparation work so that Sunday would go smoothly, even after a night of endless sangria at our favorite tapas place.

And smoothly it went, indeed. Dessert done in advance, all we had to do this morning was whip up hollandaise sauce, make biscuits, fry potatoes, and poach eggs. Considering we were a team of 4, this was pretty manageable.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PIZZA-OFF, with café side-trips, and a Heartwarming Spaghetti Conclusion

We couldn't decide on what kind of pizza to make. Our differing pizza philosophies and sensibilities just couldn't seem to be reconciled. We should make a simple, traditional kind of pizza, was Clément's take. Let's go to the market on Sunday morning and throw whatever looks good onto dough, was my somewhat less strategic point of view. While debating in the line at the grocery store, store-bought pizza crust in tow, we decided that there was only way we could reach a decision.

We would have to have a Pizza-Off.

I of course immediately sprinted back to the refrigerated section to get another crust.

Sunday morning, we did our farmer's market shopping, and the two contenders were announced: Three Cheese (C.) v. Mediterranean Veggie (me). Let me tell you, it was on.

We spent Sunday, the most beautiful Spring day we've had in Paris so far, each of us gloating about our certain victory as we strolled through the neighborhood, passing by the Parc de Belleville and stumbling across La Mer à Boire, a café/bar located at the end of Rue des Envierges, a street that ends abruptly on the highest point of a hill which looks over the park, and all of Paris for that matter. The view was stunning, and I had no idea it existed! It's on the top of my Places to Get a Drink Outside This Spring/Summer list, but on this particular day we didn't stop our strolling.

We ended up in another café along the Canal Saint-Martin, after an afternoon's walk. Clément had a beer, and I a Diabolo Menthe. For those of you who may not be familiar with this very French concoction, it's French limonade (so the sweet, sparkly, light-on-the-lemon variety) with mint syrup, and on a warm, sunny day, it's just the thing. So refreshing! And so green...

And finally, we were home, armed with various veggies and cheeses, not to mention warriorlike determination, and the contest began.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spiced Carrot and Onion "Khoresh Muffins"

So, the other night I was looking to make some lamb stew. Lamb stew sounded good. So I was looking around for recipes on the internet when I came across this one: Lamb and Orange Khoresh, a Persian dish that looked quite worthy of trying. I followed the recipe perfectly except that I didn't add the orange flower water (completely forgot) and I put turmeric instead of the optional saffron. After an hour and a half of slow-cooking in my cast-iron Dutch oven later, the result was lovely. Extremely flavorful, and I loved the combination of orange and lamb with the turmeric, cinnamon, and green cardamom.

Which brings me to now. Really, it does, the connection will be made apparent momentarily. Last night, I was, for whatever reason, dying to make cupcakes or muffins or some cake-like substance to put into my muffin tin (I have no other cake-baking vessel, but I accept that, as I like cupcakes and muffins). All of that led me to the question: WHAT is the difference between cupcakes and muffins? Is it the icing? I suppose it's because cupcakes are made with cake batter and muffins are made with more of a quick bread batter. But WHAT is the technical difference between, for example, pumpkin bread and pumpkin cake? Why is the world so confusing?

The internet gives me answers like "DUH ONE IS CAKE AND ONE IS BREAD" (very helpful) or "cake is richer and sweeter than quick bread," but my taste buds disagree. Think of banana bread. Isn't it in fact denser and sweeter than most cake? Imagine putting icing on it. All your teeth would instantly fall out. Plus, cake is usually airier, isn't it? WHY IS THIS QUESTION SO HARD TO ANSWER?

There's some interesting discussion about the whole matter here, and a tiny bit of incomprehensible technical explanation here, should it actually interest you. Apparently it's a matter of crumb structure. Cakes tend to use flours with lower gluten content (cake flour), which imparts a more tender texture. Quick breads, however, tend to use higher gluten content flour (all-purpose flour), resulting in a denser texture. There's some other differences, like leavening agents in some cases, but I got bored reading about it. I think we'll just have to accept that there is logic behind the distinction, but at times the line is hard to draw (yeah, way to legitimize your crappy half-answer!)

So now is the part in the blog post where I explain why the Orange and Lamb Khoresh is relevant to the distinction between cake and quick bread. CUZ I MADE CARROT, ONION, CITRUS AND SPICE _______ (insert proper terminology here).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Big Veggies, Big Problems

Problem 1: I think I got black pepper up my nose and I can't stop sneezing.

So anyway, cabbage sounds like a good idea, right? Especially a nice, fresh-looking Savoy cabbage with its seductively curly green leaves, waving to you flirtatiously in the vegetable market? And when you read about cabbage, it sounds like such an underdog people's hero kind of vegetable, feeding the peasants, growing even when nothing else will grow. Plus you can cook it in plenty of different ways: braised, stuffed, stir-fried, in soup, raw in a salad, etc. etc. 

But thank god for this versatility because, bringing me to Problem 2: A cabbage is a damn lot of cabbage.

I bought this particular cabbage two days ago. I cooked it in white wine with apples, red onions, potatoes, and pork in my new Dutch oven (!!!!!!!!!). The next night, I made Sautéed Ginger Beef and Cabbage. Today at lunch, I ate my cabbage in count 'em not one but TWO dishes. We're going out of town at the end of the week, and we've still got a long road of cabbage ahead of us. The picture above is the "after" picture.

But, since my English students keep cancelling their classes and I have leisurely, even endless, lunchbreaks, lunch today was an exercise in (1) eating cabbage, and (2) improving my food photography. Here are my results, and my recipes.

Cabbage Rib Salad with Creamy Miso Dressing, serves 2

I used cabbage ribs. You could just use regular chopped cabbage, but this is one way to use up the thick, crunchy bits that you didn't want to sautée in your dinner from the night before.

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 heaping cup chopped cabbage ribs
sesame seeds for garnish

1 teaspoon saké, soju, or other rice alcohol of about that strength (mine is 20%)
1/3 teaspoon miso paste
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon plain yogurt, crème fraîche, or sour cream

Place ribs on a plate, sprinkle shallot overtop. In a small dish, mix the dressing ingredients, then drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Quinoa with Apples, Potatoes, Red Onions, and Cabbage, serves any number of people

This recipe is um, a bit looser, since as I mentioned it's mostly leftovers. But cooking approximately equal amounts of potatoes, apple, and red onion with some cabbage and pork in about an inch of dry white wine with ample salt and pepper in a Dutch oven for about an hour and a half yields a fruit/vegetable/meat-juice mixture whose leftovers are nice served over quinoa. Mine is actually half quinoa, half bulgur wheat, but who's counting?

So that's my cabbage story. The moral: avoid big vegetables before big trips. Oh, and I'll let you guess Problem 3.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Everybody loves... MASHED POTATOES

It's true. Everyone loves them. I've decided to start a feature on my blog where I take classic, everyday sort of foods that everybody loves and make them maximally delicious, either through my own cunning and genius, or through that of someone else. Today, it's sort of both. OK mostly the latter, but I had to get in the last word/ingredient. Today we're making mashed potatoes with JOEL ROBUCHON!!! *applause*

The principle behind Joël's recipe is basically butter. I've essentially learned that in cooking, if you want to make something maximally delicious, what you have to do is have the courage to add much more butter than you think is a good idea. Example: Grilled cheese. When I make grilled cheese, it's pretty good. When my boyfriend Clément makes grilled cheese, it's amazing. And do you know why? Because Clément is not afraid of butter. I have to admit I'm a little afraid. So I let Clément make the grilled cheese, I don't watch, and I enjoy them without ever knowing the quantity of butter I am actually consuming.

Same thing with MASHED POTATOES. Except I can successfully make those, thanks to Joël.

The other secret to perfect mashed potatoes is using the perfect potatoes, a concept I briefly discussed in my last post and which has recently changed my life. We used Bintje potatoes for their high starch content. Known as a "floury" or "mealy" potato, it's ideal for dishes where it is supposed to fall apart, be smashed, etc. North American potatoes that fit the bill are Idaho and Russet. Potatoes that you want to hold their form, such as for making potato salads, are known as "firm" or "waxy" potatoes, and their lower starch content makes them hold up better during cooking. Charlotte, BF15, Yukon, Red, and Fingerling are all examples.

So, to summarize, butter makes everything more delicious, and more butter makes it even more delicious; and, using the right potato for your dish is a revelation that will change your potato-cooking life, if it hasn't already.

Pictured at the beginning of post, Chipolatas (homemade from Boucherie Risch et Cie Sté, 3 rue du Capitaine Ferber 75020 Paris) and mashed potatoes; pictured here, Tunisian-spiced pan-fried chicken, roasted carrots, salad with lemon yogurt dressing, and... mashed potatoes. Leftovers, what can I say.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Vegetable Adventures I, Part II: Pork Chops with Celery Root Sauce, Hashbrowns and Onion-Apple Compote

So, leftover celery root soup in my fridge was destined to become sauce on my plate. But sauce on what, you may ask? But you didn't really ask that, because you saw the photo and the title of this post. Very clever.

Anyway, I started off brainstorming with scallops. The idea of tender seared scallops with celery root sauce was making my mouth water. Then I thought about vegetables. I googled around to find some inspiration, but I ended up deciding on hashbrown potatoes. I thought a couple hashbrowns, some seared scallops, and some celery root sauce sounded like a fun dinner. But then I came home late and the fish market, which is not on my way home, seemed awfully far for something that was probably closed, plus Clément isn't a big seafood fan. Plus scallops are expensive. So I went with pork chops.

I wanted a little element of zing in the dish, as well, and while the dish appears visually to be a lot of stuff piled on top of other stuff, I really felt like all the parts worked well together. (All this in defense of my compote) The onion-apple compote was actually my favorite part, I think. And I liked the idea of revisited pork chops and apple sauce. The dish would even work well without the celery root sauce, but it was good too, and don't tell it I said that.

And so our dinner was born. And we ate it all, and licked the plate. Clément, who hadn't been a huge fan of the celery root soup, loved it as a sauce. Me too, but in fact I finished the leftover soup a couple of days later, and with a touch of heavy cream, I actually found it delicious. I think that means Vegetable Adventure I was a success.

I know now that celery root blends to a beautifully creamy consistency for soups and sauces, has a pronounced celery flavor, and pairs well with lemon, nutmeg, and apple. Another blog suggests vanilla bean as a pairing, and having explored this vegetable myself, I can concur that that would be fantastic. Celery root has a slightly sweet note to it where vanilla bean would chime right in.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vegetable Adventures I: Celery Root Soup with Toasted Pine Nuts

Long live the blender! Aaaand, Clément's new camera!! (get a load of that image quality)

It's my current fascination to explore seasonal vegetables in an in-depth fashion. I want to know the texture they can give to a soup, the taste they have when by themselves. I'd like to understand exactly what kind of pairings and combinations are possible, and figure out exactly what I can do with the vegetables in question. My method is therefore to explore them through soup, using leftover soup as a sauce for meat, fish, etc. So, the first vegetable (or second, if you count the roasted peppers) that I attempted to comprehend was: celery root!

I had never done anything with celery root before a little over a month ago, when I caramelized it with other root vegetables to eat with Tunisian-spiced chicken. I realized at that moment that I really like it. This time I brought a brain-sized one, struggled to cut it up into chunks with my somewhat lackluster knife set (one day I'll have nice knives...), peeled it, and simmered it in some homemade chicken broth I had made the day before. I added sautéed shallots, then puréed everything. I seasoned with salt and pepper, tasted, and it was still missing something. I looked around a little on the internet for inspiration, and decided on lemon juice, which helped a lot. Then I remembered I had some pine nuts in the cupboard, which I toasted, and sprinkled on the soup with a dollop of crème fraîche and a dusting of nutmeg. It was not bad. It had a serious celery flavor, and the addition of some citrus and some nutty crunch was a nice complement. I honestly really enjoyed eating it. But I have to admit, today I used the leftovers as a sauce for some pork chops with hashbrowns and an apple-onion compote, and it was much better in this context. But that's another post...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Poached Salmon Eggs Benedict

"What should we eat for lunch today?" Clément asked, in the middle of our Sunday morning coffee-and-farmer's-market-grocery-list ritual.

After a bit of fridge inventory, the answer appeared to be eggs. But eggs how? Eggs with salmon, Clément suggested. I love this combination, but we've already done scrambled eggs with smoked salmon several times, and I was in the mood for something different. We could bake the salmon and have a spinach salad with a poached egg, I offered. Maybe we could even try hollandaise sauce.

That was it. Hollandaise sauce!!! Lunch would be eggs benedict.

A few errands later, we had two salmon filets, lots of butter, fresh parsley, and some bread. I chose something my local bakery calls pain des prés, or "prairie bread." I wasn't familiar with it, but the size and texture looked perfect. And indeed, when I cut it open, the inside was soft and would nicely absorb the sauce, but the crust was flaky, crisp, and substantial, and would keep the dish from turning out all spongy. Its interior also contained some slightly crunchy whole grains, which added a little extra something.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Things We Did and Didn't Do, the Former Being Pumpkin Fried Rice

In life, we are bound to have regrets. Using my leftover pumpkin from the pizza in my last post is not one of them. Forgetting to photo-document the show-stopping spread I cranked out last night, however, is.

So, first about the spread in question. The menu was:

Savory Cheese and Thyme Shortbread with Fleur de Sel, with the apéro

Seared Glazed Duck Breasts with Garlic-Roasted Carrots and Salad

Mini Chèvre Cheesecakes with Caramelized Pear Sauce and Fried Ginger

And I have not a single photo. So, let me describe. The shortbread cookies, or sablés as they call them here, had a delicate, buttery texture, with a little crunch from the grated parmesan, and the subtly floral, woody aroma of fresh thyme. They were perfectly salted, which has been my great battle in concocting this recipe (solution: use salted butter, and sprinkle a little Fleur de Sel on top of the cut cookies, rather than adding salt to the dough--you can't go wrong). Only complaint: the first time I attempted this recipe, I used big kosher salt, but too much, and I baked them at too cool a temperature, which made me have to bake them longer than I meant to. However, the crunch from the salt together with the slight crispness the longer baking time, plus I think a little more Emmental than this attempt, made a PERFECT TEXTURE. Seriously, the texture was unreal. Too bad they were too salty. Clément said they would take care of the humidity problem in the apartment. Ha ha. This time the salt was perfect, but the texture was a little too light and dry for me. Once I get them completely perfect, I'll be sure to post about them.

The duck was a homerun this time, thanks to these very clear instructions, as well as my own learning of the lesson that despite the fact the above recipe says to glaze immediately upon turning the breasts in the pan, YOU SHOULD NOT. The glaze warms up and dribbles down into the hot pan and burns, which is no fun for anyone. Rather, I glazed right after removing the breasts from the skillet, at resting time, and this time it went off without a hitch.

The cheesecake was a dream, if I do say so myself. I used this basic chèvre cheesecake recipe, but I didn't cook them in a bain marie, rather just cooking them in my silicon muffin pan. I also cooked them longer than the recipe suggested, so they could stand on their own, since this recipe was designed for little pots, and I wanted something firmer and freestanding. Then I just simmered pears in butter for a long time with a touch of honey until they were soft and sugary and I got a nice syrup. Then I added some lemon juice and zest to the pears for acidity, and voilà. I also discovered that frying ginger is a delicious idea, and it added a nice little crunch. I just have to practice my technique, it came out a tad overfried (read: we had some blackage).

But, alas, no pictures.

What I do have a picture of his today's lunch, so I'll talk about that now.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Soup, Pumpkin & Blue Cheese Pizza

Since I'm just starting to write this blog, I forgot to take a picture before we ate our soup. Also, I don't have a digital camera because I sold it a few months ago, so I took this photo with my computer... In short, my visuals are disastrous. But please, forgive me, and trust that my pizza was not actually pixelated.

What it was, though, was rather successful, especially for toaster oven material, as I have no Real Oven (You may be noticing a pattern here in my relationship to technology). Well, welcome to my life! I mean that, too, not in a bitter sarcastic kind of way. I'm glad I sold my digital camera! And I love my toaster oven! And really, welcome to my life.

We, my boyfriend Clément and I, just moved into a new apartment that has a toaster oven and a real live gas stove, not to mention a lot more workspace--a huge step up from the last one, where we had only hotplates, and where we cut our vegetables on the computer desk. We became old hats at poule au pot, pot au feu, and soupe du marché. Then came the pivotal event of buying Tout Robuchon and learning all those little skills I'd never picked up - when exactly to salt the meat, how to know which species of garlic is in season, how to make aligot (!), etc.

I profess no form of culinary expertise, but I do have my curiosity and my appetite to offer you, Reader, as well as a sound confidence that I know delicious when I eat it. I may not always achieve it, Dear Reader, but that's not what it's about, now is it?

Anyway, back to my dinner. Back in my vegetarian days, I remember loving Amy's Roasted Vegetable No Cheese Pizza because of that delicious, sweet sauce that I couldn't identify at the time. I now recognize it as probably caramelized onions and reduced balsamic vinegar, so that was the inspiration for tonight's meal. That, and with a a toaster oven, I can roast peppers (!) and make pizza (!).