January 31, 2006

Gâteau au Yaourt

I tried this recipe for Gâteau au Yaourt from Clotilde's blog and it's my new favorite cake. I really appreciate how easy it is to make. You don't need any fancy mixer; it's easy to make by hand. Plus, after my little foray into the world of Clafoutis, I'm obsessed with fruity desserts. This cake is really moist, light and not too sweet. Perfect with a pot of tea!

I’ll post my slight variation of the cake here, but you should read her post for the original Gâteau au Yaourt, which I hope to try soon. My variation has the same base as her Gâteau au Yaourt à la Framboise (i.e. with brown sugar) but uses chopped apples instead. Clearly, you can use any fruit you like. Avoid the urge to add cinnamon or other spices. You will really enjoy the simplicity of the yogurt, fruit and brown sugar; I promise! Go make this cake!

Yogurt Cake with Apples

½ cup plain unsweetened yogurt
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
¼ cup oil
¼ cup ground almonds (almond flour)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2-3 Gala, Golden Delicious or Pink Lady apples, peeled, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F.
Combine the yogurt, oil and sugar in a large bowl. Add vanilla or almond extract and one egg at a time and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, almonds and baking powder. Stir the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture a little at a time until just combined. Do not over mix.

Pour 1/3 of cake batter into the bottom of a well-greased and floured round 9-in. cake pan or pie plate. Lay sliced apples over the batter in one crowded layer. Don't pile them too high or they won't cook down enough. Pour remaining batter over the apples covering them completely. Bake for 45 minutes. (The posted recipe says 50-60 minutes, but mine was well done at 50.)

Let cool 15 minutes or so before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar or a spoonful of whipped cream before serving. Serves 8.

*Evidently, if you can’t find almond flour or don’t want to grind your own, you can omit it without replacing it.

January 28, 2006

The Most Fabulous Recipe Ever...

I’m sure that by now everyone and their mother is aware of how much I love macaroni and cheese, especially all of those friends of mine who forwarded me the New York Times article about it. Enough already you temptresses!!!

I felt it was my duty then to actually try the recipe. The picture looked great. I’m guessing half the country fell off the low-carb wagon after seeing it. The article was basically calling most recipes for Mac ‘n Cheese pansy-ass because they don’t use enough cheese. I tried their recipe for the “crusty” macaroni and, to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite. Trust me, I do come from the school of “you can never have too much cheese” but this recipe was literally pasta with melted cheese on it. Crusty, it was, and incredibly greasy. I guess I’m just too fond of the creamy kind.

I’m quite certain that I’ve tried all the variations of Macaroni and Cheese. The one with a béchamel sauce made with cheddar and usually baked in the oven (with or without bread crumbs.) There is the stove top version that gets thickened with evaporated milk and an egg. Now I’ve made the all-cheese one and tried a variety of cheeses. I must say it’s been a beautiful journey. Everyone is going to have their favorite. Thankfully, I have enough room in my heart for all varieties.

Here's a picture to give you hunger pains...

Some Advice:

The baked variety requires a rather thin béchamel sauce since the cheese will further thicken the sauce. The mistake is to make a thick béchamel that becomes thicker with the addition of the cheese. My other recommendation is to use lots of extra sharp cheddar or it won’t taste cheesy enough, which I think was the complaint in the NY Times article. Also, you could layer half the combined pasta and sauce mixture in the casserole pan, add a layer of grated cheese and top with the rest of the pasta. So, I agree with the Times about needing to use more cheese than is generally given in most recipes.

I love bread crumbs on baked casseroles, but just be sure to sauté them in a little oil or butter first so that they brown in the oven. If you dump them on the casserole they will simply absorb your sauce and never brown.

My stove top version comes from a great cookbook called, The Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook, by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whitford, which is full of really great recipes for the basics. I played around with the amounts here and I use only an egg yolk, not a whole egg. I know you will love this recipe. It tastes really good and it can be made in the time it takes the pasta to boil.

Creamy Stove Top Mac 'n Cheese

2 cups dry macaroni or other small pasta
1 egg yolk
¾ cup evaporated milk (more may be needed)
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp salt
Pinch of nutmeg
An aggressive amount of Tabasco
2 or more cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
*replace half the cheddar with aged gruyere if you want to play around.

Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water. Whisk together the egg yolk and ¾ cup of evaporated milk. Add salt, nutmeg, mustard and Tabasco. Drain pasta when done and return back to the pan over low heat. Add cheese and milk mixture and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken and the cheese will melt completely as it heats. Stir continually. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding my cheese if needed. Add more evaporated milk if it gets too thick. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Serves 2.

You’ve now completed my grand summary of Mac ‘n Cheese. Good luck and my apologies to anyone on a diet. At least there's no picture. *Update 3/4/06, oh wait, sorry. Now there is.

January 25, 2006

Saint Valentine's Salad

In my ever present effort to expand my salad repertoire, I believe I've stumbled across something good.

Beets, baby. Maybe beets aren't that old-fashioned anymore, but I remember them as canned weird squiggly things that my Grandma would serve on a relish tray, along with cold sour pickles. I think those were pickled beets, actually. For a long time I found their scarlet seeping juices peculiar and was annoyed how they turned everything in their path that devastating pink color. Even when working with them last night I was scared my fingers would be forever pink. (The stain washed right off). Beets are actually amazing things. They happen to be very high in potassium and folic acid should you be looking for a nutritional excuse to eat them.

I've seen them around Paris, popping up on menus and are easy to find in grocery stores. A standard salade composée might include greens topped with grated carrots, corn kernels, and diced beets. They make for a perfectly sweet triptych when placed beside little mounds of carrot salad and celery rémoulade, where their striking color is used for optimal effect.
Try this pink salad with beets for your Valentine.

Apple and Beet Salad
with Honey Orange Vinaigrette

1 large beet (or canned beets are fine)
1 apple, sliced
1/2 head of romaine lettuce or 2 cups of mesclun greens
1/4 walnuts, toasted (optional)

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp. orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest (optional)
1 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with a lid. Shake to combine.
Cook whole beet(s) in boiling water for 40 minutes or until tender and you can easily insert a knife (as you would with potatoes). Drain and remove peel. Slice beets and apples. Toast walnuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and lightly browned.

In a large salad bowl, toss lettuce, apples and beets together with as much dressing as you prefer. The apples will turn neon pink with this preparation. An alternate preparation leaving you without the snarky pink apples would be to toss the lettuce and apples with the dressing and then top the salad with the slice beets. I happen to like those sexy pink apples, but it's up to you. Garnish with more mint. Serves 2.

January 23, 2006


There isn't anything I love more than a lunch made up of a hefty slice of quiche sitting next to a green salad and a glass of wine. I've made many quiches in my day and I always seem to have to search long and hard to find a recipe. There are so many recipes out there with so many different amounts (some only use 2 eggs, no cream, more filling, deep dish, etc.) that I seem to always scramble for a recipe when I'm craving quiche. So, I was motivated to find a great one; one I could call my definitive recipe.

I like a quiche with a nice balance between the egg and other fillings. 2 eggs are only going to fill up the quiche pan if you have lots of other filling (like a pound of onions), so that is something to consider, too. Quiches are simple to make and have a lot of potential for experimentation. Some fillings that are popular around Paris include: Spinach and Chevre, Veggie (diced carrots, leeks, etc...blah,) Onion or Leek, Onion and Bacon (of course!), Scallops, Salmon, Tomato and Zucchini, or Mushroom. Simply adding an unusual type of cheese and can make an interesting quiche. The key to any quiche (or most dishes, for that matter) is that each individual part should taste good. Bland mushrooms aren’t going to taste good just because they are surrounded by eggs and cheese, so season each step of the way.

Call it a New Year's resolution if you want, but I'm going to try and add more vegetables into my life. So, I decided to add broccoli to my quiche with caramelized onions and bacon. Baby steps...

Quiche à la Megane (Broccoli, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Quiche)

1 pastry crust (pâte brisée)
4 eggs
3 heaping Tbsp. crème fraîche, heavy cream (or half & half, if you must)
1 cup milk
1 medium sized head of broccoli, cut into 1-in florets
1/2 cup lardons/bacon
3 medium onions, chopped (I used 1 yellow and 1 red onion and it worked fine)
1/2 cup comté (or gruyere) cheese

Beat together eggs, crème fraiche or cream and milk. Add a pinch each of salt and ground nutmeg. (*note: I've seen recipes that say to use sour cream in place of crème fraîche, but I have not tried this and I find in some recipes they have very different reactions. Sour cream has a higher tendency to separate, I think, so I'm not vouching for it working. If you try it, let me know.)

A shortcut method for caramelizing onions:
Melt 1/2 Tbsp of butter and about that much olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions and stir. Cover the pan and let the onions sweat and soften for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take off the lid (the onions should be soft at this point) and add a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar to the onions. Stir and turn up the heat to medium high. Let onions brown and stir occasionally for about another 10 minutes or until caramelized to your liking.

Blanch the broccoli florets in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until just tender but not overcooked. Drain broccoli and pat with paper towels to absorb excess water. Sauté the lardons or bacon in a skillet until browned and crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Place crust in a 9-in. pie plate, letting edges drape over the sides for now. Arrange broccoli, bacon and onions in even layers on the pastry. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Slowly pour the egg/milk mixture over this so you don't disturb your broccoli. Gently fold the excess pasty over onto the filling, creasing a bit where necessary. I find this attractive and easier than making those fluted edges (which I suck at) that just get overly browned anyway. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F/200 degree C oven for 35 minutes (checking at 30 and maybe needing 40). The quiche is done when puffed, golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean.

Also, try (my favorite!) Salmon and Spinach Quiche:
by flaking 1 (6-8 oz.) cooked salmon fillet, defrosting 1 cup of frozen spinach and layering those on the pastry before pouring on the egg/milk mixture. Sautéed leeks are also nice in this. Sadly, I never get to make this as my husband detests both salmon and spinach. Sigh…

January 22, 2006

Little Sandwiches

This is a cute little recipe for a sandwich. It’s sort of like a Croque-Monsieur.

Petit Pains au Lait avec du Jambon et du Fromage

2 small pains au lait, pain viennoise, or brioche
2-3 thin slices smoked ham, chopped
¼ cup gruyère, comté, or emmenthal (any cheese would work)
Milk or light cream

Carefully slice the tops off the bread (about ¼ off the top) and gently scoop out the inside of the roll. Put the torn bits of bread in a small saucepan, along with the ham, cheese and enough milk or cream to soften the bread. Stir over medium heat until the cheese is melted, adding more milk until it is well incorporated and kind of gooey, for lack of a better description. Put this filling back in the empty rolls and top with their petit chapeau. This is where the recipe stops, however, for a more attractive look, it would be great to top the sandwiches with a bit more cheese and pop them under the broiler until golden brown and serve without the hat. I’m sure this would work equally well with any sort of roll or baguette, but the smaller the better. Serves 2.

Je mijote...Part Deux

Every Wednesday at 11, I go to the home of my friend, Françoise, for an English/French conversation exchange which mostly turns into a gossipy chat about school or French society. (She's a teacher at one of the schools where I work.) I don't really know what I'd do without her. After all, she's the one who has helped me learn how to scold children, among other things, and has been a vital part of my success here. A few weeks ago her mother was visiting from Normandy and I was invited to stay for lunch.

Well, I ended up being there for 3 hours and I had the most delicious food. The grandma was sweet and the food was truly à la grand-mère. She made braised pork with carrots, onions and prunes. We also had salad, cheese, a slice of tarte aux abricots (from a most delicious German bakery, Le Stübli in the 17th, on which I could do an entire post), then coffee. Perfect! I don't know when cooking with prunes went out of style, but bring it back! They work so well with pork. I've seen a lot of recipes for stews with apricots or dates, but I think apricots have the tendency to make a dish too sweet, whereas prunes don't overpower the other ingredients.

Here is her recipe as best I can remember. (**Also, I should note that it turns out I may have actually been served rabbit that day, so evidently this is great with rabbit, too! I realize I'm exposing myself to ridicule here. Tasted like pork to me.)

Braised Pork with Prunes à la Grand-Mère:

2-3 lbs or so of pork shoulder, or other stew cut, cut into 2-in. chunks
3-4 whole cloves garlic, peeled and just smashed a bit
1 white or yellow onion, sliced
3 carrots, cut into 2-in chunks
1-2 Tbsp. flour
handful dried prunes
4 medium white potatoes, or yukon gold, peeled, halved
maybe 2-3 cans chicken broth (enough to almost cover)
1/2 cup white wine, optional

Salt and pepper the pork. Melt a Tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil in a dutch oven. When hot, add pork and sear on all sides. Remove pork from pan after nicely browned, then add the onions, carrots, garlic. (Feel free to add other herbs here, too. Thyme, sage, a bay leaf, or herbs de Provence would be nice.) Sprinkle with flour, stir and cook 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn. Deglaze the pan with the white wine or chicken broth (or water). Whisk to mix in flour evenly. Add meat back to pan. Add chicken broth or water to almost cover meat and veggies and bring to a simmer. Cover and continue to simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally and more importantly checking to make sure it isn't rapidly boiling. Add potatoes with about 30-45 minutes left (depending on their size) and prunes with about 10 minutes left. Stirring a Tbsp of dijon mustard into the juice at the end would be a nice finish. Serves 4 well.

This is a basic recipe calling out for experimentation. Stay tuned for Part Trois...

Le Stübli and Stübli Delikatessen
10-11 rue Poncelet
75017 Paris
(a bakery and tea room sits across from the delicatessen, which serves the most fabulous sausage or bratwurst sandwiches smothered with caramelized onions and spicy mustard. Oh la la.)

January 18, 2006

White Bean and Arugula Salad

Here I am writing about salad again. I don't know what's come over me. I'm sure it's a passing phase. This salad has such great flavor with the tender white beans, spicy arugula and the bite from the red onion. It almost makes me forget it's a salad.

White Bean and Arugula Salad
(basic recipe from Dave Lieberman)

1 can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 bag of prewashed arugula (about 2 large handfuls)

4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1-2 Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Yeah, this seems really simple. Too simple to be really good, right? You might think so, but trust me; it's great. You can vary the amount of arugula for more of a bean salad or increase the arugula for a green salad. Combine the beans, onion, basil and arugula in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can combine the oil and vinegar together in a separate bowl, but I just pour each over the salad. Mix well. It helps to dress this salad at least an hour before to let things develop. I think it tastes great the next day, too! If you dress it lightly, the salad stays crisp.

January 17, 2006

On Pizza...

Paul and I love pizza. We were on a mission a few years ago to make a really great homemade crust. Put a baking stone and a Kitchen Aid in our trust and we can do some damage. To your kitchen, I mean. (Making pizza at home is a bit of an affair.) Right now you must realize that I'm daydreaming because I have neither the baking stone nor the Kitchen Aid in my possession right now. They have been sitting patiently in my parent's basement for over a year awaiting our return from the old world.

So, it is a good thing the old world has pizza, too. Making pizza at home is great because it's different almost every time. I generally use whatever we have in the fridge. Leftover sautéed veggies? Ham? 1/3 bottle of pesto and leftover chicken? Throw it on there. You can buy really good pre-made pizza dough here, too, which helps things immensely.

There is something to note about French pizza. It seems the French do not share our concept of appropriate pizza attire. The most popular pizza toppings here are ham and mushroom and there is most definitely emmenthal or gruyere cheese on it. I like this. Also, whereas we usually stick with pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, onions, or mushrooms, they are just as likely to put fresh tomatoes, broccoli, bacon or eggplant on it. This could just be an attempt to turn everything into a tarte. But, I love how every culture makes their own version of a dish.

So, I'm stretching my pizza palate a bit but keeping it grounded. There will be no green peas or eggplant on my pizza anytime soon, but there will be at least red pepper, ham and onion since that's what I have tonight.

Some other pizza ideas:

à la française: tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sliced olives, mozzarella, emmenthal, and parmesan cheese

à l'espagnole: tomato sauce, chorizo, sliced sautéed onions, green or red bell pepper, basil, mozzarella and cheddar (or manchego?) cheese

à la Pizza Hut (their poulet basquaise): tomato sauce, sliced chicken, roasted red and yellow bell peppers, oregano, parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

à la Pesto: pesto sauce, sliced chicken or pork, pine nuts or walnuts, gruyere or goat cheese.

à la Tarte Flambée: crème fraiche, lardons, onions and gruyere cheese.

à la Bread Co.: olive oil, fresh rosemary, thinly sliced cooked red potatoes, crumbled bacon, parmesan and asiago cheese.

January 16, 2006

Les Restos

Well, here I am again. Did you miss me? After a weekend spent not cooking I don't have much to tell except to give some hearty restaurant recommendations.

Paul and I ate at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Paris on Saturday night. Anahuacalli is a sentimental favorite of ours. We got engaged in Paris while we were on vacation in 2003 and ate dinner at Anahuacalli that evening. Plus, both of our parents have been there, Paul's grandparents love it, as does everyone else we take there! So, we spent Saturday evening with 2 friends, a pitcher of margaritas (oh! vous êtes sérieux!) and some enchiladas verdes. We had a nice conversation with our waitress about how we've been in there a lot before, so we are now officially recognized by the sweet old Mexican lady who usually takes our order! It made our friggin' night. She's so sweet.

30, rue des Bernardins
75005 Paris

Our recommendations:
turkey mole, enchiladas verdes, flautas, guacamole, and definitely the margaritas!

Sunday evening was spent with our good friends Kristina and Bruno at Le Refuge des Fondus. This tiny place is just a 4-5 minute walk from our apartment and serves amazing fondue. Le Refuge is about as typically Montmartre as you can get. The resto is about 10 feet wide with one long table on each side scooted up to benches that line the wall. Graffiti is all over the walls, people are climbing over you while you wait for a table, (and it should be mentioned here that you will always wait for a table), and everyone eats their food with pure joy (and some cheese) smeared across their face.

Once our table was ready, we got called by our slightly decrepit waiters (who were smoking, by the way) to come take a seat, which meant that Tina and I got a hand with stepping up on the chair and over the table to shimmy down into our seats on the bench against the wall. Everyone has to do this as there is absolutely no room to pull out the tables. So, we squeezed into our allotted 2 feet of bench while eyeing our neighbor's pot of molten cheese. The menu at Le Refuge is this: a small plate of charcuterie (with cheese and olives), an aperitif (a kir), choice of meat or cheese fondue, fruit salad for dessert and a biberon of red or white wine all for 16 Euros. If you pay a few euros more, you can choose a really great dessert like chocolate cake or ice cream. We all ordered either the orange or lemon sorbet which came in a hollowed out orange or lemon. Very cute!

You might rightly be asking, "hey...what's a biberon?" Well, it's a baby bottle. They serve you wine in a baby bottle. With the nipple thingy. It was okay. It's weird, but it isn't that weird when you understand that if you call someone a drunk in French, you can say that he has his biberon with him. So, at least there is a pretense. Anyway, meals spent eating fondue have been some of the most fun meals spent here. I don't think it possible to be more satisfied than with bread, melted cheese and poking elbows with your neighbors.

Le Refuge des Fondus
17, rue des Trois Frères
75018 Paris

January 13, 2006

Je mijote...

Braising is a beautiful thing, especially if you are lucky enough to own a Le Creuset dutch oven. Making a stew is comforting, calming and it makes the house smell great. Plus you have the added bonus of creating a deliciously tender and warming dish from a cheap and rather unattractive cut of meat. It may still be fairly unattractive at the end, but hey, looks aren't everything. The added benefit of serving stews and braised dishes is that they can be made ahead of time and reheated for your guests, leaving you free for cocktail hour.

My view of French cuisine changed a lot when I got Anthony Bourdain's, "Les Halles Cookbook." I encourage you to read it, especially if you have a sailor's mouth like me. He asserts that much of French cooking is about taking the most inedible parts of an animal and making them edible. If you look at it that way, it's understandable why they came up with all those sauces. He has great respect for food and it shows with his "make the unlovable lovable" attitude. My favorite section happens to be the chapter on "Blood and Guts," which includes recipes for veal kidneys, liver, tripe and pig's heart (trimmed of excess sinew, of course.) Is anyone else with me on proclaiming "sinew" as the least appetizing word ever?

I love French cuisine for many reasons, but especially because of how surprisingly simple most dishes are, not to mention delicious. Living in this country has only enhanced my love of eating well; and an appreciation for the seemingly simple recipe. After all, baguettes are just flour, yeast, salt and water, right? Crepes are made from eggs, flour and milk. How many ingredients are in an omelet? Then you ask, why the hell are they so hard to make? Well, as Julie Powell so astutely pointed out in her book Julie and Julia, simple does not mean easy.

Last weekend, I wanted to make the mother of all stews, Boeuf a la Bourguignon. Simple? Yes, if you can read a recipe and manage to break it down into steps. Easy? Not really. Let's just say it is time consuming. But, it was so good. No, it was amazing. It was even pretty but damn it if my camera was out of batteries. This is no dump-it-all-in-a-crockpot for 8 hours recipe. This has steps involving every pan you own and 2 lbs of butter. (Kidding, sort of…) It’s a beautiful dish and, to channel Anthony Bourdain, it’s magical.

Boeuf à la Bourguignon

3 lbs. beef chuck, shoulder or other cut for stew, cut in 2-in. pieces

For the Marinade:
3 cups (about 3/4 bottle) of good drinkable red wine, traditionally a Burgundy
***(this is more cost effective to make in France with so much good cheap wine, but I promise your $$ won't go to waste) Feel free to rename the dish, “Boeuf a la Syrah” if you like. I actually made “Boeuf a la Bergerac,” which sounds quite comical.
2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
1 onion, sliced
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed a bit
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
fresh parsley sprigs
5 whole cloves
10 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf (hell, go wild...use 2)

For the stew:
3 carrots, cut in 3-in. chunks
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 pound slab bacon or lardons, or regular bacon cut in wide chunks
1 pound pearl onions, peeled (frozen is great, thaw before using)
pinch of sugar
1 pound button mushrooms, thickly sliced or left whole if small to begin with
1-2 Tbsp flour
1-2 Tbsp butter, softened
4-5 more Tbsp butter

Combine beef and all the marinade ingredients in large bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. The next day, drain the beef and reserve the liquid from the marinade (minus all the peppercorns, cloves, garlic, etc.) Dry off the beef with paper towels. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F/140 degrees C.

Blanch the bacon by covering the lardons with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes and drain. (This removes some of the salt and smoky taste says a Google search.) One might ask why use bacon at all if you don't want a smoky taste, but okay, Julia Child says to do it.

Melt 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large dutch oven on medium heat. Add the lardons and sauté until brown and crisp. Remove lardons from the pan when done and set aside. Over high heat, add the beef in batches to sear and nicely brown each piece. Do not overcrowd the pan or you will end up with gray meat. This is an important step if you want a pretty outcome at the end. Remove meat from pan when browned.

Pour off all but 1 Tbsp of fat. Place the meat back in the pan; add the carrots, tomato paste and the reserved marinade, stirring to mix in tomato paste. Bring to a boil and taste for seasoning. Cover the pan and place in the oven for 3 hours.

Now, what to do with the rest of the stuff:
Place pearl onions in one layer in a wide skillet. Add enough water to almost cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain off water and add a Tbsp of butter, a pinch of sugar and some salt and pepper. Sauté the onions until they are golden brown and glazed.

In yet another pan, melt yet another few tablespoons of butter and sauté the mushrooms over medium high until browned and done to your liking. Add those lardons you've forgotten about to the pan and remove from heat.

Make a beurre manie by combining the softened tbsp of butter and tbsp flour into a paste.

When your 3 hours have past, remove the meat and carrots from the pan and skim some fat off the broth if it seems overly fatty. Bring liquid to a boil and whisk in some of your beurre manie, a little at a time, to slightly thicken the sauce. Return meat, carrots, your pearl onions, mushrooms and lardons to the stew.

Et Voila! Open a new bottle of red wine, since you've surely finished that other one by now, and eat your heart out. Serve with the tradition buttered noodles, potatoes, or just lots of crusty bread. Serves 6.

January 12, 2006


I have been wanting to make a French dessert for some time now, but with so many delicious tarts, eclairs, pastries, beignets and tiny cakes on display in every boulangerie window, it seems a little ridiculous to make anything at home. But, with renewed enthusiasm, I decided to make this very simple dessert. A Clafoutis is fruit baked in a light batter similar to crepe batter. Some recipes have a custard or flan-like texture and some are more cakey. The most traditional kind is Clafoutis aux Cerises. Instead of cherries, I made mine with pears and raspberries. It was absolutely delicious and absolutely simple. There are many recipes out there but usually I find that with much of French cooking, the most simple looking one is the best. I think this is almost exactly Julia Child's recipe, by the way. It doesn't hurt repeating what any Clafoutis lover already knows; it makes a sinful breakfast eaten cold from the fridge!

Clafoutis aux Poires et aux Framboises

3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
pinch of salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 pears, peeled and sliced rather thickly
2/3 cup fresh raspberries
powdered sugar for garnishing

Whisk together eggs and sugar in medium bowl. Whisk in milk, vanilla and salt. Slowly whisk in the flour in small amounts to keep batter smooth. The batter will not be thick. Peel and slice fruit (virtually any kind will work) and use a paper towel to absorb extra liquid so the clafoutis isn't watery. Lay fruit in one layer (make it pretty) in a buttered 9-inch pie plate, tossing raspberries between pear slices in a seemingly random pattern of pure beauty as you laugh gaily while tossing your hair behind your shoulders. Now stop that nonsense, pour the batter over the fruit and put the Clafoutis in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 or 50 minutes. It will puff up considerably but will fall down once you remove it from the oven. Fear not, this is normal. It is done when an inserted knife comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar when serving. Bon Appetit!

January 9, 2006

My Week

There are a few things I know for sure. For instance, I know that if I'm walking from one of my schools to the metro and I come up to Place Marechal Juin (a roundabout where 6 streets intersect), I'm going to walk to the left around the circle because there are fewer stoplights. I will not push the pedestrian button to stop all traffic on the roundabout just so little ol' me can stroll across the 4 lanes, because I will be waiting for at least 5 minutes for the light to turn. (I'll admit, I do enjoy this from time to time just to see the looks of all the grumpy drivers. Though, I agree; it is ridiculous for 50 cars to be backed up so I can cross the road.)

I also know that if I buy more than 3 canned items plus milk at the market, my arms are going to be intolerably sore the next day. I know that no matter how high I turn up the heat, I will still be cold. I know that if I don't ask for une baguette, si vous plait with enough gusto, I'm gonna get the crispy one. I know that the more annoyed I get with children the worse I feel. I know that because I can see perfection but can't attain it, I am too easily dismayed. I know that after the 3rd failed attempt at making cheese fondue, one should wait about a year to go at it again, that way your humiliation has healed somewhat and you can afford to risk dumping 30 Euro worth of cheese in the garbage. As my humiliation has not healed, I will not be attempting it again soon. What I don't understand is that I could totally make it in the States. I made it successfully 3 years ago. Now that I'm in france, with good cheese no less, I can't do it.

So, there are some things I know for sure and many things I don't. Good thing we get to work on those things we don't. For instance, I never knew goat cheese was so delicious. Until a year ago, I never knew that the light in Paris during the winter was so beautiful. (It's because the sun never rises more than about a 45 degree angle to the horizon.) I never knew that I could stand up in front of a class of twenty-five 9-year-old's and actually teach them something. I never knew that getting a haircut consisted of not just trimming the length of one's hair. It involves tossing, schjuzzing, training and/or beating the hair into submission, all while scissors fly dangerously close to one's eyes, leading any normal person to believe they were getting some sort of rough lap dance instead of a haircut. I'm glad I had the chance to find out last week.

I also wanted to share this picture of a snowstorm we had over Christmas break...just for the hell of it since it is so beautiful!

Enough random stuff...back to food!

January 7, 2006

On Salad...

My disdain for salad started many, many years ago with a bag of iceberg and a bottle of French dressing. Yeck! But, salads in France are wonderful. The vinaigrettes are usually light and tangy, and the greens are usually fresh and crisp. Plus, most salads that are main courses have so much other good stuff on them that you have a hard time seeing the greens. This is love at first sight for someone like me. I am slowly becoming more of a salad person despite all the cheap jokes I make about those people.

At Le Relais Gascon, near Place des Abbesses, their salads are enormous. Earlier this fall, Paul and I would walk past the people sitting outside and almost everyone would have a huge wooden bowl in front of them containing a gigantic salad. When we ate there the next week, I believe I ordered the salade du chef, which had salad greens, chunks of roasted chicken, chunks of emmenthal, hard-boiled egg, carrots, cucumbers, a light vinaigrette and was covered with sautéed garlicky potatoes. That was my kind of salad. Paul ordered the one with greens, lardons (chunks of bacon), chevre, egg, carrots, etc, and, of course, those potatoes. All this is supposed to be representative of the food from the southwest of France, or at least the quantity of food.

A salad I really like to make a home is a Salad with Avocado and Oranges. I love the combination of flavors and it doesn't hurt that it’s so damn pretty. Clementines are plentiful here in the markets, so we are always likely to have some around.

Salade aux Avocats et Clementines

2 large handfuls of salad greens
(I like something sturdy for this; a mixture of romaine, spinach or bibb lettuce is nice)
½ ripe avocado, sliced
2 clementines, peeled with segments separated
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

vinaigrette: (an approximation)

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. orange or lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (or more)
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil

Whisk together vinegar, juice and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in oil to incorporate. Combine salad greens, avocado and clementines. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Serves 2.

Le Relais Gascon
6, rue des Abbesses
75018 Paris

January 4, 2006

Lasagna alla Megane

So, what do you cook when you don't know what else to cook? I don’t mean what you would prefer to cook, but what do you make when you’re scouring the fridge for ideas? I bet it isn't glamorous and maybe it’s bit embarrassing? When I was 18, I might have said ramen noodles. When I was 22, it was probably chicken quesadillas or BBQ hamburgers on the George Foreman grill. When I was in grad school, it was either ordering pizza or making it if we had time. Last year I was on this egg thing and made omelets all the time. In my typical fashion, now I hardly ever make omelets. Recently, I have been making a noodles with cilantro-peanut sauce quite often, but that’s another post.

This year I've also made a lot of lasagnas. I know that spending last year sans oven bore a hole in me that could only be filled with casseroles, gratins, quiches, and baked gooey pasta. I really started to crave all things roasted or baked, especially if said dish had a golden brown crust. (I guess the NY Times is with me on this one, too!) I remember making some recipes work on the stove, but it was never the same. Lasagna was the first thing I made in our new apartment and I'm sort of stuck on it. It has endless variations and I always seem to have the main ingredients on hand. Plus, we have a tiny little oven that fits a tiny little pan so the 2 of us don’t have to eat it for days.

About a year ago, Paul and I went on a little ski vacation with some French friends. It was their show; we just tagged along. It was the first time we had had someone French cook for us and I was happy to eat some really traditional French fare. The first night was Endive and Ham Gratin, which is cooked whole endives wrapped with a slice of ham and covered in béchamel sauce. Wow. I remember a potato omelet with salad one day for lunch, and crepes at some point, too. I remember the lasagna most because it was so unlike anything I'd tried. Ground beef was mixed with some bottle tomato sauce and ketchup (it was a little sweet and that's why). This was layered between the sheets of pasta and the whole thing was covered with...can you guess? Béchamel. Oh, and swiss cheese. It was a French lasagna if I could ever think of one; all that's missing was the poached egg on top.

I think American-style lasagna is normally quite tomatoey and sometimes there is an acidic quality or just a flat taste to me. Also, I realized that when I buy ricotta cheese here there aren't the following choices: whole-milk, skim-milk, part-skim milk, sheep's milk...whatever. It's just ricotta. I'm assuming it is the normal whole milk kind because it tastes so much better. It has a smooth texture vs. the weird grainy texture of part-skim. Okay, cheese rant finished. I’m going to also avoid going into a long spin-off on how buying groceries in the States is like carrying Guilt reincarnated around on your shoulder who mutters, “choose the fat-free one…” for every single item imaginable while you try your best to reach around it so you can “choose the real food” instead. I swear it’s like a big test to see if you can find the actual food products. Maybe it’s just me. Okay, I’m really done.

Here's my recipe for my "what I make when I don't know what else to make" dish. I'm at peace with the bottled sauce thing, because this is also an "I want to eat before 10 pm" dish. I decided to leave out the ketchup, though.

Lasagna alla Megane

12 Barilla no-boil lasagna sheets
1 ½ cups ricotta
1 egg, beaten
½ cup grated parmesan
1 jar Barilla olive pasta sauce (my favorite!)
3 T. flour
3 T. butter
2 cups milk
Pinch nutmeg
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 red, yellow or green peppers, sliced
Fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or shredded
1 cup sliced mushrooms, leftover chicken, beef, or chopped spinach, etc

Stir together ricotta, egg and ¼ cup parmesan in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Sauté onions and peppers together in a little olive oil over medium high heat until done to your liking. Add mushrooms or other leftovers if using. Stir in olive sauce and combine. Remove from heat.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in flour to make a roux. Cook 3-4 minutes without browning the flour. Whisk in milk gradually. Bring the mixture to a boil and keep whisking. Once thickened, add salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Pour some béchamel on the bottom of an 8x8 baking pan. Place 2 lasagna sheets in the pan. Layer 1/3 of the ricotta mixture and then the veggies on top of that. Sprinkle with some parmesan and a ladle of béchamel. Add 2 more pasta sheets and repeat layers. To finish, place the last 2 sheets of pasta on top, cover with béchamel sauce and top with mozzarella and sprinkling of parmesan. Bake at 200 C/400 F for 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato Ravioli

I went back to work yesterday after our 2 weeks off for Noel. Did I mention I'm learning how to teach English to little French kids? It's one of those things where you try to get qualified after getting the gig. Anyway, it was back to work for me and all went surprisingly well. The thing about getting back into the swing of things for me is that I feel depressed about it at first and then it never ends up being as bad as I think. It turns out that being busy in life isn't that much of a drag after all. All this is to say that now that I am writing about the food I cook, I'm looking forward to cooking a lot more. Despite the crowded and dirty metro, seeing a homeless guy passed out next to a pile of his own (I'm assuming) vomit, and the 6 floor walk-up to home sweet home, I came back quite excited to get dinner started.

I had these ravioli pasta sheets/Chinese dumpling wrappers from when we were in Chinatown. As usual, I searched online for recipes and settled on a few. Sweet Potato Ravioli with a Sage Butter Sauce sounded really good. There are many variations using pumpkin or butternut squash, and they are all very rich. It's possible this would be better for a first course, but it was our entire dinner. Screw it, we ate around 9:30 and I didn't have the energy to make a salad. Well, that's my excuse.

Perhaps this is too much of a diversion, but something has been bothering me lately. I never really follow a recipe anymore. I usually just get the temperature or method to do something, but the ingredients are always "whatever I have." Why do I continually half ass it like that? I think I too often say "fuck it" when shopping here because one invariably must walk all over hell and back to find everything on the list. I give up too easily. Dried sage will do. A different kind of cheese is fine. I'm yearning to have everything. I want it to, just once, be exactly what is written and for me to not have to think, "Well, I probably won't get that, I can do without it." Right now I do without. It's like some sort of built in cheapskate mode I've inherited. The little part of me that says, "Oh, don't bother with that." It's the tiny justification in that moment that I shouldn't try to be more than I am.

Anyway, my cooking almost always tastes good, don't get me wrong. I usually just wish it looked prettier. I've been sitting on my haunches (do I have those?) for too long and it's time to try new things and get some fancy food in my life. Call it a New Year's resolution.

So, as for my ravioli, they tasted damn good. They didn't look half bad either, but because I didn't buy fresh sage (mind you, it's 1 of the 3 ingredients in the butter sauce), it was just a lot of beige pasta with butter and parmesan. I slyly added ground sage to the filling which turned out well. If you make the real recipe, I'm sure it will even be better.

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce

1 large sweet potato, roasted until very soft (190 C/375 F for 45 min.)
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
pinch of dried sage, or chopped fresh
pinch of dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, whole milk
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano, more for topping
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp. water for egg wash
18 or more ravioli pasta sheets or wonton wrappers

3 Tbsp. butter
4-5 leaves fresh sage, chopped
2 Tbsp. pine nuts

Sweat onion in a tsp. of olive oil, mixing in sage and thyme after a few minutes. When translucent, transfer to a large bowl. Peel/Slide the skin off the potato and add the potato to the bowl. Mix in the cheeses until smooth. Season liberally with salt and pepper, tasting to check seasoning. Take one pasta sheet and place a large teaspoonful of filling in the center. With a fingertip (or pastry brush) brush some egg wash on the edges of the wrapper and fold over filling to form a triangle. Seal edges firmly, and squeeze as much air out of the pocket as possible. When you have finished, cook ravioli in large pot of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, drain and add to sauce.

Making the sauce is extremely difficult and I would only attempt it after your first glass of wine. Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium high heat until it starts to brown, add pine nuts, fresh sage, and cooked ravioli and toss to coat the pasta. Take it off the heat and sprinkle with extra parmesan. Feel the rightful glory of making your own pasta, even though you didn't really make your own pasta.