Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Green Asparagus Velouté - Velouté d'Asperges Vertes

French people are known for making a potage (or soupe, the difference between the two words being less and less obvious) with any kind of vegetables... I actually grew up eating potage de légumes where "légumes" were potatoes, leeks, turnips, carots, celery, onions,  etc. and, if made by my grand-mother, some lettuce leaves as well (and I did not like lettuce in my soupe!)
I love soups so much that I actually don't mind having to make my own potage de légumes every week to use some fresh or in-the-bottom-of-the-fridge-forgotten vegetables. A scoop of crème fraiche and/or grated Swiss cheese plus nice homemade baguette, toasted pumpkin seeds and that's a full meal for me! Unfortunately, it's definitively not for my husband! Even if I add polenta croutons or small potatoes dices...
You see, my husband needs a "real" meal, and more precisely "un bon petit plat" as a main course. My friend C. and I had a good laugh talking about our respective French husbands who tend to think that a nice hearty soup, a quiche, socca, or even pasta don't qualify for "a real meal", even if everything has been made from scratch using fresh ingredients (and the occasional bacon!!) No matter how many hours we spend in the kitchen preparing daily meals, if no "petit plat", we know that our husbands will leave the table with some great disappointment despite a full stomach!  I don't know why this obsession with "bon petit plat" because, it's not like my mother-in-law, albeit a good cook, was cooking "des bons petits plats" every night for dinner when my husband was growing up! And it's not like any of my friends/relatives in France would cook "des bons petits plats" every night either! Once (or twice if you have guests) over the week-end is more the norm today!
What would qualify as a "bon petit plat" will you ask : boeuf bourguignonPotée Lorraineveau aux carottes would. Meat is obviously one key common denominator but poultry, let alone fish, don't qualify unless it's a choucroute de poissons (recipe to come one day).
The "bon petit plat" has become a joke in our family now... and having shared it with my husband's cousin last week-end, I know that C. and I are not the only one cooking most meals in our family and yet not being given full credit for it (maybe it's a men thing? Men with short memory when comes Thursday because they did have a bon petit plat over the week-end?) Do I care? No. I don't have the time or the desire to cook my husband's definition of "bons petits plats" more than once a week. Even if I had, I would not do it because it would not be healthy (it's not like my husband is burning 4,000 calories a day working in his lab!!)... And if I get more hints that it has been a while since we last had a "bon petit plat", I just remind him that, I have no, but absolutely no, ownership of quoique ce soit (laundry, cooking, financial planning, life organization, etc...) in our household and I ask him to go over the dishes he had over the last 7 days (because chances are he had one bon petit plat during that period!!)!
Obviously, this velouté d'asperges would never qualify as a "bon petit plat". Truth is that it has been very well accepted in our family, including by my children, as an....... appetizer.  How would you or your spouse call it? Bon Appétit!

- 1 bunch of green asparagus (about 1 pound), washed and cut
- 1 liter Vegetable (or chicken) stock
- A large potato, pealed and cut into small pieces
- Crème fraiche
- Olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste.

  • In a pot, saute the potato and asparagus pieces in olive oil until fully coated.
  • Add the vegetable/chicken stock.
  • Simmer until fully cooked (about 15-20 minutes)
  • Puree with an immersion blender
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve warm with a doll of crème fraiche.
My Personal Comments
  • Useless to say that I could have just a large bowl of this veloute for dinner!
  • I find that it works also well with frozen asparagus.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Glace à la Vanille - Vanilla Ice Cream

A recipe for vanilla ice cream? In mid-November? Yes, I know it seems a little bit off-season, (well, let me see, how off-season are the strawberries and raspberries I just saw at the supermarket the other day? Yeah, right. You see my point!) There is no season for ice cream in the US anyway ; there is only an annual peak in Summer months, that's all.  Numbers speak for themselves : on average, Americans (and 90% of American households eat ice cream!!) eat 21.5 quarts of ice cream per person per year. That's a little more than 20 liters (for my metric system-readers) per person per year (as opposed to less than 7 liters or 7.4 quarts in Europe!!) That's a lot of ice cream on the American market, so it'd better be spread over 365 days! But if so much ice cream gets eaten annually in the US, why don't Americans make more of their own?

My take on this is that ice cream is not considered a true dessert on its own in the US. It's an add-on to a dessert (the irritating ubiquitous "à la mode" option (which does not make any sense in French if you ever wondered)), a small treat, or worse, a snack after dinner! As a direct consequence, making your own ice cream is not given the same credit than baking another dessert from scratch! Nobody expects you to make your own (I can't remember eating homemade ice cream since I moved to the US) and if you do and serve it along a pie, chances are that people are not going to notice it. So why bother, really?  Well,  I think that it should change and that homemade ice cream for dessert should be re-instituted.
Yes, making ice cream (or sorbet) requires planning because you have to make it a few days before. It's also best if you have an ice cream maker... but at the end, it DOES taste better (not to mention the lack of additives/artificial ingredients) than any other commercial ice creams available around. And it costs much less than the Premium brands, even if you make it with organic ingredients. So why not try to make your own? Thanksgiving being around the corner, it would be the perfect dessert to serve instead of sugar-loaded pies! Put vanilla ice cream at the center of desserts.  Simple. Easy. Elegant... and made in advance! What else do you want? Bon Appetit!
Recipe by David Lebovitz
- 500 ml (16.9 Fl oz) Whole Milk
- 150gr  (5.29 oz) sugar
-  pinch of salt
-  250 ml (8.45 Fl oz) heavy cream
-  5 egg yolks
 - 15 ml (1 Tb) Pure vanilla extract
-  1 vanilla bean, cut open and scrapped

  • In a pot, heat the milk, sugar, salt and vanilla bean to a boil. Reserve and let infuse for one hour.
  • Prepare an ice bowl and pour the heavy cream in it. The bowl has to be able to accomodate the milk as well so use a large one.
  • Re-heat the milk. Pour it over the egg yolks and put the pot back on the stove . Over low heat, stirr constantly until the liquid thickens enough to coat your spatula.
  • Pour the custard over the cream and mix well. Add the vanilla extract and stirr.
  • Place in the fridge over night to cool
  • The next day, remove the vanilla bean and make the ice cream in your ice cream maker.
My Personal Comments:
  • Chilling the custard is key. 
  • You could make it 'lighter" by using half-and-half instead of the cream but the final texture will not be a rich. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Asparagus and Bacon Fettuccine

This is one of my when-asparagus-are-in-season emergency dinners or one of my for-lack-of-better-idea-when-asparagus-are-in-season dinners. I try not to cook pasta too often so as to be able to use them on these everyday occasions when my day did not develop the way I had anticipated or when I have no cooking inspiration!
On those all-too-frequent nights, some of you might consider take-out an emergency dinners solution. I don't. It does not even cross my mind that I could order food in a local restaurant when I need to prepare a meal in 15-20 minutes. I'd rather save my money to go out as a family or, three times a year and always on special occasions, to order sushis.  Worse comes to worse, I have frozen pizzas or fish fingers in the freezer, which I serve together with crudités (cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, etc.)
Being able to whip together a relatively healthy meal in no time is a skill that we all should have. Especially Including our spouses. It does not have to be fancy. It does not have to include meat/poultry/fish (which tend to take more time to cook anyway). It's just that we would all be better off with 3-5 emergency dinners recipes that we know are easy to make and, more important, widely accepted. It takes a little bit of planning (here I come again!) but trust me it's worth it. And being a SAH mom is not a reason why you (AND your spouse) should not have emergency dinners options available. Last minute changes of plans happen all the time in every family, n'est-ce-pas? And on those hectic evenings, it's nice to know that at least, dinner time won't be a battle (or an $$$-relatively-unhealthy take-out). If pasta and frozen pizza can't be your emergency dinners options because you serve them on regular nights as well, then try to cook MORE of the dishes that you can easily freeze: soups, casseroles, vegetarian dishes, etc. That way, on emergency dinner nights, you only have to open your freezer as opposed to your wallet. As you take a deep cold breath, relax, you know that everything is under control, at least when it comes to feeding your family that evening!  Bon Appétit!

- Fettucinne Pasta (preferably whole-wheat)
- Bacon (2-3 slices) cut into small bites
- Green asparagus, washed and cut into pieces.
- Parmesan, olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste
  • In a pot, brown the bacon. Reserve the bacon but keep the fat.
  • Add water and salt to the pot and bring the water to a boil. Cook the pasta in that pot. Drain.
  • In a different pot, cook the asparagus. Drain.
  • Assemble, drizzle with olive oil (if needed), parmesan and black pepper.
My personal comments:
  • If you have 5 extra minutes, you could add a chopped onion (which you would cook with the bacon)
  • If you have fresh cherry tomatoes handy, you could add them at the last minute for decoration and extra veggies.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Brioche au Sucre

While I feel that I am doing a good job at feeding my kids healthy, diverse and relatively easy-to-make food in general, there is one area that I am still not overly satisfied with : le goûter (or afterschool snack). It has been even more of a problem since my son started school in September. When he leaves home with my husband in the morning, he makes sure to ask me to bring "un petit goûter." When I pick him up from school, sure enough, the second he gets out, his first look goes to my hands to check whether I brought the sac du goûter with me (a bag where, in addition to the snack, I also carry wipes!!) If I do, he is happy: he goes on to play with his friends. If I don't, he asks whether I left the bag in the car (sometimes, I do, especially on the days when we don't stay long on the playground after school.) Depending on his mood, this can be the start of a meltdown. I know he is not starving. I know that he just woke up from his too-short nap, which can explain the grumpyness. But what I see is some sort of a Pavlov pattern, which is very common with young children (remember my post on snacking?), and, let's be honnest here, with adults too! I am not worried ; it actually makes me laugh to see him be so predictable! So yes, even the simple goûter requires some planning or homebaking!
Since I carry the goûter, it has to be something very easy to take with me. And us being French, it has to be sweet (ie, no cheese sticks or carrots). The easy options (and I look around to see what other parents are bringing) are cookies, applesauce pouches, or a Nutella sandwich when I make fresh baguette. I have also brought drinkable yogurts or flavored milk. These days, I bring some of the Halloween treats too.  To balance the snack (or to give me a better conscious?), I also bring fruits, which I would like them to eat first. In order to control for quantity, I give each kid (I drive my two children and another little girl) his/her two bags (one for fruits, one for the cookies/Nutella/Halloween treats). Je sais, je sais, it's not optimal for the environment, even if I try to recycle the bags! However, it is a very powerful to limit the number of cookies they'll eat otherwise. They know I don't bring more so this is it! And you know what, they are OK with it! And I know that they will be ready to eat a full meal when comes dinner time!
When I have time, I make chouquettes. I also made this brioche from Tartelette (while I am trying to make a nice brioche with my sourdough starter!!). It is a great alternative to cookies, it's different from bread and still goes very well with a little chocolate treat from Halloween. It's even better toasted for breakfast... but then again, if we eat it for breakfast, what am I going to bring for the goûterBon Appétit!

-  150 ml (5 Floz) whole milk (warm : 43-45 C (110-115 F))
-  280 g (9.87 oz) all purpose flour
- 1 pack of active yeast (7g)
- 1 egg
- 50 g (1.76 z) sugar
- 1/4 ts salt
- 15 ml (0.5 Floz) Orange Flower water
- 70 g (2.47 oz) butter at room temperature
- Pearl sugar for decoration
- egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 30 ml (1 Fl oz) milk

  • In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, yeast and sugar.
  • Add beaten egg and stirr
  • Pour warm milk and mix well
  • Add orange flower water
  • Add butter, one tablespoon at a time.
  • Transfer dough into a lightly oiled bowl
  • Cover with a table cloth and let raise for about 1 hour
  • When ready to bake the brioche, cover a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Use flour to scoop small balls of dough. Place them on the parchment paper and use water to smoothen them. Let rest for 30 minutes
  • Pre-heat oven to 175C (350 F)
  • Combine milk and egg to make egg wash and brush on top of brioche
  • Add pearl sugar (push it into the dough)
  • Cook in the oven for  20-30 minutes or until golden brown. 

My Personal Comments

  • This brioche, also called Brioche des Rois, is very common in the South of France around Epiphany, when most French people eat Galette des Rois
  • You could add candied fruits on top/in the brioche but since I am not a big fan I don't use them much
  • You could make small balls for individual servings!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chou Rouge Râpé - Shredded Red Cabbage

If you ever ate a few lunches in a French cantine (or with a French family), chances are that you were served du chou rouge râpé. More than once. Together with carottes râpées or a salade de betteraves, chou rouge râpé is a pillar of French crudités, especially in the Fall and Winter when other vegetables such as cucumbers or tomatoes are off season.
Interestingly enough, French people don't eat much cooked chou rouge whereas they will eat a lot of sauerkraut in the traditional choucroute. I have personally never made a recipe calling for cooked red cabbage (I know, I have to work on a borscht recipe) but enjoyed it the few times I ate it at friends' or in restaurants (yeah, I am the kind of person who would order cooked red cabbage!!)
Since I have had too much chou rouge râpé growing up, I have not been serving it much to my children. One day though, I found a nice chou rouge and decided that it was high time for my children to be introduced to what is a pillar of French cuisine. Since they like carottes râpées and coleslaw, I figured that it would be relatively easy to have them try du chou rouge. But because I was anticipating some resistance, I mixed it up with carottes râpées. And like for my carottes râpées, I used the finest blade I had on my food processor so as to achieve a very thin, easy to chew, consistency. I served it with a vinaigrette, traditional French dressing for crudités. The verdict? Well, it was not a franc succès but my kids did eat more than the required "try-spoon".
Because cabbage season is in full blast now, I am likely to serve them chou rouge râpé again soon. I like it more today than when it was served to us in the cantine... so hopefully my kids will get to like it as well. But no matter how much I would like to start cooking chou rouge, I think that I'll take the path of least resistance and keep with its raw version for the time being. At least with my kids. And even if kids are more likely to eat colored vegetables, between red and white, I'd rather see them enjoy sauerkraut! It will be a more useful taste to have for our future trips to France! Same with chou rouge râpé! So if you are planning a trip to France with your kids, even 10 years down the road, start feeding them chou rouge râpé today! Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Edamame and Goat Cheese Mint Spread

When talking with friends and their family memories of shared meals, pique-niques, brunches or other unusual food events, it became clear that every family creates, one way or another, their family food tradition (in addition to the national food events such as Thanksgiving Dinner or the Galette des Rois.) Examples of French family traditions are two-hour excruciating Sunday lunch with extended family members (grand-parents or in-laws), Fresh croissants on Sunday morning, left-overs on Sunday evening (to recover from the extended lunch with the extended family), Saturday evening pizza, etc.
We had a few traditions in my family. No Sunday croissants unless there was something to celebrate (birthday for instance) but Wednesday lunch at my maternal grand-parents where the menu 99% of the time was white-fish with sticky rice (we loved it back then!!). My mother would have loved to have a drunch (dinner-brunch) on Sunday evening where we would put leftovers on the table and everybody would help themselves with whatever they felt like... but my dad would not agree and insisted on having an easy formal dinner that evening : coquillettes (elbow pasta) or oeufs cocottes (surprised eggs) became part of the Sunday evening dinner tradition.

As I am now feeding my own family, I have been thinking about establishing some traditions as well. While I'd love to go out for brunch on Saturday or Sunday, it is out-the-question for two major reasons: 1)  We don't have the financial means to go out for brunch everyweek, and 2) My husband does not like brunch at all! He needs his breakfast in the morning so by 11 am he is not hungry enough for omelette, French toasts, pancakes, sausages or whatever brunch menu!  And when we do have brunch (like twice a year?), by 3pm, he feels hungry again (I don't know how much of his hunger is real or just a result of his negative attitude towards brunch in the first place..). Lunch and dinners with extended family are unfortunately out of the question for obvious geographical reasons... So, as I have already written on my post on kale chips, we have been having our Friday evening apéritifs. And if we have friends over for dinner on week-ends, we'll serve it as well! This is something we all look forward to and my kids get more and more excited about it. We do have to restrain them from gulping on olives, guacamole, gougères, roasted chickpeas, kale chips, simple nuts or whatever I manage to put together like this Edamame and Goat Cheese Spread!  They (and they take it from me!!) could just eat apéritif munchies and be fully contented (that's why I generally feed them a proper dinner before). I find that our Friday apéros are an easy family tradition; a perfect time together to relax! What are your family traditions? Bon Appétit!
- 1 pound (450 grams) of shelled edamame.
- 1 small fresh goat cheese (about 100 grams or 3.5 oz)
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 or 2 sprigs of fresh mint
- Olive Oil
- Salt, black pepper to taste
- Hot peppers (optional)

  • Bring water to a boil to boil the edamame until fully cooked. Rince with cold water and drain.
  • Transfer to a food processor and add the fresh goat cheese, the lemon juice and the fresh mint. Blend until smooth, adding Olive oil to reach creamy consistency.
  • Add salt, pepper to taste.
  • Serve chilled with pita chips.
My Personal Comments:
  • You could add red onions or garlic and cilantro to spice it up a bit but I found that, for the children, this recipe with a little bit of Tabasco worked well.