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Sunday, April 5, 2015

A book to cherish: The Little Paris Kitchen

     It is not always that I review cookbooks.  They are, in fact, probably the most time consuming books one can write a review about.  For one, the reading might be tedious (unless there is a storyline along with the recipes), and secondly, the recipes need testing.

     What attracted me to this British young woman with Asian looks was not just her lovely television show, but the concept she came up with: living in Paris, she invited people to her tiny flat and cooked for them.  A sort of mini restaurant with ultra-personalized service.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Rachel in her tiny Paris kitchen
     British by nationality, Rachel Khoo has both Asian and European roots.  Her father, a direct descendant of the Khoo Kongsi clan, immigrated to Britain in 1968, where he met Rachel’s mother, Austrian by birth.  The Khoo Kongsi clan were wealthy merchants in 17th century Malacca.  Recently, Rachel took a trip to Malaysia, filming new footage for her T.V. show and also to do research on her roots.

     In The Little Paris Kitchen, her first book in the English language, she gives 120 simple recipes that are all Parisian classics.  Navarin d’agneau printanier, Gratin Dauphinois, Quiche Lorraine, Steak tartare, plus three ideas and detailed instructions on how to shuck oysters and a killer Mousse au ChocolatPoires Belle Hélène, Mont-blanc and Ĭles Flottantes.  Her recipes are simple and one can expect results as the book promises them, something not always the case with cookbook, as I have learned.  The book is divided into:

v  Everyday cooking (quick recipes for a meal at any time.  Loved the Salade de figues et foies de volailles.

v  Snack time (or le goûter, as the French call it.  A pick-me-up for mid-afternoon).

v  Summer picnics (recipes for Spring.  I’m reproducing one below).

v  Aperitifs (terrines, patés et les huîtres, including 3 variations on the classic mignonette).

v  Dinner with friends and family (recipes to linger over with a crowd).

v  Sweet treats (what would French cuisine be without the ubiquitous pièce de resistance).

     There also a couple of appendixes with some basic recipes for sauces (both savory and sweet) and stocks, as well as cooking measurement equivalences and the author’s favorite foodie supply places in Paris.  I have tested several of the recipes in the book and loved all of them.

Rouleaux de salade Niçoise are a crisp alternative
for a Springtime aperitif.  You can use her recipe as a
base for your own.
     I made my own variation on the Navarin d’agneau printanier and used veal osso-bucco instead, thus transforming it into a sort of Blanquette de veau (which recipe is also included in the book).  I used veal broth for the cooking instead of the suggested water.  After two and a half hours in the oven, my cast iron pan produced flake-away tenderness in the meat, accompanied by seasonal vegetables like carrots and peas.

     The Gratin Dauphinois, an astonishingly simple, yet flavorful dish, is reproduced admirably.  We had it along with the blanquette.

     A tasty French classic is the Quiche Lorraine, from North-east region of the same name.  Innumerable variations of this dish exist, but my biggest surprise was to find out that the original recipe does not include cheese, just some very good bacon and that staple of French cooking I always like to keep in my fridge, crème fraîche.  I’m including the recipe here turns out the crumbliest dough.  I cannot overemphasize the use of the best bacon you can get your hands on.  I found one by La Tienda, cured from Spanish “pata negra” pigs and cut it into lardons, which you can get here.

Rachel Khoo’s Quiche Lorraine:

Ingredients for 4 to 6 portions:      
·         6 Tbsp soft butter
·         1 tsp sugar
·         Pinch of salt
·         1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
·         2 eggs, separated
·         Ice-cold water

For the filling:

·         5 oz. lardons
·         4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
·         1 ¼ cups crème fraîche
·         1 tsp salt
·         Pepper


Using a wooden spoon, beat together butter sugar and salt until soft and creamy (do not overmix!).  Mix in the flour followed by the egg yolks and 2 Tbsp. of ice-cold water.  Bring together to make a smooth ball, adding a little more water if the pastry is too crumbly, kneading only as necessary.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
            Remove the pastry from the fridge 30 minutes before using.  Roll between 2 sheets of parchment paper until it is ¼” thick, and use to line a 10” pan that is at least 1 ¼” deep.  Brush the pastry with egg white.  Refrigerate while preparing the filling.  Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
            Meanwhile, fry the lardons in a nonstick frying pan until golden brown, then lift out with a slotted spoon and leave to cool on paper towels.  Lightly beat the eggs and egg yolks in the bowl, add the crème fraîche and seasoning, and continue to beat until mixed together.  Scatter the lardons in the pastry shell and then pour in the egg mix.  Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the filling looks golden brown and set.  It can be served either warm or cold.  A crisp friseé salad goes marvelously with this, along with a glass of Beaujolais.

     I have a killer sweet tooth, and her desserts are all classics done the easy way.  Poires Belle Hélène make for stunning presentation and are a cinch to make.

    My favorite dessert of all time is, however, Mousse au Chocolat.  This book includes probably the best recipe on this dessert I have come upon.  It starts with a base of chocolate crème pâtissière.  I have found a way to make it even richer and darker, using dutch processed black cocoa powder, currently sold through the King Arthur Flour catalog.  The crème will turn out a threateningly black colour but fear not.  The key to the ultimate Mousse au Chocolat starts with this step.

Rachel Khoo’s Mousse au Chocolat:

Ingredients for 4 to 6 servings:

·         2 Tbsp soft butter
·         1 ½ oz. cocoa nibs, plus extra for serving
·         2 egg whites
·         ½ cup confectioner’s sugar
·         A couple of drops of lemon juice
·         Pinch of salt
·         5 oz. dark chocolate (65% to 70% cocoa), finely chopped
·         Scant 1 cup of heavy cream
·         1 ½ cups chocolate crème pâtissière (recipe below)

Chocolate crème pâtissière:


o   6 egg yolks
o   ½ caster sugar
o   1/3 cup cornstarch
o   1 Tbsp black cocoa powder
o   2 cups whole milk

Bring the milk to a boil and switch off the heat.  Mix in the cocoa powder. 
On a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and thick, then whisk in the cornstarch.  Pour the milk in a slow stream onto the egg mixture, whisking vigorously all the time.  Return the mixture to the pot and whisk continuously over medium heat, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom to prevent burning.  The cream will start to thicken, once it releases a bubble or two, take it off the heat.
Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate overnight.

     Brush 4 to 6 glass ramekins with soft butter.  Add some cocoa nibs and roll them around the sides and bottom until evenly coated.

     Put half the egg whites into a clean glass or bowl, add the confectioner’s sugar all at once, along with the lemon juice and salt and whisk until snow white.  This technique makes for fool proof meringue.  Add the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
     Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and separately whip the cream into soft peaks (this is important, we do not want overbeaten cream!)

     Bring the crème pâtissière at room temperature and beat to remove any lumps before stirring in the melted chocolate.  Mix in one third of the meringue, then gently fold in the rest followed by the whipped cream.

                 Divide the mousse between the glasses and chill – ideally overnight, but if you cannot wait, at least a couple of hours (the book says 1 hour, but my experience suggests 2 is better).  The only drawback (or not), is that this mousse should be consumed within 2 days due to the raw egg white used in its preparation.

     This is a must-have tome in your French cooking library.  It is mama’s cooking with a modern twist and, purporting the fact that its author used to work in the fashion business, it is also lavishly illustrated with full colour photography, with Rachel wearing the cutest dresses.

© Chronicle Books

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Steakhouse of one's dreams

     Ever since fellow blogger and fervent Disney investor Joshua Kennon wrote with praise about his visit, I have wanted to go to the Yachtsman Steakhouse.  This restaurant, which opens only for dinner, is located within the Yacht Club Resort, in the Epcot area of Walt Disney World. 

     Because I am local to the area, I have been around Epcot a few times, yet it required the use of my faithful GPS to arrive at the place.  The resort is themed as a typical Maine yacht club.  The entrance to the restaurant is not grandiose, and the décor and general ambiance are quite unassuming, yet the quality of the food offered is prime, and the service efficient.  One can hardly expect this to be a high-end restaurant by its looks, especially by the way the clientele dresses (I think Disney should emphasize the importance of dress code even more for this place).

The restaurant’s main dining room faces the pool area of the 
resort, and showcases an especially made, wooden chandelier.  
The window theme just above gives the feeling of typical Maine 
construction close to the seashore.
    When I arrived I was asked to wait for a few minutes while my table was getting ready in an area facing a frigorific with prime cuts of meat aged to improve flavor.  If I wasn’t very hungry at the time, the view certainly woke up my taste buds.

     My first choice was an aperitif plate of a most excellent charcuterie.  The selection consisted of a bacon-wrapped boar terrine, which was cooked to perfection with pieces of aged Gouda, dried cherries and pistachios.  It was flavored with ginger, mace and clove, which gave the terrine a unique balance of sweet and savory, all wrapped in heavenly smoked bacon.

     There was also a truffled sucling pig pie, very much as it is traditional in England, baked in pastry and served with little cubes of port gelée.  The gelée homogenized the dish together within the mouth, providing the perfect measure of flavor, whilst each and every component could still be identified.  Perhaps my favorite was the warm lardo toast, served on sourdough and garnished with arugula, pickled onions and parmesan shavings.  Lardo is an Italian specialty, where the fat of the pig is hand-rubbed with salt and cured with spices (in this case peppercorns and rosemary), and then aged.  The Yachtsman’s ages theirs for 2 months, and the result is the best lardo you would try out of Italy.

     The Spanish style chorizo had large chunks of pork, heavily spiced with pimentón (sweet Spanish paprika), garlic and cumin, and reminded me of the likes of my mother, who always had some at hand to snack on.  The one thing I did not find it quite belonged on this selection was the beef merguez sausage, an African specialty which is not really charcuterie (charcuterie to me is always pork, pork and more pork).  Yet everything else was so good, it did not deter to the excellency of the dish. Grainy mustard and pickles were succinctly placed as accompaniments, as well as the warm bread basket and butter with roasted garlic to make a proper amuse-bouche.  I chose a dark ale to wash down all that amazing goodness!

The bread basket comes with a slab of salted butter and half a roasted garlic.
It was perfect to pair with the charcuterie plate.
     Since this is a steakhouse, the main course was, of course, steak.  The menu offers several prime cuts at an also very prime price.  I went for the biggest one, a 16 oz. Boneless Rib-Eye, perfectly charbroiled to medium-rare.  It was topped with a touch of Point Reyes blue cheese butter and served with a halved bone with richly exposed marrow which, in turn, could be perfectly sucked up by imbibing the sweet brioche herbed roll it came with.  Very few times I have had meat this good, and so well accompanied and perfectly served.  It was undoubtedly a succulent dish, yet it was not heavy.  The waiter poured me a glass of Château Aney Cabernet, but there are also exclusive wines like Caymus to accompany the excellent cuts of meat served.  I chose this light red that was more herbal than fruity, somewhat creamy and quite unobtrusive to the flavors of the meat.

     The desserts are presented as a composite.  I tried two.  The apple profiterole had no sugar added, and it was light and fruity and everything a dainty dessert should be.  The profiterole had the texture almost of a macaroon, with a floral apple mousse inside.  It was surrounded with caramel apple crunch, alongside a quenelle of chopped rosy apple and a tuille made out of Cheddar cheese.  The latter provided the cheese note to the end of a heavy meal, without actually having eaten any cheese.  Small drops of chocolate and raspberry sauces framed the dish as in a painting.

     My second choice just had to include some chocolate, particularly after such a rich meal.  Again, a perfectly light dessert of a single rectangular slice of chocolate cheesecake, topped with chocolate ganache and accompanied by a purée of Asian pears and a quenelle of butter walnut ice-cream.

    Undoubtedly, the Yachtsman’s Steakhouse is a restaurant to talk about.  The service is quite competent.  Waiters recommend dishes diligently and they know how to pour wine to taste it first.  One can tell they are gourmets themselves.  You should take anyone there who you want to impress, but also knows how to savor the indulgences of a good meal.  I cannot overemphasize reservations, which should be made well in advance.  You won’t get in otherwise.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oysters and a life of crime

     Police procedurals have never been my cup of tea.  I much prefer a cozy type mystery with an amateur sleuth such as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.  However, because I am presently into an all-things-Paris mood, I couldn’t pass an opportunity to read a culinary mystery set in that city, even if it is a police procedural.

     Capucine Le Tellier is a papa’s girl, coming from a bourgeois Parisian upper-class family, married to a high-profile gourmet and restaurant reviewer (who ostensibly sports the same name as the book’s author), she could have a glamorous life, just as her husband repeatedly tells her, full of caviar and comfort, but chooses instead the dark world of “la crim” in the streets of Paris.

     The intrigue in The Grave Gourmet centers about corporate espionage, when the president of world-renown car manufacturer Renault is found dead in one of Paris’ most famous restaurants: Diapason.  Diapason and its Owner-Chef  Jean-Basile Labrousse sound very much like the now defunct “Le Divelec”, a famous restaurant that for decades delighted Paris with a uniquely crafted menu of fish and shellfish.  The restaurant became even more notorious when Chef Jacques Le Divellec created the famous lobster press in conjunction with silversmiths Christofle.  The piece works in exactly the same way as a duck press, which extracts the blood and juices from a duck carcass to be transformed into a delicate elixir of a sauce for duck à l’orange, but in this case, it does the same for a lobster carcass.  Consummate gourmets would know that a proper lobster sauce requires the crustacean’s carcass for eximious flavor.

Jacques Le Divellec and his lobster press
     The plot is no short of red-herrings in this novel, sometimes too many of them, which made it necessary to do a second reading.  It will also prove definitely useful to have a map of Paris at hand, as a car chase through the Bois de Boulogne and into Paris’s chic 7ème arrondissement take the reader into a frenzy of streets and roundabouts. 

     Capuccine’s investigation is dizzying to say the least, and the book does not offer many culinary options, as I would have expected in a culinary mystery.  Mainly, the victim dies of saxitoxin, a poison found in spoiled shellfish that causes paralytic death.  The medium were, apparently, oysters, which were served in the form of a sorbet in-between meals to Prèsident Delage during his last dinner at Diapason.

     Oysters have always been considered a chic hors d’ouvre.  They should be consumed in Autumn and Winter and they pair wonderfully with a chilled glass of champagne.  Ideally, they should be gulped along with water inside the shell and may be a few drops of lemon.  To make them more special, why not try the classic mignonette.  Basically, a simple sauce made of red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar dissolved into it, then add a very finely chopped shallot.  Spoon a minimal amount on top of the oyster then let the cool flavor slide down your throat.  Follow by a sip of your best champagne, and tell me you’re not in heaven.

Perrier-Jouët champagne is ideal to accompany oysters.  It has a hint of fruityness without being totally dry.
     In a typical French brasserie, oysters can sometimes be served warm.  The following alternative is very savory without being overpowering, something we should always strive for when eating oysters.  Their flavor must always prevail.

Huîtres chaudes:

Ingredients for 20 oysters:

·         3.5 oz finely chopped shallots
·         1 Tbsp. of butter
·         2/3 cup crème fraîche
·         Freshly ground white pepper
·         ½ tsp. curry
·         1 Tbsp brandy


     Shack open the oysters (preserving the water), leaving them in the lower half of the shell and
discarding the other half.  Put the shallots with the water from the oysters in a pan, add butter and reduce by half.

     Heat the broiler.

     Add the crème fraîche to the sauce, season with white pepper, curry and brandy.  Reduce by a third while stirring.

Arrange oysters on a plate and make a bed with coarse sea-salt or brightly coloured gravel stones (the latter will make for a very appealing presentation for a cocktail party).  Spoon some sauce on each shell and brown the oysters quickly for a few minutes under the broiler until they are golden brown. Serve immediately.

     Yet another option to serve oysters had me a bit skeptical at first I must admit, due to its slightly Mexican twist.  After all, anything Mexican means spices and chili, something oysters shy away from.  However, I need not have worried.  The Aleppo chile just adds the necessary hint of flavor without being spicy, and the chile oil rounds up a mouthful of soft vinegary flavor that washes away the day’s worries.

Oysters with saffron-pickled cucumbers and Aleppo:

Ingredients for a dozen oysters:

·         1 cup white wine vinegar
·         1 cup water
·         3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
·         1 Tbsp. Himalayan pink salt
·         2 tps granulated sugar
·         ½ English cucumber, two opposite sides peeled and cucumber sliced into ⅛-inch strips, stacked and then sliced crosswise into ⅛-inch matchsticks
·         2 pinches saffron threads
·         2 tps. finely chopped fresh dill
·         2 cups coarse salt or coloured gravel
· ½ teaspoon Aleppo chile
· Chile oil


First pickle the cucumbers: In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the vinegar, water, garlic, salt and sugar to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the cucumber matchsticks and saffron. Transfer the cucumbers and the pickling liquid to a bowl and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, preferably overnight.

            Transfer 2 tablespoons of the cucumber pickling liquid to a medium bowl. Drain the chilled                           cucumbers (save the pickling liquid for another use) and toss them with the reserved pickling liquid and the dill.

To a medium bowl, add the salt and enough cold water to create the consistency of wet sand; or spread a bed of coloured gravel.  Shuck the oysters and nestle each one into the salt or gravel bed. Top each oyster with some of the pickled cucumbers and pickling liquid and finish with a pinch of Aleppo chile and a few drops of chile oil.

For either of the last two ideas at your next oyster party, a nice cold beer will do.  In honour of the true French brasserie, I prefer either Belge or French beer.  Salut, to a life of crime and scrumptious eating!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A cake fit for a Queen

     Birthdays, I find, should always be about receiving pleasure.  The ultimate pleasure.  To me, nothing brings more pleasure than chocolate, especially when it is the best, most refined European chocolate made into a dense, unique, cake.  It is the philosophy of one of New York’s best chocolatiers, Maribel Liberman. 

     Liberman, a native of Honduras, understands good chocolate when she tastes it.  She owns an exquisite store in New York City called MarieBelle Chocolatier.  And as someone who understands the importance of a good piece of chocolate, she also finds that “life is all about the pleasure and happiness we find in food, art and beauty”.

     Until I became a fan of all things French, I couldn’t picture beauty as being present in food.  The French excel at this.  Everything from the packaging to the way edibles are presented, the thought placed in creating and enjoying meals, the quality of the ingredients, and the sharing of those experiences is conducive to beauty.  Beauty inspires art, and chocolate was the venue, this birthday when I turned 45, for that inspiration.

     The treat for my birthday was a Marie Antoinette Vintage Truffle Cake, made by this chocolate house that also creates artfully illustrated chocolates, raw cacao confisseries, signature ganaches and decadent hot chocolate mixes.

     I ordered the cake through Dean &Deluca, but it is also available through the company’s website.  The cake honors Queen Marie Antoinette of France, who adored the chocolate pastilles that then chemist to the French Crown, Debauve & Gallais, created for her so she could swallow unpleasant tasting medicines.  Marie Antoinette adored chocolate, and this cake, which comes packaged inside a box simulating an ancient book, includes a poem in her honor, and her chocolate:

She stares with puzzle at her treasure book
She can’t help but wonder
What the story is all about inside
She flips the cover
And to her surprise:
A mysterious dark slab
With a rich golden chandelier
Simulating the entrance of a Palace
How amazing!!!
He contemplated her with joy
As she closed her eyes as if
She was going into a trance
He was the man she loved
But at that moment
He took a second place
People warned her that one
Becomes a prisoner of obsession
She held the slab and took a first bite
Melting cream in her mouth she screamed
                                    OH… CHOCOLAT!!

     Indeed, the Marie Antoinette Vintage Truffle Cake is like biting into a truffle.  It is quite small, about 6.5” by 4.5”, but it compensates in richness.  The truffle cream chocolate lies on top of crisp chocolate wafers, so when one bites into it, there is also a certain crunch.  It is decorated with the image of an antique chandelier, faintly showing out of a sprinkle of gold glitter, and to my surprise, it did not fade throughout the life of the cake.

     I recommend a rich, dark shot of Italian espresso to accompany this luscious dessert.  And of course, a trip to this chocolatier is de rigueur during a visit to New York City.

      After the cake is consumed (which will not take long, believe me), the simulated case can be used for storage of cherished secrets – love notes, valentines, etc.

A small piece with a cup of strong espresso is all this cake needs.  It should be cut in triangles as shown here.
You will get 8 portions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Drinks for a good cause

     The holidays offer the perfect excuse to have nice drinks, and as many of them as possible! This year I was able to get my hands on some supreme quality vodka, and it came with a good cause too.  Snow Leopard Vodka is the contribution of entrepreneur and philanthropist Stephen Sparrow, who after learning of the challenges of the communities in the area the snow leopard inhabits and the danger of extinction of the species, came up with the idea of this beverage.

     The snow leopard (panthera uncia) is the least known of the big cats.  Personally, I find its coat the most beautiful – a white, mushy coat with black markings.  It has an unusually long tail, which serves him well to prowl in the mountains.  These animals are loners, getting together only during the breeding season in winter.  They inhabit the highest mountains in the world – the Tibetan plateau throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.  The species is on the critically endangered list due to deforestation and black market trafficking with none other than China.  Thanks to people like Sparrow and the Snow Leopard Trust, the species may have a chance.

© 2014 Snow Leopard vodka
      The Snow Leopard vodka is produced in Poland.  It comes in a beautifully designed bottle with a painted picture of a snow leopard.  The drink is distilled 6 times directly from the ancient grain of spelt and has a superbly clean taste, round and creamy.  It makes for a great base for cocktails.  Not surprisingly it has won numerous awards.  Here are two of my favorite recipes.

Appletini (the best version you’ve EVER had)

  • 3oz. Snow Leopard vodka
  • 2oz. Schönauer Apfel schnapps
  • 1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

      Shake all ingredients with ice in a shaker and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an apple slice pierced with a cinnamon stick.

Snow Kitten
     This is a recipe created by the bartenders at the Light Bar, in London’s modern St. Martin’s Lane Hotel.  A place that offers cocktails with a European twist, using ingredients like Elderflower liqueurs, champagne and lychee juice.  It is worth the work in finding the ingredients.


  • 2oz. Snow Leopard vodka
  • 12 blueberries
  • 2 to 5 bar spoons of damson plum preserves
  • 2 bar spoons of honey
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice

     Muddle the blueberries.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir, then shake with ice and strain into a Martini glass.  Garnish with blueberries on a stirrer.

     Keep in mind that when you purchase a bottle of Snow Leopard vodka, 15% of the cost goes to the species conservation.  The company aims to sell 100,000.00 bottles a year.  That would provide about $450,000.00 towards conservation.  An amazing effort and also utterly delicious.