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Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to clean copper

     At the end of 2013 my husband and I moved into a new house.  It was a daunting, albeit highly positive, stepping stone.  Used to living in a small apartment for a number of years, the vastness of our new abode presents new decorating and maintenance challenges every day.  It was also the reason for my two month hiatus from blogging.  I should have plenty of material under my present circumstances.

     I have always been a lover of copper for kitchen utensils.  The material is undoubtedly the best for cooking and baking, copper being the best conductor of heat.  And who can deny the glistening of egg whites beaten in a bowl of solid copper.

     I own several pieces of copper, from saucepans to cookie cutters, so in order to keep them shining I decided to try an idea I once heard from Laura Calder in one of her cooking shows.  It is a paste of all-purpose flour, coarse salt and white vinegar.  The salt works as a scrubber and does not dissolve, while the vinegar works its brightening magic.  The flour is mostly a binding agent.  The results were excellent... at the beginning.

Before...


...and after

     This what they looked like after a few hours:


     So obviously not a good choice.  I came back to my old time favorite Copperbrill, a product created by French copper manufacturers par excellence, Mauviel.  Undoubtedly, this the product to go for.  

One of my mixing bowls.  Results that last.

My coveted KitchenAid got new highlights
     It's worth noting that copper will acquire a slight patina with time.  This is not only encouraged but beautiful.  Nevertheless, a product like Copperbrill will ensure that your copper utensils always look their best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A unique mold... and Seed cake

     In continuing with my exploration of kitchen tools the French kitchen, I have come across a unique cake mold, recently offered by Williams-Sonoma.

     This rectangular cake pan offers the peculiarity of a lemon-shaped top, ideal for any citrus-flavoured recipe.  It is made of solid cast aluminum and its non-stick coating ensures easy unmolding.  I like to keep my eyes open for interesting molds to add to my collection, and I just couldn’t resist this one.  Always be on the lookout for accessories to add to your kitchen tools, and in time you will develop a set tailored to your own style of cooking and baking.



     But beyond the ubiquitous citrus loaf, I went a – curious – step further and decided on a classic Victorian recipe – Seed cake.  I became aware of its existence watching an episode of the Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, “At Bertram’s Hotel”.  During one of the sumptuous teatimes, Ms. Marple is offered this cake by one of the waiters.  But Jane Marple is hesitant in accepting the offer, until the waiter tells her it is indeed the “true” seed cake, a specialty of the house, for which the pastry chef has had the recipe for years.




     Seed cake was the typical Victorian teacake.  Sometimes it was also eaten as a snack before turning in to help aid digestion, as caraway seeds are known for their soothing qualities.  After some research, I came up with Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, a true testament to the history of British teatime.

Victorian Seed Cake

Ingredients:

  • 225 gr butter
  • 225 gr cake flour
  • 175 gr caster sugar
  • 2 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • Tad ground mace
  • Grated nutmeg to taste
  • 50 gr chopped candied citrus peel

Preparation:

     Cream the butter along with the sugar.  Add the sifted flour.

     Add the mace, nutmeg, caraway seeds and chopped candied peel and mix well.

     Pre-heat the oven to 325F and grease the pan.

     Stir in the whisked eggs and then the brandy.  Beat for about 3 minutes, until very smooth and with no lumps.

     Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 1 ½ hours, until a skewer comes out clean when tested and the cake is well risen, firm and golden brown.  Once cold, it can be sprinkled with powdered sugar. 


     This is a very moist cake.  It also freezes well, and I can’t think of a better way to satiate bedtime munchies, along with a hot cup of herbal, lemony tea.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A tool to have in your kitchen: Moulinette

     The right tools are essential to successful performance in your kitchen.  The French excel at this of course, and have invented dishes to satisfy every possible accoutrement.

     This weekend I tried two recipes that require the use of a moulinette or food mill.  I was able to get my hands on, after much searching and comparing, one of the best moulinettes on the market, made by European manufacturer Paderno.  Made entirely of stainless steel, it is used in major restaurants.  It is the secret to wonderfully creamy soups, sauces and preserves.  



     I admit it is pricey, but it is a tool that will last forever and you will find yourself using it more and more.

     The first recipe I tried was from fellow Francophile Laura Calder, who found it in an old recipe notebook: Confiture de carottes – or carrot jam.  Yes, you heard right.  Carrot jam.  It is as delicious as it is unusual and so simple to make.  Keep it in mind for the next time you need to make a nice house-warming gift.  It should be eaten with slices of baguette or bâtard bread smothered with slabs of cold, salted butter.


Confiture de carottes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pd. peeled carrots
  • Water, as needed
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon and juice of 2
  • 10 whole chopped or slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. Cognac
Preparation:

     Slice the carrots and put them in a saucepan along with the water until they are just covered.  Boil until very soft, then run through the moulinette to puree.  Put the puree back into the saucepan and add the sugar, the lemon zest and lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Cook until “glassy” and “jammy”.  



     Remove the pan from the heat and add the almonds and Cognac.  Cool and spoon into a sterilized jar.  Keep in the fridge.

     The other recipe I tried was a soup.  What with the cold winter we are having here in Florida, a nice creamy pea soup is a welcome meal any time.  This recipe is classic of a typical French brasserie.  It even carries the name of the trendy 6th arrondisement – Saint-Germain-des-Prés.  It freezes wonderfully, so make double the recipe and stock up!


Pureé Saint-Germain

Ingredients:

  • 15 oz. split peas
  • 2 oz. lardons
  • 1 cup veal stock
  • 1 bouquet garni: thyme, leek, bayleaf, celery
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup butter
  • Croûtons and crème fraîche to serve 
Preparation:

     Soak the peas for 2 hours in cold water, then drain and boil in 4 cups of lightly salted water, skimming off the foam.  When the peas are ready, drain (keeping half the water) and sieve through the moulinette.

     Sauté the lardons in a pan, removing the grease.  Add the sieved peas, pour on the veal stock and the liquid and add the bouquet garni.  Simmer for 15 minutes at a very low temperature.

     Remove the bouquet garni, season with pepper and pour the pea soup into a preheated tureen or serving bowl, stir in the butter and add the crème fraîche and croutons separately upon serving.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Local French dairy products

     One of the major challenges to French cooking I have found here in America is the fact that dairy products that are unpasteurized are not allowed.  I grew up on unpasteurized milk, cream and all sorts of “not allowed by the FDA” products, like so many other millions of people around the world and have never had a problem.  Raw dairy builds the immune system up like crazy, making for strong bones and a general healthy outlook.

     So here are the best dairy products I could come up with so far, if you want to cook like a true French person (as much as we can on this side of the world):



          From left to right:
  • “Natural by Nature” pasteurized heavy cream.  Unlike most cream, this one IS NOT ultra-pasteurized, which means it is boiled only once, and not at very high temperature, which makes for a much more stable and thicker product.
  • True whole milk en bouteille de verre, also by “Natural by Nature”, which is sold at Whole Foods Market.  It is so thick that you can collect up to 2 tablespoons of cream at the top of the bottle when you open it.
  • An excellent option for butters are the French ones from Poitou, a region suited to the rearing of goats.  All the dairy from this part of France is extra rich and creamy.  This “Sèvre Belle” is slightly salted.  Ideal for the baguette and petit noir of the morning.
  • Whenever I can, I buy a 1-pound roll of salted and unsalted butter at my local Farmers Market.  The one underneath the French butter comes from an Amish farm in Wisconsin from grass-fed cows.  You can actually taste the difference. 
  • For a bit more flavor, especially for ice-cream or a creamy dessert, nothing beats goat’s milk (see the cream leftover inside the bottle).  Also available at Whole Foods.
  • The Vermont Creamery makes an excellent crème fraîche, one of the staples of French cooking.  Their cheeses are also quite imaginative and creamy.

     A very good recipe to use two of the products above is a panna-cotta.  I suggest using the goat’s milk for the vanilla portion and the whole cow’s milk for the chocolate one.  It can be done with one or both flavours, and although it may seem lengthy to prepare, the majority of time required is for refrigeration.  The dessert can be made up to two days ahead and will keep for another two in the fridge.  It is an ideal end for a rather light dinner, of fish for example, as it tends to be filling.  The measurements are good for 4 servings.

 

La panna-cotta au chocolat, vainille e crème de violette:

 

Ingredients for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

  • 3 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup half and half (combine half cup of cream and half of milk from “Natural by Nature” brand)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. crème de violette liqueur
  • ¼  Tahitian vanilla bean, scraped
  • Pinch of salt
Ingredients for the chocolate panna-cotta:

  • 1 ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 ounces finely chopped quality dark chocolate, 70% cacao
For the whipped cream topping:

  • ¾ heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp crème de violette liqueur
  • A drop or two of violet food colouring
  • Small pieces of chocolate for decorating

Preparation for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

     Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.

 

     In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, half and half, sugar, lavender and salt over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.

 

     Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Stir in the crème de violette and the vanilla seeds, followed by the gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     Divide among 4 individual serving glasses and bring to room temperature, then place on a flat surface in the fridge and refrigerate overnight.

Preparation for the chocolate panna-cotta:



     Once the vanilla layer has been set, it’s time to make the chocolate one. 

 

     Pour ¼ cup of the whipping cream into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Place the bowl into a larger one with hot water and stir mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining cream, sugar and salt just to a boil and remove promptly from the heat.  Whisk the chocolate until completely incorporated and smooth.

 

     Add the gelatin mixture until well combined, pour it through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Let sit until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.

 

     Divide among the chilled vanilla-crème de violette panna-cotta layered glasses, cover with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To prepare the whipped cream topping:



     Make this 2 hours before serving.  Add the crème de violette liqueur to the cream, stir and let sit in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 1 hour – the longer it sits, the better the flavor. 

 

     Chill a mixing bowl and the metal whisk/s to be used to beat the cream for 15 minutes prior to mixing.  Add the cream with a drop or two of colouring and beat until it forms a soft peak. 

 

     Top each dessert with a dollop of cream and a piece or two of dark chocolate.




Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Our" French Café

     I have bought pastries at My French Café ever since my good friend David Moore recommended it on his group Wine Lovers & Adventurers.  They are, without doubt, one of the best options for French patisseries in Central Florida.  Owners Avy and Morgane Bendavid open their venture last fall, but they never imagined the success they’re enjoying. 

     This past weekend I decided to eat in and tried their “Little France” crêpe – typical ham, cheese and béchamel.  It was tasty and very filling; however, I was disappointed.  It was an American crêpe, not a French one, made too thick and served with a salad.  In France, the batter would have been cooked into an extra thin crêpe, and the filling would have been enough but not overpowering like this one was.



    The macaroons however, are spectacular.  Two round, fluffy meringue sides, about 2” in diameter.  There is a pistachio-blackcurrant version with raspberries, crème chantilly and a solid chocolate ganache center.  All the macaroons come with a vial of sauce – in this case blackcurrant – to be dispensed over the top or even inside of the macaroon, to counter-balance the sweetness.  If there ever was a perfect balance of flavours, this macaroon exemplifies it beautifully.



     My French Café is the only place in Orlando so far where I could find the classic French Opera cake.  Rich and with the typical accented taste of coffee, it pairs wonderfully with a strong espresso or a glass of brandy.



     The Mille-feuille is a cake best eaten just an hour or two after it is made.  My French Café can make it by special order in big size to impress your guests after an elegant dinner.



     There is also the Paris Brest, a dessert created in honor of the cycle race that it is named after.  It consists of a wheel-shaped pate choux pastry filled with almond cream and topped with slivered almonds.  Especially fulfilling at tea time.


     
     They also do catering and can make your favorite cake in larger sizes.  Just imagine the ohs and ahs from your friends when it’s time for dessert!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Eating with Ann Mah

     As a parody to Julia Child’s scholarly written work Mastering the art of French cooking, Ann Mah has written her own story of life in France, one of an American diplomat’s wife that makes me dream of what could have been for me, had my parents not died when they did and I’d achieved that dream of becoming a diplomat myself.  The dream of living in Paris, or even in France for that matter, is an elusive one for most of us, yet when one really wants it, anything that can get you closer to it is worth holding on to.


     Ann Mah’s story is that element (read her blog here).  Set in Paris, with some travels within France – the Auvergne, Burgundy, Provence, Alsace - that she mainly took to overcome a year of solitude when her husband was posted to Iraq during his then current assignment in Paris.  They had another 2 years after that in the City of Light, which they used productively to buy their own pièd-a-terre, while indulging in French food and culture.

     This is a very lovely memoir with a recipe typical of the region written about at the end of each chapter.  To me, the best one is that of aligot, which sadly I cannot make at home as the main ingredient, a cheese curd by the name of tome fraîche, is not found in the US; but one to go on my bucket list of things to try when visiting France.  The story of her visit to Aveyron is also the crown jewel of the book, providing a cozy, comforting end to a year of stories as an ex-pat foodie in France.

     Being an inveterate Francophile myself, and currently trending the way Parisians cook and live, I found her recipe for bavette aux échalotes a nice take on my entrecôte Vilette (see my recipe here).  The main difference is the cut of meat used.  Whereas for entrecôte one would use ribsteak, for the bavette one uses skirt; which is a thin, rather fibrous cut.  It makes for an incredibly tasty piece of meat.  You may accompany it with the ubiquitous frites (recipe also here), a fresh salad or even some warm legumes.  Of course when in France, serve it with aligot.  This recipe serves 2.

Bavette aux échalotes:

Ingredients:
  • 1 skirt or hanger steak, about 12 oz. trimmed of fat and patted dry
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. sunflower oil
Sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 large minced shallots
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Sprig of fresh thyme
  • ½ cup beef stock
Preparation:

     Trim the steak of any excess fat and season it with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  It must be sizzling hot.  Place the steak in the pan and cook for 2 minutes, until the underside is seared and browned.  Turn the steak over and cook the other side for about 50 seconds.  Bavette is thin cut, so it cooks quite fast.  The best way to eat this dish is medium-rare, so do not overcook!  Transfer the beef to a warm plate and cover loosely with foil in order to keep it warm.

     To make the sauce, heat 1 Tbsp. of the butter in the same skillet used for the steak.  Add the shallots and sauté over medium heat for 7 minutes.  Add the red wine vinegar, thyme and beef stock; bring to a boil.  Cover and cook until the shallots have softened and the liquid has almost disappeared.  Swirl in the remaining Tbsp. of butter and add any juices released from the meat.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, adding a few drops of vinegar if needed.

     Slice the steak against the grain into thin strips.  Serve with the shallots spooned on top.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Gourmand preferences of two French ladies that exude style


     The French are the epitome of chic.  In fact, one could argue that they are the ones that are solely responsible for the creation of all things pleasurable in life.  You don’t think so?  Let’s run by some of them: gourmet cuisine, world’s most distinguished fashion houses, beauté (which ranges from perfume to cosmetics), philosophy, bistros and sidewalk cafés, and general joie de vivre.

     French women in particular have always interested me.  Far and wide, they are the only ones that seem to have it all under control – beauty, fitness, looking gorgeous, eating like queens yet staying slim, managing children, an active sex life, a career, housekeeping… the list goes on.  Throughout my life, I have always wanted to emulate that feeling of total control I see in French women.  The main reason is because I find that being in control of everything I do in my life gives me peace of mind.  I have found, satisfying our own and our loved ones’ needs is what life is really all about.

     While not affirming that French women are always in full control of their particular situations (no one can do that, not even the French), they personify the one culture that most closely comes to this ideal.  

     Short of moving to France - at least for now - a very interesting incursion was to Anne Baronne’s book “Chic & Slim Toujours” (http://www.amazon.com/Chic-Slim-Toujours-Beautifully-French/dp/1937066096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341885449&sr=8-1&keywords=chic+and+slim+toujours).  


Ready for work in a simple
suit and statement jewelry
Turquoise is a colour not usually
 worn by Christine Lagarde, yet
with proper foulard, she looks
magnificient

     Apparently, Ms. Baronne used to be fat and frumpy in her 20’s, but then she discovered la vie en rose de les Français and set out to a discipline of general life improvement.  This particular book is written for women in their 60’s and older; and although I am in my early 40’s, I can only hope that if I am lucky enough to reach that age, I do so in my fittest possible way, looking and feeling great, and embracing life with gusto.

     There are two French women mentioned in this book that have caught my attention:  IMF Director and ex-Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde, and France ex-Minister of Justice, Muslim Rachida Dati.  These are both beautiful, stylish, powerful women who do not compromise and yet are able to leave their own mark of distinction in their path.  I have watched Christine Lagarde on television a few times, but the one that most strikes my memory was during an interview with Fareed Zakaria on his program GPS for CNN, when she was still France’s Finance Minister.  She does not colour her hair, yet her gray locks are always perfectly coiffed in a short bobby fringe.  She has a minimalist style, which I find I am favouring as well as I age, always dressed in high quality smart suits in neutral colours.  She wears her wrinkles with ease and pride, and looks great and fit.

     A closer look at her personal life, I found she is a consummate swimmer, rarely drinks wine nowadays (although she's no teetotaler by any means), and favours vegetarian cuisine.

Leather trousers and stilettos
for France's chic Justice Minister


© 2010 The Guardian
The chicest woman in France

Regal look for a soireé
     Rachida Dati has a more shaken story.  The daughter of impoverish Algerian immigrants, she has had some slips (especially of the tongue, confusing fellatio with inflation on national television, oops!), but as a woman of style I find really no other like her within the public personalities of France in these day and age, not even Carla Bruni (with whom she is said to have had a few high-strung encounters).  Ms. Dati looks the classic French modern woman.  Her strong personality comes through even in photographs.  She is not only beautiful but looks sexy, and in her mid-forties is my favourite French chic lady to emulate.  She runs 1 1/2 hours several times a week to keep fit and enjoys champagne, caviar and jellewery.  Certainly a girl's best friends.  

     I can imagine her on Sundays, for instance, relaxing at home with several French newspapers, breakfasting on a Bellini, some exotic fruits, a croissant and a strong cup of coffee.  But Rachida Dati is a hard-working, modern French woman, and during the week, even at intervals, nothing would preclude her from indulging in a nice kir while hard at work.



     For your own version of a kir, just pour 3/4 glass of white burgundy wine and add 1 1/2 Tbsp. of crème de cassis liqueur.  Mix and garnish with a lemon twist.  Voilá a typical French cocktail for any time "just because", and even if, like me, you are hard at work.