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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Champagne Diaries - Part 1 - A visit to Ruinart

     The first time I traveled to France, I made it a point to visit the region of Champagne.  The drink to which it gives its name is considered the “King of wines” and the “wine of Kings”, and it is a special one for celebrations and the epitome of refinement worldwide.  It seemed like a natural destination to start exploring France outside of Paris.  During the next few months I’ll intersperse blog posts about my personal discovery of this most gourmand region of France, both because of its wine and its delicate cuisine.  Welcome to “The Champagne Diaries”.

     The story of champagne as a drink begins in the late 17th century, when a Benedictine monk by the name of Dom Pérignon, who was in charge of the cellars at the Abbey of Hautevillers,  managed to produce a wine with bubbles after a second fermentation of the grape juice in the bottle. 

     While visiting the region of Champagne, one cannot help but feel the connection with ancient history while sipping this most delicate of wines.  Beginning with the ancient Cathedral of Reims, which saw the coronation of most French kings starting with Clovis in 449, Champagne offers quaint medieval villages and the most manicured vineyards I have seen.  Particularly in Hautevillers, vineyards are everywhere, even as one walks by on the street, and they extend through the hills (Haute – villers meaning literally, “village perched on high hills”)

    The must thing to do while in Champagne is to visit at least one of its famous houses, or even a small producer.  What made me choose Ruinart is the fact that it is the oldest of the most famous champagne houses, dating back to 1729.  Its founder, Thierry Ruinart, was a contemporary of Dom Pérignon and even exchanged ideas with him on how to best produce the sparkling wine of the region.  Nowadays the house belongs to the big conglomerate LVMH, but the original family still visits on occasion.

Statue of Dom Thierry Ruinart on the grounds of Ruinart’s Champagne house

    Ruinart is centrally located on the outskirts of Reims but it took me a few turns until I ended up on the correct street (streets in a medieval city are generally not straight and unexpected turns appear out of nowhere).  In any case, I arrived just before 10:00AM, and our guide Marie, a lovely young woman born and raised in Reims, met us just outside the main atrium of the property – by the statue of Dom Ruinart.

     The tour lasted 2 hours.  We were 6 people, 2 couples from Umbria, a man from Australia and myself.  After the introductory greetings, we were directed inside one of the main buildings, where we were explained the itinerary of the visit.  Mainly, during the first hour one tours the underground caves and cellars, and the second hour is dedicated to the tasting.

     The cellars are located in caves, 40 meters underground.

Starting the tour with our lovely Marie

Although it was quite a chilly day, I was surprised to notice that the caves were quite mild temperature-wise, albeit very humid.  Marie explained this is due to the chalky limestone terroir, which makes it quite permeable.  It is the reason vines do not rot in the otherwise very cold weather of this region.  The ground is in fact so chalky, that it easily scratches away with a finger nail.  This permeability gives champagne its dry, yet lively body.

Man-made, carved stairs inside a cave

    Through the centuries, people have carved everything in these caves, from stairs to shafts, to even altars, and during WWI, when Reims was under serious siege; people lived in these caves for months on end.  Although they did offer a relative refuge from the cold, I shuddered to think the horrible diseases that living long-term under such humidity would have caused.

One of the shafts, used in the olden days to access the caves

It never hurt to pray to St. Vincent for a good vintage...

     Champagne is an expensive wine because the process of making it is long and tedious.  From the extraction of the grape juice, to the first fermentation, maturation, then a second fermentation, then weeks of “remuage” (the removal of the sediment), to the bottling, it might be up to 10 years until a vintage hits the stores.  It becomes very labor intensive, since the remuage must be done by hand over a period of several weeks.

Aisles and aisles of bottles during first and second fermentations

A wall of bottles undergoing fermentation.  Another 2 walls exactly like this one are just behind

Bottles undergoing remuage show the collected sediment on their caps.  This will later be expelled under pressure

Special crates for famous customers

A wall of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs.  The cage prevents glass from blowing all over the place in case of a bottle explosion

     After an hour of walking the caves, we went back to the room where we were initially instructed on the itinerary of our visit.  It was time for the tasting.  We tasted a brut and a millesimé.  I chose the Blanc de Blancs, made with 100% chardonnay grapes, for the brut. 

     It was quite fresh yet dry, and would have paired wonderfully with seafood, especially oysters, just like Marie suggested.  The colour was a light amber, transparent as a mirror, yet the bubbles were almost inexistent.


   For the millesimé I chose the Rosé.  It was 2004 vintage, and let me tell you, one has not tasted champagne until one has tasted a millesimé.

     The refinement in this champagne could be tasted from the first sip.  The bubbles felt as if they were dancing on my tongue, and even after I’d swallowed, its effect endured.  A lovely orange-salmon in colour, this wine can transport its drinker places.  Marie recommended it to be paired exclusively with a carré d’agneau.

     Of course the right glass makes all the difference when tasting champagne.  We were advised to ALWAYS use tulip-shaped crystal glasses, which help both develop the bouquet and encourage the bubbles to circulate in spiral motion throughout the tasting experience.  The long, straight flute was strongly discouraged, as it does not allow the champagne enough room to “breathe”.  The “coupe”, so traditional during the 1920’s and 30’s, was recommended only for demi-sec or doux champagnes, which would be paired with desserts.

     Ruinart’s tour is currently one of the most expensive ones - 80€ per person, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  One observation I would make is that it would have been nice to have some amuse-bouches during the tasting, for it was early in the morning, and on an empty stomach, all that lovely wine does go to one’s head.  It was all for the better I’m sure.  After I left, I felt just like Dom Pérignon himself, “seeing the stars”.

Monday, January 4, 2016

On celebrations & cocktails...

     A new year always brings a good cause for celebration.  New plans, new dreams and new experiences abound.  It is given that elaborate drinks abound, and as 2016 beckons, I invite you to try these two cocktails to start it on the right footing.

French New Year cocktail

     This is THE drink to serve on New Year’s Eve, every year.

  • 2 oz. Brenne French Single Malt whisky
  • ½ oz. agave nectar or simple syrup
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • 3 dashes celery bitters

            Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass.  Float with ½ tsp. of sorrel.  No other garnish is necessary.  Sip at the stroke of midnight and enjoy!

Gin Punch à la Fuller

     I came upon this recipe on that most excellent blog, written by fellow history lover Deana Sidney, Lost Past Remembered.  I particularly like to use Hendrick's gin, which is distilled with cucumber, giving this cocktail a particularly earthy, wintry flavor. The secret lies in preparing it the day before.  This allows the aromas to marinate and become wholesome.  You can also store it in the fridge, on a covered glass jar, and sip at pleasure.  The longer it sits, the better it becomes.  It is very 19th century, so for a classic Christmas full of traditional carols and as a preamble to a big, luxurious meal, try this one.  


o   2 cups sour cherry juice
o   A few drops of almond extract
o   4 cups Hendrick’s gin 
o   1 drop fir essence (Aftelier’s is particularly enticing)
o   Sugar to taste


       Pour all ingredients into a crystal bowl and stir.  Taste for sweetness.  Pour onto glasses full of crushed ice.  Serve with a sprig of rosemary as a stirrer.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The French tradition of Foie Gràs for the Holidays

     If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you probably noticed the inspiration from my recent trip to France.  The experience has enlightened me beyond what I expected.  In preparing for my next trip (hopefully for the next holiday season), I am trying to keep the same pace I had whilst in that country, both activity and diet-wise.  It was incredible to me that after indulging as much as I did I returned home with 4 pounds less and a lot of gusto for life itself.

     This way the French have for living life to its fullest directed me to my next read, a book that I have been wanting to get my hands on for a few of months now, ever since I started following its author’s YouTube channel.  I am speaking about Lessons from Madame Chic – 20 stylish secrets I learned while living in Paris, by Jennifer L. Scott.

     Scott went to Paris as an exchange student in her early 20’s and stayed with whom she calls “Famille Chic” for 6 months.  During that time, she became a woman of sophistication and style.  It is true, Paris – and France in general – gives you that.  Art is everywhere in that city, and I’m not just speaking about museums.  The way ordinary people dress, conduct themselves, eat and approach life in general is a true inspiration that everyone else should follow.  Walking through the streets of Paris one feels the power of beauty on every level, from its buildings to the view of the Seine, and the shop windows of the food stores that look like jewelry stores.  The French truly know how to live life to its fullest and make every day living into an art form.

My copy of "Lessons...", all tagged to facilitate
easy reference.

     Lessons from Madame Chic is divided into 3 main sections, each containing several chapters:

  • Part 1: Diet and exercise
  • Part 2: Style and beauty
  • Part 3: How to live well
     Although for some the book will provide enlightment from one page to the next and one chapter to the other, I personally found the concepts in the last section about “joie de vivre” the most important and influential ones.  Things as simple as using your best china every day and not just for special occasions, dressing comfortably but presentably even when at home and valuing quality over quantity are quite a revelation for the consumerist society in which we live today.  Perhaps it comes from having lived through two world wars that left the country with a mentality of valuing the present and only producing its best, but if one truly thinks about it, it becomes quite obvious that the only intelligent way to live life is on this level.

     When I came from France, my luggage was at the maximum weight allowed for the plane before one must pay a penalty.  It was full of… you guessed it – food.  Not fresh food mind you (although I know people who bring certain items and I must confess, the concept intrigues me enough to further explore it), but quite a few cans of foie gras, condiments, books and different accoutrements all related to arts of the table.  I almost bought no clothes.

     There is nothing like a good foie gràs, paired with the correct glass of wine, that says one is truly enjoying the moment.  So for my birthday, which happens to coincide with the holiday season, that is exactly what I did.  I opened one of the cans I bought at Fauchon, that quintessentially high end gourmet store in Place de la Madeleine.  And nothing better than auspiciously sampling their luxurious goose foie gràs Alsatian style, I thought, in anticipation of next year’s trip to that region (and others.  Stay tuned!)

     The foie gràs from Strasbourg is not, I must say, like that of Périgord (I prefer the latter).  Still, goose foie gràs is goose foie gràs, and as a delicacy, it is one that I appreciate profoundly.  There is a certain kick in its flavour, albeit slight, which leaves a happy note on the tongue.  This demure sharpness makes it perfect to be paired with a glass of the classic Trimbach Gewűrtztraminer 2012.  The minerality of the wine, combined with a slight sweetness makes the foie gràs shine without overpowering it and its round, whole finish gives the proper closure for each bite.

     I chilled the foie gràs for 2 days in the coldest part of the fridge, and took it out about 15’ before serving.  I topped it with just a few grains of rose pepper and served it on rye toast.  I also had a canapé simply topped with crème fraîche and salmon roe.  The whole celebration was intimate, luxurious and delicious from the gastronomical standpoint.

     Keeping in mind Jennifer L. Scott’s adage in “Lessons from Madame Chic”, I used my best holiday china, showing Rudolph in the background, and laid the table with a red satin cloth.  The candle is Forest Herb, from a store called Terrain.  It gives a light scent of pines mixed with fresh herbs, subdued yet refreshing in the likes of a quiet pine forest.  

     Although my birthday dinner was intimate, it was undoubtedly chic, and it gave me a private feeling of luxury that I will cherish always and look forward too for more pleasurable moments.  And yes, Happy Christmas. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dining with History at "Le Procope" in Paris

     For the first day of my first visit to Paris, I wanted to take a traditional approach.  So after a morning at the Eiffel Tower, I walked east, towards the 6th Arrondissement, and headed to Le Procope for lunch.  Le Procope was the first restaurant ever created, which functioned under the concept of what we nowadays today a restaurant to be, where customers were served at the table with porcelain service.  It opened its doors in 1686, at the highlight of the Enlightment Age.  The likes of Voltaire (who considered it his second home), Rousseau and even very American Benjamin Franklin dined here while discussing the politics of the times.  Its owner was an Italian from Sardinia, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, who created a pleasant atmosphere in his establishment that made people linger while having a meal.

     As it was customary during those times, Mr. Procopio started serving coffee and hot chocolate on marble tables at his establishment but, as the true innovator that he was, soon added his own distilled alcohols and home-made ice-creams, these latter the first ever to be sold in Paris.

     Dining at Le Procope felt very much like dining in a sort of time capsule.  The restaurant is quite large for Paris standards, and has two floors.  Tables are crammed throughout different areas that don’t necessarily follow a pattern, and all are quite close to each other.  But even though you may listen to pieces of your neighbor’s conversation, the feeling is quite cosy, as in Paris people are reserved and maintain a low tone while sitting at the table.

Crisp white tablecloths, old books and ancient paintings of its regulars.  Le Procope
is a place of history.

Part of a ceiling, showing original text for the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” from August 1789.
     I started my meal with a splendid kir royal, served in the traditional champagne tulip glass.  It was so impressive, it dressed the table by itself.  I’m not sure what champagne was used in it, very it tasted very much like a millesimé (although I'm sure it wasn't.  Probably a high end Pommery).

    Le Procope is known both for its large oyster platters they serve mostly as a tourist attraction, and traditional French bourgeois dishes, such as Coq au vin, or Tete de veau, prepared as it was when the restaurant first opened.  It really intrigued me how some of the biggest minds mankind has produced would have eaten.  I ordered the Tete de veau, which came cooked in its own tarragon-flavoured juice, its recipe kept from the restaurants old records.

     I was quite surprised at the simplicity of the dish.  It was very much like the Argentinian “puchero” my mom used to serve, the meat boiled until it falls of the bone and one doesn’t even need a knife to cut it, served alongside vegetables like carrots, potatoes and some other white one that escaped me.  At first, I thought it too simple for the price paid (27.70€), however, it makes sense that back in 1686, people ate from the land, in a natural, made-at-home way.  I suppose the cost is due to the traditional fame associated with the restaurant, or maybe the fact that it is served in a traditional copper saucepan (yes, they use these things in actual restaurants in Paris!),  which the waiter leaves with you so you may serve yourself later at your own pace, and also dip the bread into the wonderful juices.  A truly convivial dish, which can very well serve two, especially if ordering an appetizer and a dessert.

     As for the proverbial dessert, and continuing with the idea of tradition in mind, the Sabayon Glacé à l’Amaretto fitted the Procope’s beginnings as an ice-cream parlour.

     It was the perfect end to a copious meal, light, a mixture between a mousse and an ice-cream, served along a croquant tuile (which could have been more croquant) and wonderful Amaretto caramel sauce. 

     The whole lunch, with drinks included, cost 57.10€.  I found it overpriced, but then again, at a restaurant where history is its protagonist, one can only expect to pay more.  At least, the food was good, with a nice “homey” feeling, and it set me up for the rest of the day, which turned out to be quite wet and with lots of walking to do.  It’s what Paris is all about.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Fête des Vendanges 2015

     Recently I had the good fortune of taking my first trip to France.  It was a dream of mine, for which I researched, researched and researched and prepared, prepared, prepared for over 1 year.  As I’m sure it happens to almost everyone, even though I was there for a week and a half, I got to do half of what I had planned and, being a foodie, bring half of what I wanted to bring.  Not only did I not have the sufficient budget, but I would have needed an extra pair or arms and legs to carry it all.

     I started, of course, in Paris, which is an amazing city.  Its architecture is unique, unlike that of every other city I’ve been to.  As one walks it streets, one sighs almost constantly.  Besides doing the obvious clichés of visiting the Eiffel Tower and going to the Louvre museum (among others), I chose to pair my visit with the 82nd Fête des Vendanges in Montmartre, and I rented an apartment just two blocks from the Sacré Cœur Basilica.  The location could not have been more perfect.  Central to everything Montmartre and to several Métro lines, I could be anywhere in Paris with 20 to 30 minutes or, a few steps away.

The street where I stayed in
     The Fête des Vendanges is an event that commemorates the grape harvest, which in that area has taken place for centuries.  History shows us that when Paris was Lutéce, the Romans planted vineyards that extended from Montmartre all the way into the area now occupied by the Eiffel Tower.  The only vestige of these times is the Clos Montmartre, which is meticulously tendered by hand and has never been touched by any pesticides.  The small square on Rue de Saules escaped the phylloxera devastation and still produces a medium quality rosé that is sold during the event for the astronomical sum of 50€ for a half bottle - reason why I didn’t bring any.

Clos Montmartre is easily accessible from the Musée Montmartre, which at the time I visited
 was hosting a special exhibition on the 150th anniversary of Suzanne Valadon

     I did however, found my way throughout the Parcours du Goût, a sort of food and wine festival situated all around Sacré Cœur, featuring vendors and producers from all the regions of France.  It was a madhouse for the senses.

     I tried as much as I could, and what I could not I photographed.  There were escargots, oysters from Brittany, foie gras from Cognac, Strasbourg and the Southwest, cheeses I never even dreamed of existed… the pictures speak for themselves.

The typical Parisian quick fix for midday.  Baguette with ham and cheese sandwhich.  Just not any ham,
not any cheese.  Here we have 3 varities, 2 with prosciutto – with either Cantal or fromage de chêvre, and one
with salami and chêvre

Aligot is a specialty from the Auvergne, where the potato purée is loaded
with a regional tomé cheese until it forms strings that won’t break.
They were making it in situ for degustation.

A world of sausages, with walnuts, figs, made with duck…

This was a type of tomé cheese with pesto and pimente d’espelette.  Too bad I was leaving the next
day and couldn’t get any.  The flavors mixed so well together and yet could distinguish them all.

A plate of sausages, brasserie-style

Cognac from the region of the same name, bottled into pretty Tour Eiffel bottles makes for an elegant souvenir.

Huge calissons de Provence, with flavors as audacious as raspberry-basil, pineapple and coconut.

Another exclusive cheese from the Savoie region, this time flavoured with lavender and rosemary.
Its colour was as seductive as its flavour.  

A stall offering Gratin Dauphinois with every sort of cheese you may conceive of.

     The Fête des Vendanges takes place every first weekend in October and is a MUST for any foodie.  It will prepare you for the gastronomic emporium France is, and the fact that it takes place in Montmartre makes for a nostalgic, typical rendez-vous with the customs of France.  The fact that Montmartre is full of stairs also helps in burning out all those calories (trust me on this one!)  There is a parade - which I did not attend, too tired, both physically and mentally - on the last day of the event, where all the vignerons showcase their pride in being montmartroises, and fireworks later in the night - which I did attend and almost died, pushed and shoved in the middle of the mob.

     What I did bring home was the spirit of exquisiteness, gourmandise and superb products - including some foie gras, which at the fête was acceptably priced.

     And yes, my very own glass.  Bon dégustation!

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