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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