Posts Tagged ‘You-can-do-it French Food’

Friends – heartfelt apologies for the long absence!  This spring has been incredibly busy for us and left little time for cooking and less for blogging.  Since I have been cooking more lately, I am going to try to get back into the habit of sharing recipes with you.  However I can’t promise pictures, since we’re moving to fast to get them before we eat!

This dish I want to share with you is the classic summer salad, the potato salad.  It’s not shockingly different from others you may have had, but it’s our favorite.  The unique thing about it is that it’s made the french way, which is to pour the olive oil and vinegar dressing over the hot potatoes and let them sit for a while to soak up the flavors.  Then it gets a final toss in the rest of the dressing with tons of fresh herbs.  It turns out to be the perfect combination of creamy, rich, tangy and super flavorful from the herbs.  It’s a gentle compliment to almost any summer meal.

I usually use small flavorful potatoes from the farmer’s market – either red or white but usually a combination of both.  In the summer these tend to be extra creamy!  Steam them as recommended or boil them and then cut them in quarters as soon as you can handle them.  I like to leave the skin on for more texture and color, but if it bothers you, you can peel them.  You’ll find the potatoes may fall apart a little when you’re tossing it all up but don’t worry, the little smooshy parts are just as good.  For the herb mixture, you can be flexible – use what you have around or whatever is your favorite.

Potato Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette

From Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells 

2 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

½ cup plus 2 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs white wine or champagne vinegar

2 Tbs dry white wine

Salt and pepper

2 shallots, finely minced

Chopped fresh parsley

Snipped fresh chives

  1. Steam the potatoes, covered, in a vegetable steamer over simmering water until just tender, about 20-30 minutes depending on size of your potatoes
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together ½ cup olive oil, 2 Tbs of vinegar, the wine, 1 tsp of salt and ½ tsp pepper in a small bowl.
  3. Drain the potatoes; let cool briefly.  Cut into quarters or as small as you like.  Combine the potatoes with the oil and vinegar mixture; toss gently.  Set aside to allow the potatoes to absorb the dressing, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make the final dressing.  Whisk together the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil, the remaining 1 Tbs vinegar, the parsley, shallots and chives to taste in a small bowl until thoroughly blended.
  5. Just before serving, toss the potatoes gently with the herbed dressing.  Taste and add more salt or pepper if desired.

Bon appetit!


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I have been excited about sharing this super easy and very tasty dessert with you, especially for the summer because it showcases fresh summer berries so well!  This is a simple little french cake, almost like a thicker, chewier shortbread.  I found the recipe a few years ago in Bon Appetit and LOVED it, and I now turn to it for a quick dessert because not only is it easy and very delicious, but it also doesn’t use up as many bowls and utensils in my kitchen!  My husband, who is the pots-and-pans washer in our family, appreciates that.

There are a few key ingredients: one is butter.  There’s a lot of butter in this and I do not apologize for that.  It’s delicious.  Secondly, hazelnuts.  Hazelnuts have a very rich flavor, and there are a lot in here, all ground up in your mini-food processor first (if you don’t have one, these are very handy: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-1SS-Mini-Prep-Processor-Stainless/dp/B00007IT2M/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1246539494&sr=8-2).  Finally, there’s a wonderful vanilla flavor to this cake.  The recipe called for vanilla sugar, which I think you can probably buy at Williams Sonoma but is basically regular sugar with vanilla pods ‘marinating’ in them…to give the sugar a strong vanilla flavor.  I don’t bother with that, instead I use a whole vanilla pod.  I’m lucky to have a stack of these in my pantry, which I brought back from my last trip to Madagascar.  Madagascar, you might not know, is where a huge percentage of the world’s vanilla is grown!  It’s usually pretty expensive to buy the pods here, but they do last a long time and you don’t use them that frequently, so I would suggest springing for them.  I really love using the seeds in this recipe because it adds so much flavor. If you DO buy the pods, here is what you do: using a small, sharp knife, carefully cut the pod down the middle to split into two long halves.  Use the tip of the knife or another small instrument to scrape out the teensy, tiny black seeds laying inside each half of the pod.  Scrape the off the knife and into the batter.  If you DO NOT use a vanilla pod, use the same amount of sugar called for and add a teaspoon of good vanilla extract.

You’ll see the the recipe also suggests organic eggs, because the yolks will be yellow-ier and give a nicer color to this cake.  Folks: this is SO TRUE!  It sounds somewhat dubious but I can swear to it, because we are now getting our eggs weekly in our CSA box and when you crack open one of those eggs and put it next to one of the ones from the grocery store – well, it’s very obvious which is which.  The grocery store egg looks pale and sick compared to the fresh egg that’s happy and tan and healthy!  Since this recipe calls for so many egg yolks, I think it’s worth getting the good eggs.  Not to mention the fact that (as I think I wrote in another post) organic or free-range eggs have half the cholesterol of regular eggs and it’s all the good kind.  So frankly it’s better for you anyway, this cake is just a good excuse.

One last thing to mention: this cake is wonderfully rich and flavorful but to really put it over the top, you should serve it with some kind of summer fruit.  The recipe suggests you can even just heat up some strawberry jam, which I bet would be delicious.  Or you could serve it with a scoop of ice cream and some raspberries.  Or make a nice sauce from summer berries and pour it over.  In the picture below, I drizzled a slice with a quick sauce I made from leftover strawberries – just a little water, the cut berries and some sugar heated up in a little pot til it becomes the consistency you like.  So feel free to experiment with anything you have around or your favorite fruit of the moment.  If you want to spend more time on it, this is my go-to raspberry sauce that we love on everything from cakes and ice cream to french toast (from guess who?): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/raspberry-sauce-recipe2/index.html.  And then once you’ve wowed your dinner guests, toast a slice of this cake to enjoy for breakfast the next morning with your coffee.  Yum!  Bon Appetit!

Hazelnut Gateau Breton (adapted from Bon Appetit 2007)

  • 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped out
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
  • 6 large egg yolks (preferably organic)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Scrape the vanilla seeds out of the bean, and combine with 2 tablespoons sugar and the hazelnuts in a food processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Combine 6 egg yolks and remaining 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer). Whisk in hazelnut mixture. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Sift flour over batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not overmix or cake may be tough).

Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin). Brush top generously with egg glaze. Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction. Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

Cut cake into wedges and serve with cut strawberries or with warm strawberry jam.

Hazelnut Gateau


Hazelnut Gateau - close up

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Since starting this blog, I’ve been reading some other popular food blogs out there in the cypbersphere.  You would not believe how many of these sites there are…one article I read estimates there may be as many as 200,000 food blogs!!!  Some of the successful ones have developed books or cookbooks – the one I started with is called Orangette and I’d first heard of it in Bon Appetit magazine where she started writing a column this year.  She’s a fabulous writer and I love what she cooks, so that was the first one I checked out.  (http://orangette.blogspot.com/)  She has links to a million others so I am now regularly checking a few of these little gems.

And the food on them looks amazing!!!  Some of it’s unusual (lima beans cooked in cream?) and I’m not quite bold enough to try – or just not a big enough vegetable fan. 🙂  But I saw one last week that tickled my cold-weather-food fancy and I just had to try it.  I’m so glad I did – we now have a back-up to the Beef Bourgignonne for a wine-based braised favorite!  The recipe is Poulet au Vinaigre which I must admit sounds MUCH better in French than its English translation – Chicken in Vinegar.   This is a classic french bistro dish, a slow-cooked chicken in a vinegar based sauce.  It’s a total food-culture-clash but this almost smelled like Eastern North Carolina BBQ when it was cooking, which is also a vinegar-based sauce.

The great thing about Poulet au Vinaigre is that it didn’t require lot of ingredients from the store nor a lot of chopping, and it doesn’t have many separate browning/cooking steps like the Beef Bourgignonne requires.  You pretty much just brown your chicken and then make a little sauce with onions, wine, red wine vinegar and some other spices and pantry items.  Add the chicken back in and the whole pot bubbles away for about 45 minutes, needing no more attention than a periodic re-coating with the sauce.  The chicken is almost falling apart tender and the sauce is a great blend of tangy and sweet.  We ate this with some roasted brussel sprouts but I think it would also be really yummy as a one-dish meal over rice.  Oh, and one other thing – it’s CHEAP.  I think the chicken thighs I used for this recipe cost $6 for 10 pieces in it and I only used 5.  So we have a whole other Poulet au Vinaigre coming our way in the future with only $3 worth of meat.  Recession-proof french comfort food for cold nights…what more could you want?!?


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You are going to LOVE this recipe.  Love, love, love.  It starts by cooking bacon and by the end it has brandy, red wine and butter in it.  So you can see already that I am right about how much you’re going to love it.

I first made this Beef Bourguignon recipe about two years ago.  I remember it was two years ago because Michael and I hadn’t been married very long, it was the fall, and it was a holiday (I think Veterans Day) and like a good newlywed I wanted to make my sweet husband something really delicious on my day off while he had to work.  I was still working through my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Barefoot in Paris (those were the days when I planned to buy one cookbook at a time and cook fully through it before moving onto another food genre – those days are looooong gone and I’m now compulsively cooking through about ten at a time).  I was recovering from being engaged, a period of five months during which I attended five out of state weddings, planned a week-long conference for 90 people in India (from DC) and went to Delhi for two weeks, went on vacation for a week with my family, lived with my parents for 2 months, moved twice – and barely, BARELY cooked.  Which killed me.  I missed it terribly and was cooking up a storm in my tiny doll-house kitchen in our new apartment when we got back from our honeymoon.  Michael and I were so happy to not be wedding planning that we ate cozy comfort food, kept up our french-honeymoon-habit of drinking a bottle of wine with each meal, hung out and watched TV and were generally lazy for 5 months to make up for the 5 months of insanity.

I tell you all that just to set the scene for the first magical time we tasted this recipe from HEAVEN.  No one else really gets Veterans Day off so I had the whole day to work on this meal.  It’s a bit of a process but oh what a pleasure the whole process is!  As I mentioned, you start by cooking half a package of bacon in some oil.  Once it’s nice and brown you pull it out and brown your beef in all the nice fat and oil left in the pot.  Once the beef is nice and brown you pull it out and cook your onions, garlic and carrots in all the nice fat and oil and beef juices left in the pot.  THEN, you pour cognac/brandy over the pot and LIGHT IT ON FIRE.  All this really does is burn off the alcohol from the cognac, but the moment when the flames come leaping from your pot seems so much more than that…you have the smell of bacon, beef, onions, garlic and brandy all wafting under your nose and you just can’t WAIT to eat this meal, but wait you must because we are not done yet!  Once the fire has died out you add beef stock and a bottle of red wine and then you slam the whole covered pot into the oven for 75 minutes, until everything is bubbly and soft and perfect.  At the very end you add sauteed mushrooms and serve it over chunky bread.  

Your end result is a beef-stew type dish that is perfectly cooked in a very, very complex sauce developed from those layers of flavor that you meticulously browned.  The wine and fats and juices all meld into a really flavorful broth that you just want to lick up with your fingers.  And although it does take a little while to complete the steps and to cook, it is totally worth it.   I think you should all try this recipe the next time you have a free Sunday afternoon, and after you’ve cooked through it once you’ll move much quicker the next time and can try it for company.  I promise you, you’ll knock their socks off.  And in more good news, it keeps really well (and is actually one of those dishes that’s almost better the second night) so you could make it ahead and throw it in the fridge to serve the next night without being rushed.  Your guests will feel like kings and queens.  Trust me, husbands at least do. 🙂  This has been Michael’s favorite dinner since his first bite.

I’ll put the link to the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe here, but please note there is one major difference in the way I prepare it: she calls for whole frozen baby onions to be added at the end, and we didn’t love these – they just didn’t have a lot of flavor.  I prefer to throw in halved creamy fingerling potatoes with the whole mixture before it goes in the oven.  They come out perfectly cooked and pick up the sauce really well.  I also add a little herbes de provence to up the frenchy flavor a bit, and I use dried thyme instead of fresh just because it’s cheaper – if you happen to have fresh thyme, by all means use that.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/beef-bourguignon-recipe/index.html

Make this soon and make it often, my friends.  You won’t regret it!  Bon Appetit!!!


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