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Posts tagged ‘French cooking’

No. 301: Crème Chantilly

chantilly_cream_France.jpgAs if there weren’t enough lip-smacking things to gobble up in France, along comes the tried-and-true crème Chantilly fresh from the town of Chantilly in Picardy. This is not what you would call delicate whipped cream. It is a hardy, stand-alone dessert topper whose snowy peaks and designs hold their shapes after a good whisking, like a 60s beehive-hairdo shellacked with VO5 spray.

As the story goes, French Chef Vatel first came up with the recipe to help “stretch out” his short supply of cream during a banquet given by Fouquet honoring the Sun King. (Supposedly he never lived to taste the cream because he committed suicide during the banquet when he found out there was also a shortage of fish for the diners.)

His one-time secret recipe is now a standard in French cooking, and the essential ingredient for a perfect Chantilly cream is top-quality whole crème fraîche (fresh cream),  with a bit of icing sugar, and pod of vanilla mixed in; But beware, precise whisking is a must as too many strokes will turn the cream to butter…not necessarily the worst outcome, mais probably not the best consistency for embellishing desserts.


When visiting Chantilly, be sure to order a big bowl of the delicious cream to share.


No. 279-284: six tartelettes que j’aime


I am starting to wonder if I will ever lose those last 10 lbs. while I am living in Paris. I only seem capable of “being good” for 4-5 days at a time, and then I have a complete breakdown and wander into a gorgeous pâtisserie and it is back to square one and late-night bike rides on my vélo d’appartement trying to burn the extra calories from the day.

Let’s just say, it will be a very late evening tonight as I mistakenly strolled into Eric Kayser for a healthy quinoa, salmon and roquette salad and came away with a bit more than I bargained for.

Damn, the French and their daily menus which include a boisson (drink) and dessert along with the salad for only an extra €2.30.

As I have missed several days of blogging this week (due to the deluge of American guests à l’hôtel Nancy—going on 24 days, but who’s counting…), I looked at the stunning display of desserts and thought, “I’ll do a post on tartelettes.” And that mes amis is where the diet went all to hell.

Argh! I almost always go for the fruity tartelettes, mais aujourd’hui, I put my healthy blinders on and went straight for the chocolate and caramel display. And then I saw it, those two magnificent flavors combined, and a mini-dessert I had somehow  managed not to discover over the course of nearly 3 years: la tartelette au caramel et chocolate. Donc, I had to buy one. After all, it was a better deal to get the menu instead of just a salad and drink.

Long story short, I split the first one with Button. It was divine, like heaven popped on a plate. And then for the sake of my readers, I bought a second one to bring home and photograph (and retaste) for my blog. Curses!


Below please see my six favorite tartelettes that I have eaten at one time or the other over the past years all for you and in the name of research: 


tartelette caramel chocolat


tartelette aux poires

tartelette mascarpone fruits rouges


tartelette aux pommes


tartelette au citron


tartelette  abricots et pistaches


mais aujourd’hui: but today

mes amis: my friends

vélo d’appartement: exercise bike




No. 277: mille-feuille


It seems like it has been awhile since I did a post on food, but I was reminded yesterday evening when I attended a dessert party (so much for the ole regime, encore), of the sometimes underrated mille-feuille, or thousand leaves pastry.

Also know as the Napoleon, it consists of two layers of crème pâtissière sandwiched between three layers of pâte feuilletée traditionally glazed with a white icing and chocolate stripes. The even more delicious versions are filled with whipped cream and/or jam and lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar or cocoa, or both.

If you are lucky enough to live in France, comme moi, there is no need to ever attempt to make a mille-feuille chez vous, but for those of you who don’t live in France, here is a très instructive recipe video (complete with happy French café music and crackling puff pastry sounds), so you can taste this yummy French dessert at your house.



chez vous: at your house

comme moi: like me

crème pâtissière: pastry creme

pâte feuilletée: puff pastry


No. 251: French MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)

Here is what I know about the American military’s Ready to Eat Meals or MREs: the military chefs strive to make meals that “don’t just taste good… but last … for three years stored at 80 degrees F (26 degrees C), are capable of withstanding chemical or biological attacks, and (can) survive a 10-story free fall (when packed in a crate of 12).”

American MRE: noodles in butter flavored sauce and toaster pastries

American MRE: chili macaroni

American MRE: chili macaroni

I am assuming that the French Ration de Combat Individuelle Rechauffable (Reheatable Individual Combat Rations) or RCIRs, which a friend of mine in Paris let me take a peak at, have to follow the same rigorous guidelines, as they are NATO approved.

French RCIR: slightly more gourmand...

French RCIR: slightly more gourmand…

Whatever the circumstances, you’ve got to love the French’s dedication to meal planning. I don’t know what the rest of the brave soldiers serving their countries are eating tonight, but somewhere in the world, some French soldiers are eating rillettes de saumon préparé en Bretagne (salmon pâté from Brittany).

rillettes de saumon préparé en Bretagne, along with some other very French eats...

rillettes de saumon préparé en Bretagne, along with some other very French eats…




SALMON RILLETTESFood and Wine Magazine – Anna Zepaltas

            ACTIVE: 30 MIN

            TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 45 MIN

            SERVINGS: MAKES 2 CUPS



.    1/2 pound center-cut, skinless salmon fillet

.    1 tablespoon anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod

.    Salt

.    Freshly ground white pepper

.    1 celery rib

.    1 leek, halved lengthwise

.    1 small onion, quartered lengthwise

.    1 bay leaf

.    1 teaspoon black peppercorns

.    1 cup dry white wine

.    4 cups water

.    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

.    1 large shallot, minced (1/4 cup)

.    1/2 tablespoon sour cream

.    1/4 pound skinless hot-smoked salmon, flaked

.    2 tablespoons snipped chives

.    1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

.    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

.    1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

.    Toasted baguette slices, for serving



  1. On a plate, sprinkle the salmon with the anise liqueur and season with salt and white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the celery, leek, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, wine and water to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes.
  3. Add the salmon to the pan, cover and remove from the heat; let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the salmon, picking off any peppercorns, and refrigerate until chilled, about 45 minutes. Flake the salmon.
  4. In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened. Let cool.
  5. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter until smooth. Whisk in the sour cream. Add the cooled shallot, along with the poached and smoked salmon, chives, lemon juice, olive oil and paprika and stir until combined. Season the rillettes with salt and white pepper. Serve with toasted baguette slices.


The rillettes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Pack into a crock and press a sheet of plastic wrap onto the surface.  Pour melted butter over the top to seal in freshness. 



No. 249-250: An Ode to Estragon and Chicken Tarragon


estragon_french_tarragon.jpg Before your mind starts to wander to the widely debated female hormone that’s fluctuation can send us femmes d’un certain âge spiraling through rapid mood swings, drop the final “e” and add an “o” and you will realize my ode is to the terrific, tried and true French herb, tarragon, not the natural chemical so essential to the female of the species.

There are so many sensory delights at the French markets, and quite a few that I am completely nutty for, and estragon is certainly one of them. Prior to moving to France, I had rarely cooked with tarragon, and I had certainly never cooked or eaten fresh from the market or garden tarragon. Now I can’t seem to get through a day without it.

I throw it in so many different dishes, that the last time I served a couscous salad with chopped up green flecks, a guest asked what it was, and then another replied, “hmmm…tastes like Nancy, must be tarragon.”



Maybe too much of a good thing can be too much, but I am not quite ready to say that about my beloved estragon. I’m always looking for uses for my favorite window box friend.

To refresh you memory, tarragon is the herb known for its anise-like flavor and scent. Its longish, green leaves are slender and tender and heavenly scented. This delicate yet tasty herb is wonderful with eggs, salads, cheese, and fish and makes the elegant and mouth-watering Tarragon Chicken Fricassée my new favorite dish.

Lucky for all of us, my friend Marie-Françoise just taught me how to make this old-fashioned French recipe. Give it a go, you won’t be sorry.



Tarragon Chicken Fricassée (Serves 4)

From the kitchen of Marie-Françoise



6 large free-range chicken thighs (or legs)

4 shallots (or fresh spring onions), finely chopped

3.5 oz. almond powder

1.5 oz. butter, divided

1 Tbsp. l’huile d’arachide (peanut oil)

½-1 cup dry white wine

½ cube chicken bullion

5 oz. crème fraîche

2 bunches fresh tarragon, washed, spun, and finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat half of the butter and oil. Add the chicken thighs and brown both sides until golden. Remove from the pan and rest on a plate. Discard the fat and wipe the pan clean.
  2. In the same pan, heat the remaining butter and oil over medium heat and add the finely chopped shallots. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often to avoid coloring. When soft and translucent, set aside.
  3. Return the chicken to the pan, add the wine, bullion cube, and shallots. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook covered over low heat for 45 minutes. (You may have to add some water if the sauce looks too thick.)
  4. After 45 minutes, set the chicken aside on a warm plate. Sieve the sauce for a “cleaner” result, or for a true French bistro experience, do not sieve. If sieved, rewarm the sauce and add the almond powder. Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the crème fraîche at the last-minute and incorporate into to the sauce stirring constantly. Do not over cook. You don’t want the crème to “turn”.
  5. Add the chicken and the finely chopped tarragon. Serve immediately with white rice.


estragon: tarragon—and a few tips—smell your herbs before buying, they should have a clean, fresh scent, and keep it fresh for up to five days by wrapping it in a just damp paper towel and sealing it in a plastic.

femmes d’un certain âge: women of a certain/unknown age


No. 238: Lost Bread


It was another rainy and cool day in Paris, making it the perfect day to serve up some pain perdu, lost bread as the French call it, or “French toast”, as we Americans call it.

The facts and history don’t seem to back up our anglicized name, as its origins date much further back than the foundation of a French state. En fait this delicious French dessert or American breakfast staple can be traced back to medieval times when the recipe (and I use that term loosely) first appeared to make inedible, stale loaves of bread more appetizing. Times were tough back in the day, and the masses could not afford to throw away any bit of edible anything, so the otherwise “lost” bread was battered, buttered, rescued and revived instead of being thrown out.

It doesn’t appear that the French were the first to dip their bread in a milky-egg mixture and fry it up. The English had their own versions (suppe dorate and tostees dorees) during the Middle Ages, and later a similar dish called “Poor Knights of Windsor”. There are even some “French toast” recipes traceable to ancient Roman times, which ironically, the French named pain a la Romaine (Roman bread).

It is also interesting that pain perdu was not just a meal for the poor man. Indeed the wealthy kept this staple on their menu too. Of course, the rich had their chefs make it to order, which meant only the finest white bread could be used—the crust cut off and discarded—before it was dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs, sugar and rose water, fried in butter or lard and topped off with more saffron and sugar infused rose water.

Like the medieval peasants, I also grew up making pain perdu with stale bread we could not afford to throw away. And boy, did my dad make a mean Sunday morning French Toast (and “Eggs Over Bread”), another poor man’s delight.

In France, I have learned that the best and most authentic way to make pain perdu is with day-old brioche (a lightly sweet bun or loaf-that the boulangers of France do so well), sliced thickly and dipped in eggs, milk, or better yet crème, seasoned with a little sugar and nutmeg, and gently fried in, what else, salted butter from Bretagne.

C’est délicieux! Que pensez-vous?

Here is a recipe for the “original” pain perdu, and please click the underlined links for my other favorite “lost bread” recipes along with my daddy’s famous Eggs Over Bread.


From: The Medieval Kitchen, Recipes from France and Italy by Odilie Redon (dated to 1450)

  1. Take slices of white bread, trimmed so that they have no crusts.
  2. Make these slices square and slightly grill them so that they are colored all over by the fire.
  3. Then take eggs beaten together with plenty of sugar and a little rose-water and put the slices of bread in to soak.
  4. Carefully remove them, and fry them a little in a frying pan with a little butter and lard, turning them very frequently so that they do not burn.
  5. Arrange them on a plate, and top with a little rose-water colored yellow with a little saffron, and sprinkle with plenty of sugar.



C’est délicieux! Que pensez-vous? It’s delicious. What do you think?

pain a la Romaine: Roman bread

pain perdu: French toast, literally: lost bread

No. 177: Roquette


Known to us Americans as arugula—I don’t think it is generally loved in my native land. Mais, moi, I find it especially delicious. I am absolutely nutty for its pungent and spicy horseradish-like flavor. A member of the mustard family, the Italians call it ruchetta or rucola. The Greeks say roka. The Brits call it rocket. Superman calls it therapy, and has been growing it on our windowsills since January. Unfortunately two stormy February days knocked out the first crop, but the second crop is starting to take hold, and the third extra crop will be planted this weekend. Roquette is extremely easy and satisfying to grow, even in window boxes and it does well in the cooler spring weather.

It is brilliant with tomatoes, capsicum, radicchio, and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or tossed with slices of pear and Bleu d’Auvergne. It makes a refreshing and tangy pesto accompaniment to meat, and is perfect sprinkled on goat cheese pizza, Italian bruschetta, or tucked into any sandwich.


It is a fancy-pants cancer fighting food, a palate cleanser, and as an extra bonus, it is thought to be an aphrodisiac, said to “excite the sexual desire of drowsy people.” Hmmm…


Maybe this tired mom should pick up an extra demi-kilo at the market tomorrow.