cafela: (salt is magical)
I love potatoes. My husband does not. For some reason, he thinks potatoes don't taste good, whereas I say "but potatoes taste like whatever you cook them with!" which is often butter, garlic, and other delicious stuff. But since most of what I cook is food that we both eat, I don't make potato dishes that often. Sometimes, though, he just wants a sandwich for dinner, and that's when I get to indulge my love of the potato.

This dish is a blend of two dishes--Potatoes Boulangères, where sliced potatoes are cooked in leftover meat drippings, and Potatoes Au Gratin, where sliced potatoes are cooked with creamy cheesy goodness. It isn't exactly a healthy dish, but you can add other sliced veggies if you like. Some good ones to include would be onions, zucchini, or eggplant. As you'll see, I popped some sliced cherry tomatoes on top to add a little brightness and a little acidity to cut through all the starch and cheese. It's a great dish to use up an assortment of potatoes and other veggies that you might have on hand.

Potatoes Boulangères, Au Gratin
About 2 pounds of potatoes, sliced thin (1/4 of an inch)
garlic salt
4 oz shredded parmesan or similar cheese
3-4 slices bacon, diced (easier to do with very cold bacon)
2 tb butter
1 cup chicken broth/stock
1/4 c cream
handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (optional)
2 tb minced garlic
sprig of thyme or sage (optional)
2 oz cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and put the butter in the bottom of the casserole dish. Melt the butter (I did this by simply setting the dish over the stove eye that helps vent the oven's heat). Slice your potatoes--you don't have to peel them, but you can if you don't want the skins.

Once the butter is melted in the casserole dish, sprinkle pepper and garlic salt lightly, and spread 1 tb of the garlic in the bottom. Now add your first layer of potato slices. Pepper & garlic salt again, then sprinkle a small bit of cheese on top. Add the next layer of potato slices, then pepper, garlic salt, and more cheese. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the potatoes.

At this point, pour the chicken broth into the dish. Follow with the cream, and try to do it so that all of the potatoes on top get at least a splash. Place your tomatoes over the top next, and sprinkle the remaining minced garlic over next. Now do a quick sprinkle of pepper, and add your sprig of thyme or sage if you've got it. Finally, spread the diced raw bacon bits over the top as a final layer. Pop into the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove from the oven just long enough to sprinkle the cheddar cheese (and any remaining parmesan cheese) over the top. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove, and let stand for at least 10 minutes.

Note: This dish is even better when reheated the next day, so it's a great make-ahead recipe.

cafela: (Default)
As you have probably picked up by now, I love French food. There's not a French restaurant in the town where I live, but there are several in the relatively nearby city of Atlanta. Mine and my husband's favorite is Ani's Bistro, which favors Provençal cuisine, but has a dash of everything else, too. I always get the Moules Marinières (mussels in white wine sauce) and he always gets their Croque Monsieur. I always steal a bite of his, because it's so good. But we can't always go to Atlanta, and so I decided I should figure out how to make a Croque Monsieur. After all, it's just a fancy ham and cheese sandwich, right?

Well, yes and no. This is what I came up with. The first time I tried it, it was good, but not quite to the level I wanted. I used deli ham--good, fresh, thick deli ham, but it wasn't right. Jambon de Paris aka Parisian ham is famous, and it's just about the only ham I'll eat. So I pondered on why it was so good, and why I don't like normal American sandwich ham. It was then that I remembered--I do enjoy ham at Easter, and sometimes Thanksgiving. But it's not deli ham, it's HoneyBaked Ham. Theirs is on par with Parisian ham. Fortunately, we do have a HoneyBaked Ham Cafe in town, so the next time I went to make this sandwich, I stopped and got a half pound of Honey Baked Ham slices. It makes all the difference.

To be sure, you can make a decent croque monsieur with a good sweet/honey ham from your local deli. But if you want it to be over the top good, get some from a Honey Baked Ham store.

Also, realize up front that this is a very rich, heavy dish. You'll want something to cut through all that cheesy goodness. I recommend a good medium-bodied red wine and a salad to round out your meal. And if you find yourself unable to finish your sandwiches, they reheat just fine.

Croque Monsieur

1/2 to 3/4 lb sliced ham (thick slices!)
2 tb butter
3 tb flour
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (If you don't have it, use 1/2 tsp regular salt)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 oz)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
1 cup grated Fontina or Emmental cheese (about 3 oz)
6-8 largish buns/croissants, or very thick (1 inch) sandwich bread

Grate all your cheeses first, and set aside. Mix all of them together in a bowl, except for 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, which you should keep separate.

In a small to medium saucepan (nonstick if you have it) melt the butter over medium heat. Once it melts, add the flour and stir (I use a whisk). Stir for about 2 minutes; if you've ever made a roux before, that's basically what you're doing here, b/c it's the first step of bechamel sauce....which is exactly what we're making. Once the two minutes are up, add your hot milk slowly. I add about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking it in as I go. It may get thin, but at some point, it will thicken to a gravy-like consistency. At this point, whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Take off the heat and whisk in the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 cup of Gruyere that you set aside. Ta-dah! You just made a Bechamel sauce. This is the hardest part of making a Croque Monsieur; the rest is just layering.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit at this point.

Cut your rolls/buns/croissants in half (the way you would for a sandwich). Lay the bottoms out on a cookie sheet. Spread a small spoonful of the bechamel sauce you just made onto the top of each of the bottoms (hope that makes sense). Layer your ham slices onto each (use all your ham). Put another dollop of the bechamel sauce on top of the ham, along with a generous amount of the shredded cheeses. You should use half or slightly more than half of the shredded cheese for this step.

Now put the tops on top of the shredded cheese layer. Spread bechamel on the top. Put more shredded cheese on top. The bechamel sauce should be helping the cheese stick to the bread.

Put into the hot oven, and bake for about 10 minutes. If after 10 minutes the cheese doesn't have the nice browning that you want, turn the broiler on for about 2 minutes, and keep a close eye on it, b/c it's incredibly easy to burn things with the broiler on. Serve immediately. You'll probably need a knife and a fork. Bon appetit!

Protip: If you have leftover bechamel sauce or leftover grated cheese, save them for the next time you make a pasta dish, and throw them into the sauce. Or make cheesy toast with them.

If you find Gruyere to be too strong a flavor for you, you can always increase the amount of Fontina/Emmental and reduce the amount of Gruyere.

cafela: (Default)
I've been wanting to make this dessert for ages. While my husband and I were on our honeymoon in St. Martin (yay, French Caribbean), we got to try a lot of awesome food, including a variation on this dish. It's a surprisingly easy and simple dish, and before trying it, I never would have thought that pears and chocolate would make such a good pair (pun intended). But, oh, it is delicious.

Poires Belle Hélène


2-4 pears, peeled (I used Bosc pears)

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

4 or 5 oz chocolate in pieces(I used Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips--affordable but good quality, and you need quality chocolate for this sauce. Check the ingredients and make sure that chocolate/cocoa/cacao is the first ingredient, and you should be good to go.)

2 tb butter

vanilla ice cream

a deep pot with a lid (needs to be deep enough for the pears to sit upright)

Peel your pears. Leave the stem for decoration (you will not be able to pick them up by the stem after they've poached). In a deep pot, mix the sugar and water while on medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts. Once it melts, place your pears inside, and get the water to a low boil. Cover, and let poach for 20 minutes.

After the 20 minutes is up, remove your pears and let them cool to room temperature. I used tongs to remove them and keep them whole. If you're serving them a day or two later, put them in the fridge, but be sure to let them return to room temperature before coating them with chocolate, because the pears won't be as good cold. I let mine cool, then placed them in dessert dishes.

While they cool, you should turn the stove to high and reduce the remaining liquid to about half what it was, so you get a pear-flavored syrup of sorts. If you're serving the pears the next day, reserve this liquid to make your chocolate sauce.

Just before you're ready to serve the pears, dump your chocolate into the warm syrup. Do not boil! At most have the heat on medium low, but low is probably better.

Stir until the chocolate is mostly melted. Add the butter, stir it in. Now, spoon the chocolate sauce over the pears.

Add ice cream, dig in! In retrospect, it might be better to have scooped the ice cream first, put the pear on top, and then covered in chocolate sauce; either way, it ended up delicious!

cafela: (Default)
I was first introduced to this pastry/cookie via the vending machine on the first floor of CIDEF in Angers, France. CIDEF was part of the university where I spent my first semester abroad in France, and while on the campus, if my friends and I weren't in class or hanging out in our program director's office, we were often near the vending machines, catching a quick snack before going back to class.

The madeleines from the machine were okay. Not great, but not bad. Better than the dry ones you can get at Starbucks. At the time, they were one of the better snacks on offer, and definitely one of the more filling. At some point, I bought some from a pastry shop, and was surprised that they were even tastier than I thought they'd be. Freshness makes all the difference!

The great thing about madeleines is that they're really easy to make. The real trick is having a madeleine pan so that you get them in the proper shape. But even if you don't have a madeleine pan, you could still make them in mini muffin or even regular muffin tins. Amazon has some affordable madeleine pans. For the recipe below, I got about 24 madeleines, so I had to use my pan 2 times. Luckily, they bake very quickly. :)

Another issue with madeleines is the hump. Some claim that the hump is the sign of a good madeleine; others say madeleines with no humps are the marker of a good chef. All I know is that if you want the hump, fill the mold to the top of the edge. If you don't, fill the mold about 2/3 full.



2 eggs (at room temperature!)

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

grated zest of one lemon

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp lemon extract*

1/2 tsp almond extract*

5 tb unsalted butter, melted and cooled

*If you don't have one or either of these, just use more vanilla.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease your madeleine pan, even if it's non-stick.

Relative temperatures are important in this recipe if you want your madeleines to come out crisp and light. Start by combining your dry ingredients(flour, baking powder, salt) in a bowl. Next, beat the eggs and sugar together at medium-high speed until they're thick and pale (about 2-4 minutes in a stand mixer).

Now, add the zest and the vanilla and other extracts. Beat until mixed in (maybe 15 seconds?). Next the fun part--folding in the dry ingredients! This is the only onerous part of madeleines; you want to be careful to fold in the dry ingredients (about a third of the dry stuff at a time) and not just mix it in, because you want to keep the lightness and volume that the whipped eggs are giving you. So just take your time, and once you have all the dry ingredients folded in, you then fold in the melted butter. Don't be dumb like I was once, and forget to fold in the butter at the end.

Most recipes I've seen for madeleines say that you should chill the batter for about 3 hours (up to 24 hours) before baking. I somehow didn't see that step in all the recipes I consulted, and went ahead and made them. They turned out fine. So if you're in a hurry, you can skip that step, though after filling the molds, you will want to put the remaining batter in the fridge to chill while each batch bakes.

Let each batch bake for somewhere between 6-12 minutes. Look for the edges to turn golden brown. You'll have to keep an eye on it for your first batch, because the time is going to depend on how hot your oven gets and the size of your madeleine molds. Mine are usually done within 7 minutes, but most recipes I've seen said 12 minutes.

When you get your madeleines out, toss them in sugar (powdered or regular both work). They're at their best when they're still warm from the oven, so be sure to taste-test/quality control at least one. ;) Serve within 48 hours. They go great with coffee, tea, as dessert, or as breakfast!

cafela: (salt is magical)
One of my go-to French meals is the quiche. All you need is a crust, some eggs, milk, and then you put whatever else you want inside, and top it off with cheese. It's like the pizza of France, if you think about it. My favorite quiche is the Quiche Lorraine, but it's hard to get lardons (similar to bacon, but oh so much more delicious) here, so this is the variant I make most of the time. I have an actual quiche/tart pan, but if you don't, you can use a 9-inch or larger pie pan, or an 8 inch spring-form pan.

A lot of people here mistakenly think that quiche is a breakfast food--in France it isn't; it's strictly a lunch or dinner meal. It isn't quite enough for a meal by itself, but pair it with a salad or soup and it's plenty. My husband likes to eat it with salsa, and while I think that's sacrilege, some of you might want to try it that way.

Quiche with Prosciutto & Baby Bella Mushrooms


1 pre-made pie crust

1/4 lb prosciutto, diced

6 eggs

2/3 c half and half (or 1/3 c milk + 1/3 c cream)

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp thyme or herbes de provence

3 to 4 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped/sliced

5 oz shredded cheese (I use a mix of sharp cheddar and swiss; mozzerella works, so would colby or fontina or gruyere)

An ingredient note: I get prosciutto from the deli, sliced sandwich thin, which I then slice into 1/2 inch squares. If you don't want to run to the deli for prosciutto, you can substitute 8 slices of thick bacon, cooked but NOT crunchy (it's going to cook in the oven too, so you don't want it to overcook) and diced. I find prosciutto a lot easier to deal with than bacon, but my husband prefers the bacon flavor, so it's really up to you which to use; it will be tasty either way.

To start, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pie crust in your pan. You do not need to grease your pan; if you're concerned about the pie crust sticking, put a small circle of parchment in the bottom.You do not need to precook your crust.

In one large mixing bowl, whip the eggs until they are well mixed and starting to get a little frothy/light yellow. Add the milk/cream/half and half, the salt, pepper, and herbs, and mix until well combined. Set aside.

Dump the prosciutto, mushrooms, and 4 oz of the shredded cheese into the pan and even out. I try to have a good mix so that each bite gets some of everything. See below:

Now you just pour the egg/milk/salt/pepper/herb mixture over the ingredients in the pan. If you're using a larger pan and don't have enough of the egg mixture, you can just whip a couple more eggs and pour those over to add to it. Sprinkle the rest of your cheese over the top, and pop it into the oven.

Cook for about 25 minutes, until set. It may poof up a lot, but that will fall back down once it's out of the oven and cooling. It will keep for about 5 days, and it's just as good reheated as it is fresh out of the oven.

cafela: (salt is magical)
This is one of my favorite soups, and it's one you don't come across as often here in the US. It's creamy and very healthy. It's also a very forgiving and versatile recipe, and you can play with different assortments of veggies to figure out what you like best.

When I lived in France, we had variations on this soup every week, and we ate soup for 5 out of 7 nights. If you don't like or can't find a particular vegetable in the ingredient list, you can substitute in a similar veggie, no problem. The only things you probably shouldn't change are the shallot and the onions. You probably want to keep at least a couple potatoes for the starch/thickness they provide the soup. Everything else can be swapped for something else--even the herbs.

My host mom did a variant that took out most of the potatoes and swapped it for pumpkin. You can use yellow squash instead of zucchini, or add turnips, or parsnips, or almost anything, really. The biggest thing is to try to balance different veggies, so that you don't get a soup that tastes of one particular vegetable (unless that's what you want). Beef boullion or broth has a more pronounced (and as my host sister said, bizarre) flavor, but it works well enough if you've got red wine instead of white. You also don't have to make this soup in such large quantities; it halves very easily.

6 large red or golden potatoes
1 med-large leek
1 shallot
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 medium zucchini
5 large carrots, peeled
8 oz whole mushrooms (button or baby bella are ideal)
4-5 pearl onions or 1 baby vidalia onion
1 very large heirloom/ugli tomato (or two normal size vine-ripened tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 4 sage leaves, tied together with twine)
2 chicken bouillion cubes+water OR 6 cups of chicken broth/stock
1/2 cup white wine
Also, you need either an immersion blender or a normal blender if you want the smooth texture.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a large soup pot. Peel garlic cloves, shallot, and onions. Chop in half, then toss into the pot along with the bay leaves and the tied up herbs. Note: If you don't have fresh herbs to make a bouquet garni, sub in 2 tsp thyme, 2 tsp sage, 1/2 tsp rosemary. Let this heat up on low while you prep the other veggies.

Rinse the leek, chop off the root and top inch of green part and throw that away, then chop the rest of it up (1 inch slices are fine). Rinse it in a strainer, then add to the soup pot along with the mushrooms. Turn the heat up to medium high. Chop the carrots and zucchini, add to the soup pot. Peel the potatoes (I left some of the skins on because red potatoes are hard to peel), chop into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Add to soup pot. Chop the tomato, add to the soup pot. Rough chop is good enough--remember, you're going to blend all of this later, so nothing has to be perfect.

Stir everything up, then add the remaining ingredients. The liquid should just cover the veggies (if it doesn't, just add a little more chicken stock). See the photo below:

Cover and cook on medium high for at least 30 minutes. Check and stir occasionally. Once the potatoes and carrots are soft, you can turn off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and the bouquet garni.

If you have an immersion blender, you can blend the soup at this point. Have some water/chicken stock on hand in case you need to thin up the soup to blend more easily. If you have to use a traditional blender, let the soup cool for awhile, then puree in batches. Either way, ideally you blend the veggies until you have a thick, creamy smooth soup. At this point, you'll want to add salt and pepper to taste. You can heat the soup back up in the pot to serve, or store it in the fridge and heat up individual servings. It makes enough soup for 7-10 servings, depending on size of the bowls. To garnish, add a splash of cream, some grated parmesan cheese, or a sprig of thyme.

Voila, a very healthy soup with no fat except for the olive oil/butter used at the very beginning.

April 2014

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