Tuesday, November 24, 2009

quinces ( coings)

Quince is a pretty obscure fruit to most people. to find it , you will have to look for an overgrown pear like fruit with a navel tip , a wonderful slight guava scent. it might be difficult to find but in the most foodie towns of America or.... in Spain, Portugal,the East of France...
Quince is a fairly old fruit, that has been eaten for way over 4000 years. First around the caspian sea, then became a greek delicacy, baked with honey and eventually made its way west to become the quince jelly of France and the membrillo (quince paste paired with cheese) of Spain. The main requirement of quince is to cook it.A delicious way is to peel it and cook it in a vanilla syrup until soft and golden.serve with creme fraiche or ice cream.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

vegetarian cassoulet

I love this dish.It is as hearty,and tasty as the real thing.
Cassoulet comes from Western France, and it is a dish of peasant origin, done for hundreds of years , using local ingredients.The base is white beans, the protein is usually mutton and pork( sausages and bacon slab),all stewing together with garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.Usually at the end bread crumbs are added and it is broiled until golden.
Now,for me, being a vegetarian, the substitution of meat by mushrooms is totally extraordinary. mushrooms hold their chewy self and give that meatiness to the bite, plus their taste is in keeping with the seasonality of that dish.It can be a great centerpiece for a vegetarian thanksgiving.

mushroom cassoulet

recipe for 2:
1tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1tsp of thyme
salt pepper
2 cups of organic canellini beans(cooked with bouquet garni, if possible)
1 cup of wild mushrooms(left in chunks)
1/2 cup of white wine

sauteed the shallot and garlic in olive oil until golden, add your mushrooms and let sit, uncrowded until slightly browned, add your fresh thyme, salt and pepper, cook for 5 minutes.
add your cooked beans, the wine and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
add a bit of olive oil if it looks dry and if you want, scatter some rustic breadcrumbs, plop it in the oven ,broil for 4 minutes.devour.

(breadcrumbs are out for us, since there is some gluten sensitivity floating around here)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

figs and shallots

What I love, love , love:
when at the farmers market, I find piles of fresh shallots from Dirty Girl farms.meaning, now.
when my fig tree in the backyard delivers its bounty of luscious figs.(I had to harvest them just in time before the couple of squirrels got to them(.... I supply them with bread and cheese crusts, pine nuts etc to fill them up)

Shallots are the base of many French delicacies.raw in kicky vinaigrettes( without the bite or tears from onions, or the sharpness and lasting bad breath of garlic), sauteed in butter as the start of many unique sauces:, sauce gribiche, or bearnaise.... or for a beurre blanc, my favorite where the shallots are reduced with a little vinegar before the addition of butter, that emulsify into a unctuous,out of this world...cloud of deliciousness.

Fall salad for 2:
2 little gems lettuce ( or heart of romaine)
1 anjou pear peeled and sliced
1 small pomegranate ( cut a quarter of it and remove seeds)
fresh goat cheese
1 shallot ( I use 1 teaspoon of minced shallot)
sherry vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper
dijon mustard

make your vinaigrette by sprinkling your salt and vinegar in your bowl, add a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and toss, it will help dissolve the salt, add minced shallot and 3 TBsp of olive oil and a dash of mustard.whisk.
add your other elements and top with the goat cheese with a dash of freshly ground pepper.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


A great aunt who spent some girlhood years in Greece and Turkey taught my mom to make an incredible "Imam baiili" a sort of eggplant and tomato stew, rich, melty and fragrant of hot summers. But my mother had another summery recipe in her repertoire and it was the famous ratatouille of Provence.A medley of the few vegetables found around the local farm gardens.The real trick of the successful ratatouille is to cook each vegetable separately, since they soften at different times, and to finish it off by blending it all in one glorious ode to the South. I have to say that she mastered that dish and not only it tasted heavenly but it looked beautiful, since each vegetable had retained its original color.But it also took a long time to make.
So, for the sake of my love of roasted eggplants( reminiscence of the Baiili) and my summery devotion to a few ratatouilles each year, I decided to cut corners and roast the "rata" as it is called casually around the tables of France.
First I cubed the eggplant and sprinkled it with oregano, salt and olive oil.in it went in a 425o oven.then, I transferred the eggplant into a bowl and filled the gratin dish with layers of olive oil, tomato sauce , the roasted eggplant , the cubed zucchinis,diced garlic,chopped basil and topped it with slices of early girls tomatoes.a little salt ,pepper, pepper flakes and Parmesan and in it went for 30 minutes.No as pretty as my mom's rata was but so deep in flavors, just as meltingly rich as I could hope for.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

feeling raw

In less than two months, I have worked on different recipes that included raw beets. The first one was a root vegetable salad, using parsnips, turnips,celery root,beets etc all finely julienned into a revelation of sweet, crunchy, colorful twist on some winter, more uncommon vegetables.
This time, it was a simpler translation of just carrots and red beets ( for the other recipe, I had used 3 kind of beets, which made it kinetic looking with the hot pink concentric lined chiogga ).
Make a simple vinaigrette of orange juice, salt pepper, minced ginger and olive oil.mix each vegetable separately.plate side by side, sprinkle some fresh scissored mint.So healthy and tasty....

Sunday, July 19, 2009


At a cooking class in Oaxaca, I discovered and bought my" simple" comal. It lingered below the oven for a while stuck between tart pans and pie shells.What do to with this comal? how different from my cooking pans ? wrong ! I have started using it like mad, and it is wonderful. I love mexican food, and my hand made tortillas ( form Primavera), get all blistery and a tad smoky when warmed on the comal. My pimentos del padron, or baby poblanos get a nice tinge of fire( after having been rubbed with olive oil) and get very tasty when sprinkled with kosher salt.

Monday, July 6, 2009

summer apps

for a July 4th alfresco dinner on a friend's terrace overlooking the Berkeley hills that looked like an Italian village at sunset ( all siennas, muddied yellows and ocres, pink tile roofs and cypress borders), I served( I am always the one to bring appetizers...): a brochette of armenian cucumber, watermelon, mint sprig, and marinated feta in mint olive oil, fennel seeds, pink peppercorns and oregano. more of that tuscan flavored oil to pour before eating.
Ode to a French summer:the pissaladiere of Nice on the French Riviera.I saw it made as many different ways as you can spot a French bakery in France, where the pissalladieres were usually sold.The dough varied from a foccacia like to a pate brisee,to a thin pizza crsut or a puff pastry square.
I made a rosemary pizza dough,I very slowly sauteed 2 huge onions in olive oil ( 45 minutes on low until they turned golden and marmelady),added thyme,cut up olives and anchovies.drizzled some olive oil to make it extra juicy and sweet.Voila !

Friday, May 22, 2009


It is time to talk about vinaigrettes. You would be hard pressed to find a bottle of salad dressing if you were shopping in France.Why ? because it is something that everyone makes fresh, in a couple of minutes,from scratch. The "convenience" factor of the bottled dressing always stopped me in my track: how could it taste still good after sitting in a bottle for months ? the ingredients sound weird,and complicated .new and often crazy flavors keep crowding more shelf space, all that when a good vinaigrette takes no time to prepare...
All you need are some basic pantry items and you are good to go.What I like is the myriad combinations that I can come up with just with my spices, herbs, vinegars and oils.And that is crucial: always adapt your dressing to the salad you are making, and allow yourself to play with what you happen to have in your fridge.
basic pantry:
sea salt, white pepper, black pepper, mustard, mayonnaise,sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar,lemons, limes, olive oil, canola oil,garlic, shallots,herbs ( dry like thyme and oregano, fresh like parsley, cilantro and mint).

first shake your salt and grind your pepper,then add you acidic component ( vinegar, or lemon),it will help dissolve your salt. Then add your oil.olive oil most times, but for the occasional potato or beet salad , canola oil mixed with shallots and mustard will make your salad shine bright.Then, depending on the type of lettuces or vegetables involved, you may think broadly and include cilantro, cumin and garlic if you main dish is Mexican or Indian, or it can be mustard and shallots if the salad is heartier , or lemon and parsley and green garlic if the lettuces are spring tender( picture above).

basic vinaigrette:
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of freshly ground pepper
1 tsp of vinegar
1/2 tsp of dijon mustard
2 tbsp of olive oil

Thursday, May 14, 2009

strawberry compote with thyme

Last week end at the farmer's market, I stopped in front of the strawberries and they looked so red and ripe that I plunged for 2 baskets thinking of smoothies, waffles,yogurt etc....I managed so far to use a basket but, the remaining ones were languishing in their tupperware and losing their patience.some were even getting a little sick.
June had stopped by, bringing a warm- from- the- stove jar of delicious rhubarb with ginger conserve and this morning it got me inspired to turn my strawberries into a compote with fresh lime-thyme. It brought me back to the first time that I used thyme with fruit: we were in the paradise land of the Luberon in Provence, and the property was dotted with figs and abricots trees, the meadows around made of thyme carpeting. The abricots were ripe and went into a tart, the thyme was plucked from underfoot and scattered with sugar on the abricots before baking. The herbal citrusy pine like flavor of thyme is divine with the sugary juices of fruit.

strawberry compote with lime thyme

2 cups of strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 tsp of fresh lime thyme

mix all.let it sit for 10 mn to absorb flavors
cook it on low heat for 12 mn

cool, and jar.
serve with home made greek yogurt (use Strauss organic 0% fat, line a sieve with cheese cloth and let the yogurt drip its water content, 2hrs to 4 depending on amount)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

frites, pas frites

grew up with potatoes.any which way : pureed, squared and sauteed, fried,boiled,soaked with roasted chicken juices, blanketing a ground meat gratin,delicately seasoned with tarragon in a summer salad...... but I cannot be French without having a love affair with fries. I don't remember who had suggested to me to dip a fry in a glass of red wine, it felt rebellious then and tasted delicious.
But I do remember the summer of my bicycle tour of Holland with G when I tasted fries with mayonnaise for the first time: now that was a true revelation/ revolution. My mom had a fryer but sort of hated the smell and mess, so it was on rare ocassions when she really wanted to make my dad happy that the fryer came down from the top cabinet. I like mine toasty brown, he liked his light and golden, so no fighting there, pure bliss.
But like my mom, I hate the smell, the oil bit, the mess, and so I will share my recipe of home baked fries. The photo is a tad blurry, the fries were cooling quickly and I had no time to spend.
use organic russets.
for 2:
pre heat oven to 450o
4 medium potatoes. first put them in cold water and bring to a boil , cook for for 12 minutes ( should be cooked but firm)
cool them and peel and cut in equal smallish wedges .
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1tsp of smoked paprika

toss the potatoes with the other ingredients in a bowl
spread a baking sheet with alu foil, spray some olive oil and drop potatoes without overlapping them.
baked until crispy, about 15-20 minutes.
they will be tender inside and crunchy outside.
sprinkle some salt and bring out the ketchup and aioli...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

parsley root soup

It is spring on the calendar and leaves are unfurling in the garden, but the wind is still chilly and a soup was in order.
I had seen those parsley roots for years, languishing on the shelf next to baby turnips and yellow carrots, but i had walked by, suffering from a case of ignorance and non curiosity.Then, the other day, they caught my eyes: a little like parsnips, but with a fluffy collar of parsley leaves.Another customer closed up on me to ask" have you cooked these before ? I bought some last week, but haven't cooked them yet.there was a recipe for soup by Deborah Madison bla, bla....."That was it.
so today, I prepared them into a soup with leeks, green garlic,chicken broth, milk.The roots were starchy like potatoes, but with a subtle,rooty taste.It was resembling a vichyssoise, but one where the flavors stood out. I recommend it.

parsley root soup

1 bunch parsley roots
1 tbsp butter
2 medium leeks
3 green garlic stems
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup whole milk
parsley for garnish

peel and cut parsley roots.clean leeks well and cut in slices.cut green garlic in slices

melt the butter and throw in the cut leeks.let them melt down, throw the cut roots and green garlic, let it cook for a minute or two, add the broth and water and cook until soft.

blend, add milk, salt and pepper. garnish with leaves.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

salade de crudites

What is this ?
Before giving an answer, I will tell you a story. As a true Californian, significant has always been a fan of salads, more than a fan, a craver.When we met in Paris, even though he was enjoying the tastings of many new dishes,, he would still want a salad , even when we would go out to a cafe for a lovely afternoon date .As students, we would eat at the government sponsored student cafeterias, and even though it was fairly decent fare ( for a dollar a meal ) , fresh salads were lacking.As I was drinking my tea with lemon, he would order a salade de crudites.

So, if you happen to go to France, and find yourself in need of a salad, you will invariably see on any cafe or restaurant menu:the aforementioned " salade de crudites"( salad of raw ingredients).Usually the French, like their salads fairly plain and simple, so having a medley on a plate is a way to taste different vegetables, but in keeping with their own personality and dressings.

Since we are still in winter ( at least in terms of produce), i served this plate for lunch as a first course.
grated carrots in a simple vinaigrette, sliced radishes for color and crunch,baby white beets with salt and....celery remoulade !

Just back from the Farmer's market, where the bulbous root of the celery looked so fresh, I decided to prepare the famous French salad, always for sale at any charcuterie.

1 head of celery root, grated ( I use the grating disk,medium of my cuisinart),salt, white pepper,1 tablespoon of Dijon musrtard.1 teaspoon of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of good olive oil.

Monday, February 2, 2009

winter salad

My absolute favorite way to eat kale: raw !
Julienne a bunch very thinly and toss into a lusty vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt pepper, crushed garlic,grated parmesan and toasted pinenuts.simple.tasty.healthy.so good!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

vegetarian couscous with a twist

With many North Africans living in France, a number of restaurants serving the traditional couscous opened all over back in the 70's.It was a novelty, a discovery of new spices,an opening of a new culinary frontier. I tasted my first couscous in a vegetarian restaurant and it was love at first bite. Something about the taste of turnips with garbanzos, a broth redolant of cumin, fennel and saffran, the smear of Harissa  paste on the side and the mellowness of the grain soaking up all the flavors.
It used to be a staple dinner at our house and I decided to bring it back after a missed absence. This time I substituted millet to the couscous since C is gluten intolerant. The key to this dish is to have enough flavorful broth to soak up  whichever grain you use. you need:
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
fennel seeds,  pinch of saffron, cumin, salt , pepper, dry thyme, 1 bay leaf
chicken broth ( Swanson Organic) 3 cups
a bunch of baby turnips
3 small carrots
2 cups of garbanzos ( I had soaked mine and cooked them  for one hour ), but use a can if you need
you can add zucchini if in season ( it is part of the traditional recipe)
1 tube of harissa( or your favorite spice paste)

saute the minced onion and garlic in some olive oil until caramelized
add the spices and cook for a minute, add the veggies and beans,let it cook for another minute, pour the broth and let it simmer until the vegetables are soft.
cook your grain separately. serve with harissa.