Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Spaghetti Carbonara

Today it rained. Not just rain, but rainy, gloomy, almost-sweater weather.That's not really a big deal in most of the Northern Hemisphere in September. But in Arizona, it tempts all of us desert-dwellers to believe that fall is really here. I'm not buying it. Nevertheless, today was fall. Soup for lunch. Comfort food for dinner. 

I was tempted to title this "simple spaghetti carbonara," but realized that is redundant. The dish is ridiculously easy and perfect for any weeknight supper. 

Serves 4

4 slices prosciutto

16 ounces pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced

2 eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated with a microplane grater 

1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To begin, crisp the prosciutto under the broiler briefly. Remove to a cutting board and coarsely chop.  

Cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. 

While the pasta cooks, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat and cook the shallots and garlic until soft and golden. 

In a large glass or metal bowl, whisk the eggs and heavy cream together. Add the shallot, garlic mixture. 

When the pasta is finished, drain and add it to the egg mixture. Fold together, then top with a plate to allow the heat of the pasta to cook the eggs. Let it rest for a few minutes. Then fold in the parmigiano reggiano. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Divide the pasta between four bowls and garnish with the prosciutto and a shower of minced parsley. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summer Souffle with Fresh Corn, Scallions, and Shrimp

As a child, I called everything I made in my pretend kitchen a souffle. Cut grass souffle. Ladybug souffle. Dirt souffle. 

I know this will come as a huge shock to you, but I really had no idea what souffle was. It sounded like the noise a spatula makes when it folds several things together. Su flay. Or what you might exclaim while bringing something magnificent out of the oven. Su flay! At the very least it was just a mixture of things. 

Ultimately, I wasn't too far off. A souffle can really be whatever you want it to be. Here, I combine the classic summer flavors of fresh corn, mint, and scallions. Feel free to omit the shrimp if you'd like to keep the recipe vegetarian. It has plenty of flavor without them. But do not under any circumstances use frozen corn. The fresh kernels are like little bubbles of flavor and texture, offsetting the mousselike consistency of the souffle perfectly. Oh sweet summer!

My elementary understanding of this dish never included eggs, and a souffle is not a souffle without them. This recipe calls for five egg whites. Don't skimp on the last one. I did and as you'll see from the photo below, did not achieve the height you can usually expect from this dish. 

This blog has evolved over the years to what it is today, an attempt to demystify French food and make it accessible, something you could make every day if you desire. 

serves 2-4 

1 ear of fresh corn, kernels removed
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cooked shrimp, tails removed, roughly chopped
2 sprigs mint, minced
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup very hot milk

4 egg yolks
5 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Prepare a small baking dish, about 8x8, by buttering it and sprinkling the bottom with two tablespoons of the cheese. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter and flour together in a large skillet. Cook for about two minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the hot milk. Return to the heat and stir until fully incorporated. The sauce will be exceptionally thick.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking after each addition. Stir in the corn, scallions, shrimp, and mint, Set aside.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold in the cheese. Stir a third of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining amount. Pour into the prepared pan, turn the oven down to 375 degrees, and bake for about 25 minutes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Dinner in Europe

Tuesday night was our last meal in England and our ninth anniversary, so we celebrated at a little French bistro in Kensington, where we dined on the sidewalk and nearly froze in the cool evening drizzle; a quintessential London experience.

Unlike Suffolk, London actually feels like Europe. Ancient and modern architecture coalesce in a cacophony of foreign languages.  Fashion. Food. The fast pace of an international city. It was everything that our village was not.  

We dined at Cote Restaurant just off the High Street and enjoyed a bottle of their house red, Lagarde Rouge. I ordered the pan-roasted duck breast with  gratin potato and a griottine cherry sauce. Rich ate linguine with tiger prawns, mussels, clams, and squid sautéed in garlic, chilli, shallots, white wine, and cherry tomatoes.  

Britain has a persisting reputation for poor food. But it’s really just the pub food that gets old. Overall, England is chockablock full of ambitious chefs, fresh, real food, and inspired menus.   Our experience at Cote was no exception.

As much as I’m sad to leave England, I’m so excited to see the sun again and savor the culinary scene of the Southwest. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sole Meuniere

We have ten days left in England before we return to the United States. The move is bittersweet. I'll miss living in Europe, but I'm so thrilled to see the sunshine and palm trees of Arizona. 

Anticipating our departure, we traveled to the eastern coast of this chilly island to the town of Aldeburgh a few weeks ago. The children crawled along the beach's smooth, sea-tumbled rocks. Brad tossed them into the sea. Cole tried to eat them. To each his own. 

As for me, I hungered for some Dover Sole, which we found at this amazing little fish shack right on the beach, the boats run aground only steps away.

Sole meuniere (sol-mun-yair) was the first dish Julia Child enjoyed when she arrived in France. It was the spark that set ablaze her love affair with French cooking. As I read about it in her memoir, My Life in France, I imagined a complicated, time-consuming masterpiece of cookery. But like many French classics, Sole meuniere is simple peasant food elevated to haute cuisine. Its simplicity, however, requires impeccable ingredients, including seawater-fresh fish.

Our fish came wrapped in the latest gossip about the royal family. Probably the best place for it. The gossip, that is, not the royal family. Especially now as all of Britain is abuzz with the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th year of her majesty's reign.

So let's get on the food, shall we? I almost hesitate to call this a recipe. Really it's just a method of preparation. The secret is in the quality of the ingredients and the intuition of the chef. Serve with mixed greens in a simple vinaigrette, potatoes, and blanched vegetables with beurre blanc.

serves 2

1 whole sole, about 10-16 ounces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (gluten free is acceptable)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Combine the flour, sea salt, and black pepper in a shallow dish. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and dredge in the flour, salt, and pepper mixture.

Heat the butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the fish on one side for about two minutes. Turn gingerly and cook on the other side for one to two minutes, or until just cooked through. Remove to a serving platter. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

Since enjoying the most amazing dark chocolate truffles at Harrod's in London, I have been craving them, searching for decent varieties in every chocolaterie in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. But not the cloyingly sweet variety dripping with liqueur or artificial flavoring and dipped in milk chocolate. Blech.

No, I want the real deal. Dark chocolate. Straight up. Thus, like so many things I cannot find readily available in the store, I make my own.

I loosely follow the recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but use vanilla instead of orange liqueur, and add sea salt, the piece de resistance of my truffles. I also, use slightly less butter.

So before you tune me out, thinking truffles are only for frivolous cooks who lounge at home all day contemplating their next meals, listen, this is probably the easiest dessert I have ever made. And so rewarding!

yields 36 truffles 

7-8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cocoa solids
1/4 cup strong, hot coffee
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1/2 cup good-quality butter, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and coffee over very low heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. When melted, drizzle in the vanilla then use a whisk or electric mixer, and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat. Add the butter one piece at a time, whisking until combined after each addition.

Cover the pan and refrigerate for one hour.

Sprinkle the sea salt on top of the chocolate.

Using a small teaspoon, scoop small balls of chocolate from the pot, trying to get a small amount of salt in each truffle. Place the truffle in a small ramekin with the cocoa powder and swirl to coat. Set the finished truffle in a paper liner.

When finished, refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for a month.

Friday, April 6, 2012


This morning I cuddled up with Brad on the couch and watched one of his favorite movies, Ratatouille. Okay, fine, truth be told, it's one of my favorite movies.

But you didn't come here to read my movie reviews. You're just here for the food. It's okay. So am I.

I made this classic Provencal dish a few years ago, after the movie came out, and was heartily disappointed. Bland. Soupy. Boring. I concluded it was fine as a topping for bruschetta, but little else.

Still the images and story behind the movie when food critic Anton Ego raises the fork to his lips and is instantly transported to his mother's kitchen and his childhood in Provence captured my imagination. What was so special about ratatouille? Perhaps the secret was in the preparation.

This morning, I paused the movie to watch as Remy ran vegetables through a mandolin and arranged them artfully atop tomato passata in a baking vessel.

Rich snickered. "Taking cooking lessons from a cartoon?"

Hmmff! Meanie.

The ratatouille came out like nothing I've ever tasted before. The kind of food that makes you want to kiss someone and call everyone and tell them how much you love them. Too bad for him. He's working tonight, so more ratatouille for me and kisses for the babies.

serves four-six

1 narrow eggplant
1 plump zucchini
4-5 vine-ripened tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 cup tomato passata
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Slice the eggplant and zucchini in about 1/8" slices. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt, toss gently, and set aside in a colander to drain.

Slice the tomatoes in 1/8" slices as well.

Heat a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet. Sweat the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt for about 4 minutes. Add the tomato passata and simmer on low heat for another 4-5 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ladle this sauce into a round baking dish, adding olive oil as needed to coat the bottom of the dish.

Remove the eggplant and zucchini from the colander and pat dry with paper towels.

Layer the eggplant, zucchini and tomato slices in the pan in a circular pattern. Tuck in the sprigs of herbs and season with freshly ground black pepper.

Top with a round piece of parchment paper and bake for about one hour. Remove the parchment, drizzle with 2 tablespoons additional olive oil and bake for another 30-45 minutes until the vegetables begin to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for about 15 minutes before plating.

To serve, create a stack of vegetables and top with a piece of thyme or rosemary. Spoon bits of the sauce around each plate. Serve with crusty bread

Simple Coq au Vin Blanc

In anticipation of the French cooking class I'm hosting next month, I began testing coq au vin recipes last week. 

I far prefer coq au vin blanc versus the coq au vin made with red wine. With white, the sauce tastes similar to beurre blanc, but richer and more savory. Moreover, I'm in love with beef bourguignon, and I don't want the dishes to taste quite so much alike. 

That's something I've begun to notice with classic French food; it has a tendency to all taste similar. You can only transform butter, leeks, mushrooms and white wine in so many ways. Eventually, everything tastes like it came from the same kitchen. 

However, this weekend, I'm cooking a ratatouille with herb roasted Cornish game hens. The flavors of Provence at their best! And I have a feeling as I move into this and other regional French cuisines, I will discover plenty of exciting new flavors. 

For now, I hope you enjoy this coq au vin blanc recipe as much as I do

serves four

1/4 cup olive oil
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (a starchy gluten-free flour is acceptable) 
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup button mushrooms, stemmed and halved
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, I enjoyed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup chicken stock 
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced 
1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and coat lightly with flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a wide pot. Sear the chicken, skin side down until a beautiful golden-brown crust forms. Turn and sear on the other side. You may have to do this in batches so as not to crowd the meat. When finished, remove the chicken to a separate dish. 

Add two tablespoons of butter to the pan and brown the mushrooms for 2-4 minutes. Add the onions, garlic and thyme, and cook for another 2 minutes. 

Deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up all of the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock and heat to a simmer. Add the chicken, in a single layer. Cover the pan and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Remove the chicken and vegetables to a fresh serving platter. Strain the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer until reduced by about one third. Remove from the heat. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Add cold butter to the sauce one tablespoon at a time, whisking to emulsify. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and serve immediately. 

Serve with buttered potatoes.