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. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Exciting Announcement!

First, congratulations to Tracy Little for winning BonVivant's very first giveaway! Jamie Oliver's cookbook Food Revolution as well as a Hello Sailor creamy chocolate bar with sea salt from the line jMe are on their way to you!

Second bit of exciting news.... I'm hosting a French cooking class in my home in about one month (no, this isn't the news.) In anticipation, I began testing recipes, beginning with a recipe for Coq au Vin Blanc developed by a graduate from Le Cordon Bleu. It followed classic French technique, browning the meat in bacon fat, deglazing the pan with white Burgundy, and so forth. Problem is, it tasted flat. The recipe had a few other problems as well, namely adding cream to a simmering acidic sauce, which as you can imagine, caused the milk solids to separate from the sauce. Oh yeah, and it produced a sink full of dishes in my classic European kitchen complete with a clothes-but-not-dish-washer.

I tried the recipe again yesterday, casually ignoring some French techniques and employing others. I can honestly say it was the best prepared chicken dish I have ever eaten! Ever. I'll share the recipe soon.

It got me thinking, what if French food were more accessible to the home cook? What if we spiced it up a little for modern palates? What if we used butter and cream to complement the flavors of a dish instead of mask them? What if we could explain a recipe in a couple paragraphs instead of a couple pages because we trusted the culinary skills of the reader? 

BonVivant Family has a new direction: French food for every day. 

I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback. What recipes do you want to see? What techniques do you want to learn?