Monday, August 09, 2010

Canard à l'orange and why not Julia Child's

It's been 2 months since my last post. Yes I've been lazy. Lazy to experiment in the kitchen, lazy to dress up my food, lazy to take photos, and even lazier to update the blog.

Not sure when my next post will be, but here's a French duck stew recipe that I thought I'll share, since it's so yummy and easy to make.

Les Classiques de Camille is still my favourite French cookbook because it's really one that caters for the lazy home cook. After watching Julie and Julia, I had the impulse to buy Julia Child's cookbook. Thankfully, I was deterred by 1) price; 2) imperial rather than metric measurements; 3) lack of pictures. Now I found a new reason why I would not buy it.

It began with my quest to improve my Boeuf Bourguignon, which on previous attempts, yielded rather dry meat.  Since the movie made the dish even more famous, I googled for Julia Child's recipe. So many steps! And an article I found on the New York Times rightly explained:

"Ms. Child’s recipe is not the boeuf bourguignon that most French cooks would make. Mastering the Art of French Cooking” is actually a translation of French restaurant technique to American home kitchens. Ms. Child learned at a professional culinary school, not from home cooks. Her stew’s painstaking multistep method — cooking all the vegetables separately, straining the sauce, etc. — has chefly fingerprints all over it"

And so I stuck to my Camille's much easier version, cook the dish one day in advance, reheat it the next day and made some improvements. In fact, the beef stew tasted the best on the third day. Still room for improvements but I'm afterall not a chef.

Enough of cow talk. Last weekend, I decided to cook duck the French way. Again referring to Camille's cookbook, she has all but 3 recipes involving duck. So I chose the classical Orange Duck stew. Not too incidentally, Julia Child has her own version and once again, I found her multistep method too complicated.

Here's Camille's easy, uncomplicated though not so quick (it's a stew afterall) version, which I've translated and adjusted to a 2 servings portion.

Canard à l'Orange
Serves 2

2 big duck drumsticks
half tablespoon butter
half a carrot (or use one if you like, always good to have more veges)
half onion (as above)
about 100ml white wine
2 oranges
about half cup of chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Sliced onion and carrot thinly. In a casserole, brown duck in butter on all sides with onion and carrot. Add salt and pepper.

When the meat is well-coloured, moisten with white wine. After about 10 minutes, add the stock. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Remove the zest of half an orange (without the bitter white pith) and blanch with boiling water for 1 minute. Squeeze the juice from one orange and cut the other orange into thin slices.

After the duck has simmered for 1 hour, pour the juice, zest and orange slices into the pan and stir gently.

Cook everything for another 15 minutes in high fire to reduce the juice, caramelise the orange and duck skin.

Serve with smashed celeriac (this recipe from Jamie Oliver's website is yummy).

Note: For bigger serving (say 6 persons), use:
1 whole duck (2.5kg)
Double the quantity of the rest of ingredients except use 3 oranges (1 for zest and juice, 2 for slices)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Absolutely Homemade Tarte Tatin

Finally, more success in making tarte tatin. Our pilgrimage back home to learn the art of French home cooking has not been in vain!!!

A few thoughts why I love home cooked food so much:
1. They do not always look dressed up like in restaurants, but they certainly look and smell yummy.
2. The pleasure starts even before the meal is served at the table -- especially the anticipation as the aromatic smells of whatever that's cooking on the stovetop or baking in the oven fills the kitchen and dining area.
3. They give you a warm fuzzy feeling, as they are cooked with love and joy.
4. They are usually (though not always) healthier.

Back to our lesson on tarte tatin. Being lazy, I did not take note of the recipe as the dessert was being made. In fact, I don't think Rémi's maman referred to any recipe at all, as this is probably as easy as frying an egg to her. As she was peeling and slicing the apples (that came from her garden), she was passing some to a greedy me, and baby Pablo. At the same time, she was also making a blueberry tart (as we couldn't agree on which to have for dessert since they are both nice, she decided to make both), so it wasn't a structured tarte tatin lesson per se.

Despite a lack of a precise recipe (which I never follow anyway), I managed to take down some notes and came up with some guidelines/tips/steps that contributed to our last night's tarte tatin success.

Steps to making tarte tatin

Pate Brisee (salty tart dough)
You can also use premade filo pastry bought from the supermarket

To make the apple filling
5-6 apples (or enough to pack up tightly the base of the tart tin), peeled and sliced into thick pieces.
Butter (according to your fat conscious. I used about 25g or less but feel free to use more)
Sugar (50g + another 50g or less to sprinkle over the base of the tart tin)

Put apples, butter and sugar into a frying pan and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the sugar has caramelised and the apples are cooked (do not overcook the apples though). Add a little water if necessary.

Grease the tart tin with more butter. Sprinkle the other half of the sugar over the base of the tart tin. Pour the caramelised apples into the tin. Pack tightly.

Cover the apples with the rolled up/flattened tart dough, with the edges tucked into.

Baked in preheated oven of 190 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Invert and voilah! You have a nicely delicious apple upside down tart!

Our next plan is to replicate this success, and make a tarte tatin dish with blood! This is not a joke. Boudin noir aux pommes is another French classic dish of black pudding (blood sausage) with apples. And at a restaurant in Lyon during our trip, we had a wonderful boudin noir cooked in tarte tatin. What a delightful combination. Now we only have to find out how.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

French holiday + Financier recipe

We have just concluded a month-long holiday of being fed good food everyday.

The trip started off with 3 days in Paris. Despite being in the fashion capital of the world, and suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms for the lack of retail therapy in Wellington (even suburban malls in Singapore offer more variety), I did not have the time and chance to step into a single boutique.

My only shopping conquest: 2 silicon cake moulds from Mora, a specialised cooking equipment shop, one for making financiers, another for cannelés. We also accompany our friends on their weekend grocery shopping at a local Saturday market.

Our main objective for the 3 days was to catch up with family and friends in Paris. So even the search for the best baguette in Paris took a back seat. We did however find a really nice traditional artisan bakery Du Pain et Des Idées in District 10 close to where we were staying. We dined at restaurants only twice, the memorable one being Les Aubergeade (17 Rue de Chaligny), a tiny neighbourhood restaurant packed with locals. The rest of the time were mostly spent enjoying homecooked lunches and dinners hosted by friends and family.

The feeding continued as we headed south back home to Grenoble followed by Corsica. I got to be reacquainted with familiar French home cooking as well as discovering new dishes. Like discovering osso buco (a stew of veal shank, tomatoes, onions where the highlight is digging out the tiny marrow in between the bones and enjoying it with bread). Or several lessons in tart making, from tart tartin to blueberry to lemon tarts. Oh yes, we have 2 new lemon tart recipes to try out. The lemon tart we used to make uses too much butter and is way too oily. Out it goes. There was also this chicken cooked in homemade lemon confit that was so heavenly we almost can't stop licking our plates. Other favourites include bouillabaisse (Corsican fish soup), rabbit with mustard, wild boar stew, fiadone (Corsican cheesecake) and more (everyday is a big feast). Even spaghetti bolognaise tasted so simply wonderful in the delightful company of the big extended family.

The last two weeks were spent in mostly Singapore and the feasting continued. I managed to satisfy many but not all of my cravings for local food. Brought back with me two local cookbooks, one specifically on steaming. I think my upcoming kitchen experiments will have a lot of steamed dishes, aside from the ongoing French project.

Below is an almond 'flat cupcake' recipe -- Financier -- from our Parisian friends' cookbook, which we had helped in baking while staying with them. It is very easy and fast to make.

Makes about 10

135g sugar
125g almond powder (correction: should be ground almond, pardon my bad translation)
70g salted butter
about 20g butter for buttering mould (omit if you're using silicon moulds)
2 eggs
20g flour

Preheat oven at 190deg (must be precise!!).

Melt down butter.

Mix sugar, almond powder and eggs together. Add melted butter gradually, followed by flour.

Butter mould generously and fill in the mould with batter. The tin and batter must be level when you put into the oven.  Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes.

Note: Financier is only about 1 cm thick. If you do not have the special mould, use a cupcake mould, but fill each mould with batter to not more than 1 cm in thickness.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mustard Chicken, cooked the Rabbit way

We saw a little hedgehog outside our house about two weeks ago. Looked like a baby and it was so cute Rémi couldn't resist putting it in his hands and touching it. Of course, that made the little creature even more scared and curled up.

It's the first time I've come up close and seen a hedgehog alive in Wellington. There's plenty of them here but they are nocturnal. So I've only seen dead ones on the road from inside the car, and will almost immediately turn my head in the other direction. Like the possums, hedgehogs are considered a pest that threaten native plants and birds, so their being smashed by vehicles are not sympathised by environmentalists.

Well, this is not a recipe post of possum pies or hedgehog tarts. I'm going on to talk about rabbit. They are cute, so cute that I refused to eat them as a kid when my grandmother made a nutritious stew out of rabbit meat. So I've never eaten rabbit meat in my life even though I've also never kept rabbits as pets.

But now I am told that rabbits are pests too. They destroy meadows in Europe, and here in New Zealand, they are like possums and hedgehogs. Ok, guilt factor removed, we're already planning to ask Rémi's mom to cook a rabbit dish when we go back to France. It's traditional French dish.

I am also told that rabbit meat taste like chicken. So before I get to try real rabbit meat, I found this recipe on Camille's classic French cooking cookbook: Lapin à la moutarde, meaning Rabbit cooked with mustard. So we decided to try it out, substituting rabbit with chicken.

It's so easy to make, yet so delicious that I think I will do this again and again. Enjoy.

Mustard Chicken (Poulet à la Moutarde)
serves two

2 pieces of chicken (choose your own cut or portion size. we're small eater, so we had a drumstick each. I think thigh or even chicken breast works well, if not better. or use rabbit meat like in original recipe)
2 pieces of bacon
2 sage leaves (I may experiment with other herbs next time)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
About 60ml of liquid cream

Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.

Remove chicken skin. Spread mustard over the chicken. Wrap the bacon around the chicken, with the sage leaves in between. Put in a roasting tin and add about 1 tablespoon of water before putting into the hot oven.

Bake for about 35 minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, take out and transfer the chicken to serving plates. Quickly put the cream into the hot roasting tin and mix with all the juices/fats in the tin to make a creamy sauce. Pour over the chicken.

There's no need to add salt or pepper.

Serve with salad and boiled potatoes.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Baked Eggplant with Cheese and Tomato Pasta

No picture to go along with this recipe as we were too hungry to bother with dressing it up and taking photos.

This recipe drew inspiration from a particular issue of Cuisine magazine that I was browsing during our cafe lunch the same afternoon. There were certainly many other salivating recipes featured, but this one caught my attention because of the simplicity of ingredients and instruction, and most importantly, the week-old aubergine in my fridge that was crying out for me to use today or throw tomorrow.

So I read the instructions more carefully than others. Easy to remember, and straightforward enough to improvise according to our pantry stock.

When dinner time came, with the recipe still vaguely in my mind, we set about cooking the dish. Below is our improvised version, blissfully unaware that the original recipe is actually available online :)

Baked Eggplant with Cheese and Tomato Pasta
Serves two

1 eggplant
1 can diced tomato, or equivalent of fresh tomatoes
some gruyere cheese (or the likes), quantity according to how cheesy you want your pasta to be, I normally prefer to have less, cut half into 1 cm slices, and half into smaller pieces or shred.
3 large handfuls of pasta (choose smaller shaped ones)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
some fresh herbs, like basil or thyme (we had to use dried ones as the house painter tragically coated our bed of thyme with paint when he spray painted the house weeks ago)
drizzle of white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise, and cut into 2 cm slices. Heat some olive oil and fry the eggplant until golden. Set aside.

Start cooking the pasta according to packet instructions. Also preheat oven at 180 degrees.

While pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil, fry chopped garlic and onions for about 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, herbs and wine and simmer. Allow the sauce to thicken and season to taste. Contrary to the original recipe, we opted for a thicker tomato sauce.

When the pasta is ready, drain and pour the pasta into a gratin dish. Follow by the eggplant, half the cheese, then the tomato sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 30 minutes until it is bubbling hot.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Enda's Pineapple Tarts

What's Chinese New Year without the yummy homemade golden pineapple tarts. That's exactly what I'm missing this year.

I'm not the pickiest when it comes to pineapple tarts, but they are best when homemade. Many expert homecooks have their own secret recipes and I don't think we can easily say who makes the best pineapple tarts. Everyone have their favourites, and I have many. Like the fresh from the oven ones I chanced upon in Melaka years ago, the ones made by the mom-in-law of my 7th aunt which my family enjoys gratefully yearly, and then, Enda makes them every year with smashing success. She seems to vary her recipe every year. And this being the first Chinese New Year when I'm not back home in Singapore, she suggested I make my own pineapple tarts to satisfy my craving, and gave me her new easy-to-make recipe.

I haven't had time to make it yet, but looking forward to trying it out sometime when I feel less lazy. Afterall, even if the dough and filling may be fast to prepare, it is still quite tedious to have to make each and every little pillow of pastry look perfect. Meanwhile, I'm recording the recipe below so that I don't lose it.

Enda's Homemade Pineapple Tarts

Pineapple filling:
1 big pineapple
about 200g sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Tart dough:
1kg plain flour
500g butter
8 egg yolks
1 egg yolk for glazing
Make the pineapple filling first. With 1big pineapple, blend until like juice then cook in pot. Add 200g sugar, and more to your taste if needed. Add one cinnamon stick and cook until the mixture is dry.

While the pineapple filling is cooking, prepare the tart dough. Using an electric mixer, mix butter, sugar and eggs yolk together until well mixed. After that use your hand to mix in the plain flour until the mixture resembles a tart dough.

To make the pastry, pinch some dough off and roll with your hands into a small ping pong ball shape. Flatten and spoon some pineapple filling, and close it up. Repeat until the dough or filling is used up.

Brush the top of the pastry with a beaten egg yolk (or milk). Bake in a preheated oven for ?? (she forgot to give me the oven temperature and time, so got to check with her again).

Monday, February 01, 2010

Cooking crayfish/lobster the French way

One of the memorable scenes I still remember from the movie Julie and Julia was when Julie plucked up her courage to attempt her last recipe challenge from Julia Child's cookbook: to kill a live lobster and cook it.

I'm afraid I don't have the determination of Julie. First, I am not as diligent as her in keeping my food blog up-to-date (Yes, I'm feeling guilty about my long hiatus in trying new recipes and posting them here). Secondly, the act of killing something alive for my dinner plate is still too much for me.

Nevertheless, for our annual fancy Christmas meal in 2009, we still decided to try something new. Rare oysters is a French Christmas tradition that I decided we must stick to, since I love them more than Rémi. And our favourite deli supermarket was taking pre-orders for crayfish for Christmas, which we couldn't resist. I wasn't planning to kill the crayfish myself, but we ordered a live one anyway, as I was sure Rémi will take care of it. Not sure if it was a right move, but we kept the crayfish covered in newspaper in the fridge, hoping to sedate it. And it survived the cold and was still moving when we were ready to cook it the next day.

We don't have Julia Child's cookbook to guide us along, just some advice from Camille and Youtube tutorials. From Camille: for the more adventurous cook, use a sharp knife to slit the live crayfish from head to tail, that will give it a very quick death. After watching more video tutorials, Rémi decided he will opt for the coward option: throw the crayfish into boiling water, cover and cook for 3 minutes.

All the time, the cowardly me was hiding outside the kitchen :) and enjoying the finished result after.

Here's the recipe from Camille for the adventurous cook. We had replaced lobster with crayfish.

Crayfish Grilled with Tarragon Butter
Serves 2

1 crayfish
1 tablespoon of butter, softened
2 branches of tarragon
salt and pepper

Put the crayfish into boiling water for 3-4 minutes. So hopefully it didn't suffer for too long. The flesh will still be partially raw after 3-4 minutes.

Take out the crayfish and cut into two pieces lengthwise, from head to tail. Put into a baking tin, the flesh side up.

Spread soft butter all over and sprinkle salt and pepper. Grill for 5 minutes and spread butter on the crayfish once or twice during the grilling.

When the edge of the flesh has turned golden in colour, take out and transfer to serving plate. Pour the melted butter from the baking tin over the crayfish and sprinkle tarragon over. (Actually, we had chopped half our tarragon and mixed into the soft butter before grilling)

Note from Camille: it's best to kill the crayfish alive by slitting it into two, and skipping the boiling part. But this requires courage.

And yes, the lobster and crayfish can be used interchangeably.

And yes too, the end result was real yummy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Second try at Kouign Amann

It's our second attempt and we're not getting better at it yet. But still a good try nonetheless.

Kouign Amann is a Brittany buttery caramelised cake. Think croissant laced with lots of sugar.

The hardest part of the cooking process is actually to look at the cake swimming in the pan of melted butter in the oven. We stared hard at it and asked ourselves if eating it is the right thing to do. The solution: follow the recipe and allow the cake to rest for 5 minutes after it's taken out from the oven. This gives the butter enough time to be soaked into the cake so that you see no evil.

And as if the butter and sugar is not enough to clog our arteries, we had a second dessert of crème brulée the same night.

For our second attempt at kougin amann, we still couldn't decide on what recipe to follow. So we used a combination of recipe proportion and instructions from:
1. Camille's cookbook;
2. David Lebowitz's blog which has a good pictorial breakdown of instruction,
3. Youtube by Atelia Chefs (he may be speaking French, but the clip is useful for seeing how you actually fold the dough into many layers)

Mixed Berry Crumble

Another berrily good dessert made by Rémi.

He found the recipe from the internet, and we found a new secret to a fabulous crumble: by replacing half the flour used in crumble with ground almond. It gives the crumble a new nutty, almony flavour and texture that is even harder to resist.

I don't have the exact recipe he used but try the ground almond. And unlike the apple crumble, it is best to refrigerate and chill the berry crumble before serving.

And just as I'm proud of his fantastic crumble, I'm equally proud of the new ice-cream scoop I just bought.

Basil Pesto

I love having fresh herbs. Unfortunately with apartment living, it is hard to keep my pots of herbs alive for long. They either don't survive the onslaught of wind outside, or the greedy bugs, or their roots outgrow the pot too fast. Especially my favourite basil.

We still like to have fresh basil in our salads every now and then, whenever we feel like it. And we do not like to buy the cut basil leaves from the supermarket and leave them to rot in the fridge (since we never know when we will feel like having basil in our salads). So what we're doing is to buy 1 pot of fresh living basil plant from the supermarket. It can usually last about 1-2 months with some tender loving care instead of just 1 week in the fridge.

And since we know my pot of basil will not survive long enough to provide for 100 servings of salads, we will almost always make some pesto to make full use of plant.

Here's a recipe from our favourite easy Italian cookbook.

Basil Pesto

20 large basil leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
handful of pine nuts (well, recipe says 50g but we're very easygoing on this)
125g Parmesan cheese, grated
250ml olive oil (I can't bear to look at this)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Either chop or puree basil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese in a blender (glad we've got one now). If using the blender, add a little oil so that the mixture can turn well. Pour the olive oil slowly while stirring until the sauce emulsifies. Season to taste.

Goes well with gnocchi.

Simple berry delights

I love summer in Wellington. The weather still sucks, but at least there's more sunny days and it is marginally less cold.

The best part of summer is the berry season. Because of the crappy weather, we have been missing out on buying lots and lots of berries at the Sunday market. But we are still enjoying lots of berries from the supermarket.

They make perfect quick dessert. Like here, we have blackberries and strawberries in our natural plain yoghurt. Topped with vanilla sugar and some bit of cream.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Mix and match quiche

I'm feeling bad about not updating my blog for a long while. Since finding a part time job, I'm finding less time to experiment new dishes in the kitchen. What I'm getting good at though is cooking very quickly, and for multiple meals, as I pack my lunchbox most days.

For instance, I like to cook extra for dinner, so that I have some leftover for next day's lunch. It could also mean preparing for next day's lunchbox (like a tabbouleh salad) while cooking tonight's dinner. Or even better, on days when I have French till late, I would pack my lunchbox while preparing dinner during breakfast time. This is usually a slowcook dish, like chopping up vegetables to make ratatouille or a Chinese pork ribs soup.

Lunchbox tomorrow: Zucchini and Prawns Quiche with onions.
Making quiche to me is becoming more like cooking Chinese fried rice or noodles, there's a lot of improvisation. I would throw in whatever ingredients I can find in the fridge into the egg mixture.

So using the Quiche Lorraine recipe's proportion of eggs to cream, I vary the ingredients that goes into it.

Here's some mix and match combination which is definitely not exhaustive. Feel free to be inspired at cafes and supermarkets too.

- zucchini and prawns
- tomatoes and black olives
- spinach and bacon
- bacon and feta cheese
- salmon and leek
- onions and chicken
- mushrooms and ham

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parisian designer style Quiche Lorraine

I didn't make this up. This recipe was inspired by a Parisian designer friend. Tall, slender, pretty and fashionable, she exudes the type of style that we imagine all fashionable Parisian ladies to be. And she proves that fashionable big city Frenchwomen are just as good cooks as moms and grannies. You can also rightly imagine her to cook in super sleek modern kitchen.

We had the pleasure to taste her Quiche Lorraine, to which she added a strong goat cheese. I normally find goat cheese too strong for my liking, but the quiche just brings out the taste of the cheese perfectly.

So I was determined to replicate her Quiche Lorraine. Using Camille's traditional Quiche Lorraine recipe (cheese is not an ingredient of original quiche Lorraine recipes), I experimented with goat feta and sheep feta on separate occasions and liked both very much.

Quiche Lorraine with goat cheese
Serves four

1 portion of pâte brisée tart dough
approx 200g bacon
3 eggs
200ml crème fraiche
goat feta (or be daring to experiment with different types of goat cheese)
salt and pepper

Prepare the tart dough and leave in fridge for half and hour.

Preheat oven at 180ºC. Roll out tart thinly and line on a prepared tin (either floured or greased). Using a fork, poke holes all over the base.

Cut the bacon into small slices and sprinkle all over the uncooked tart base. Put into oven and bake for 10 minutes. I like Camille's way of crisping the bacon without using an additional frying pan.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the cream together. Add salt and pepper. Pour into the precooked tart.

Here's why I left out specifying the quantity of the cheese earlier. Cut the feta into small cubes, just enough to spread all over the tart.

Bake the quiche in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot.