Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tian de Légumes, pesto & tomato sauce

Coming up with a name for this main course creation was not that easy. Nothing I could think of adequately describes the richness and depth of flavors this dish brings together. "Tian" simply means a layering of ingredients that are complementary in taste, and usually with visual apppeal. This particular tian is made with vegetables.... so voilà, Tian de Légumes it became (Vegetable Tian).

This dinner was borne out of a simple thought: use what you have in the fridge or off the shelf. But try to do something interesting with it. The result turned out to be a very hearty main course with surprisingly deep flavors. We didn't miss the meat one bit. I'll also use it in the future as a side dish. I wish my vegetarian sister Fran could have been here to try it...she would have liked it!

This is a loosely written recipe. What I mean by that is that I didn't have any hard rules when I put it together. So, take this as a guideline, and I think you can have equally good results substituting with whatever ingredients you have on hand or whatever vegetables you prefer!

Rice Layer
1 cup basmati rice (or white rice)
tomato cubes & tomato water
pine nuts, toasted
mozarella, cut in dice
1 carrot, finely shredded
~1/3 cup yellow split peas, cooked
1 shallot, sweated in olive oil + 1 minced garlic clove
Dried mustard, 1 knife-tip full
cilantro, chopped
1 cup flavorful stock (vegetable, chicken, porc, whatever you have)

Cook rice in stock (covered pan). Fluff with fork in a big bowl & add all remaining ingredients. Stir well to incorporate. Season. Make sure it's moist enough. I had some tomato pulp on hand (leftovers from making slow roasted tomatoes, aka, tomate confit in french) and this worked really well. Otherwise, I'd just dice up a whole tomato, seeds & all (but no skin!), with all its juice. Cover bowl of rice mixture with foil & re-heat at moderate temperature, if made in advance.

Other Vegetable Layers on top of Rice
fresh spinach, sautéed in olive oil & seasoned
1 red pepper, cut in brunoise & sauteed in olive oil
1 yellow pepper, cut into sticks or julienne, sauteed in olive oil
1 cup white beans (I used the AOC Paimpol beans....yum), cooked in flavorful stock

Pre-cook all vegetables & store in re-heatable dish or tray. Re-warm tray before serving.

To serve:
Using a circle mold, add rice to bottom. Place layer of spinach on top, then a layer of red peppers. Lay yellow peppers and white beans on top. Sprinkle tian with fleur de sel and sprinkle plate with tomato powder. Serve with pesto sauce, tomato sauce reduction, or basil sauce. Yum!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dad's 70th Birthday Soirée

It arrived all too fast, and ended all too fast: Dad's 70th birthday. It doesn't seem possible that Dad turned 70. Has that much time really passed by? Well, yes, and it's happening to all of us! I remember grampa Rabideau once saying, while in his 80s, that it's strange how each year seems to pass by faster & faster than the prior. I'm starting to understand his meaning! At 70 years of age, Dad is in good health overall. Despite a few aches and pains, he's more agile these days (especially when he decides to increase his activity!), and he has lost some weight. So, all in all, I'd say it's good.

August 28th was a day we had been anticipating for a while. Turning 70 is a special occasion and deserving of a special celebration. But how to honor it? We thought of a few things - maybe chartering a plane for a day....maybe a hot air balloon ride....and as much fun as these ideas sounded, it couldn't possibly include everyone in the family. Plus, we weren't sure to what extent we were suggesting these things for our own pleasure rather than dad's!! Dad's already traveled by plane a lot, and maybe the height of a hot air balloon ride wouldn't be so appealing to him these days. So, we starting thinking along the lines of simplicity. How about simply planning a gourmet dinner with family where everyone could share in good company, and in a good meal (let's hope!), and in a relaxing setting: at home.

The other part of the idea was to make it a surprise. Surprises are a funny thing. They force you to be a little dishonest with the people you love. I had to tell Dad a little white lie. I told him we couldn't come back to the states this summer....I can't remember the excuse, but we wouldn't be there in August to celebrate his birthday. He took it well, "that's OK, we can celebrate it any time you're here". In reality, we had already bought our plane tickets to Appleton, Wisconsin. A few weeks later during our next phone conversation Dad told me he had almost booked a cruise, but it didn't work out due to some really strange logistical reasons related to getting to and from the port. (This was a cruise leaving from Italy if I recall correctly). Then I started to get worried. I still didn't say anything, but my heart began to panic slightly. OK, so this one didn't work out, but what he finds something else & books a trip and ends up not being there while we are! How awful would that be? Great

It was time to bring Mom into the conspiracy. I got a hold of her one day in June. "Mom" I said kind of seriously, but actually joking, "can you keep a secret?" "Of course" she immediately responded, and added "yes, yes". She loves a good secret as much as the next guy! I filled her in on the truth and asked for her help. Could she please steer dad away from booking any trips for the two weeks we'd be there! She later told me he was somewhat persistent on wanting to go somewhere, but she kept deleting all the travel deal notices coming into their inbox! He might still browse around the web, but it wouldn't be as easy! Apparently that worked, along with a plot of having something to do the weekend of August 21st. The conspiracy was in good hands.

And we told my sisters, and then some aunts and uncles and cousins...the word was spreading. Could it really be kept a secret? Guess what? The answer is yes! My family can really keep a secret! Sorry if I had any doubts....uhm, well, enough said! The night of our arrival, my cousin Mickey picked us up from the airport & brought us over to our aunt & uncle's house where a party was underway out on the deck.....and that's when we sprung the surprise on dad. And yes, he was very surprised to see us there in Wisconsin when we should have been in France! He did a double-take in disbelief! It was priceless. And too bad we didn't think of taking a video!

The actual day of his birthday was several days later, and we also kept that somewhat of a mystery. He only knew we would plan something at home. As for the rest, he had to wait & see!

In the end, there were 16 of us who celebrated his 70th with a 5 course meal, hosted by his three daughters, as one of our gifts to him. It was a real team effort. I got to do the cooking, but I had extremely good help from a very reliable source, my commis (assistant) Eric! :) Mom beautifully decorated the table with china, crystal and chrysanthemums (also assisted by commis Eric!). Always with a touch of class. Eric's "real job" was to pick out the champagne & wine, & no one was disappointed. Sisters Kim & Fran helped with all the in-between course clean-up & set-up. Anyone who has helped me with Le Yumming soirées in Paris knows how important this is and how much work it takes to keep things moving along smoothly and quickly in between courses & afterwards. I think we must've set a record that night for using the most number dishes possible in one evening....! They did a really great job. Finally, Dustin & Natalie also pitched in with bringing the plates to the I said, a real team effort.

Here's what we had for dad's birthday. The pictures aren't the greatest...but that night, it was all about enjoying the evening...and not wasting time over picture-taking.

Table Decoration
Très chic

1) Gaspacho Andalou
2) Cantalope, shaved beef & honeydew mellon skewers
3) Dates & proscuitto & red pepper sauce (not shown)

1st Course

Thomas Keller recipe: Tomato Tartare , Green Beans, Frisée and chive oil

Main Course:

Sautéed salmon on a bed of spinach, with mustard and black-olive orzo pasta; fresh green peas and pink-eye beans and hollandaise sauce.

Cheese course:

Sorry, no picture! How the taste preferences seemed to have swayed that evening! kidding...

Birthday cake!

Dad's choice: vanilla poppy seed cake with custard filling served with vanilla ice cream.

Here are a few other pictures of the evening. It's safe to say we all had fun, if all the empty bottles and empty plates were any indication! I didn't take nearly enough pictures that evening, so Kim, Fran, mom, or Louis, please forward any you might have & I'll add them to this post!

And I'm glad to know that dad eventually got to book a cruise -- leaving later this month where they can celebrate his 70th all over again. Also glad to hear the leaf-pick up crew is organized, and don't forget to let us know how you like the foie gras & Dom Pérignon!

So, the party's over but we're left with some great memories of that night, and of our 2 weeks there. Like I said, it came & went all too fast. We hated boarding the plane since it meant saying another good bye for now. Until next time,
Hugs, Diane and Eric

p.s. Dad, I've been meaning to tell you that I thought the speech you gave at dinner that night was really touching. I enjoyed it alot. Straight from the heart! And thanks again for all your patience, to both you and mom, for letting Eric & I take over your kitchen for all the crazy preparations. We sure put it, and every single piece of mom's equipment, to the test. They passed with flying colors! :)

Thomas Keller Recipes: Whipped Brie

When we were back in the states last month, my mom gave me as a gift The French Laundry book by Thomas Keller. What a perfect gift! I've been happily trying out the recipes (instead of looking for a job which is what I'm supposed to be doing...).

I came across this one. It's a simple & very creative way to work with brie. The only real requirement is that you should use a good quality brie - that's of course easy to do here in France. Brie de Meaux is the way to go, purchased at our nearby fromagerie (cheeseshop). Also, you need a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Then, it's as easy as cutting off the rind, whipping it up till it's a fluffy consistency, toasting baguette slices and adding whatever you like to the plate -- a salad of roquette (arugula), a roasted fig (seeing as it's the season and all), etc, etc. I can't wait to try it with pomegranite. Wouldn't that be great in the salad? Or how about served with some purée de fruit sec (purée of dried apricots, dried figs, dried plums, and roasted hazelnuts)....hummm.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Best Recipe for American Hamburger Buns

Where to find the best American hamburger bun in Paris? Make it yourself! It's really hard to find a good bun here in Paris. By "good" I mean fresh, light & fluffy, but with a slight resistance to the crust when you bite into it. So, I googled some recipes & found one that looked promising. It turned out to be great. This recipe comes from Joe's blog, Culinary in the Country! Thanks again for sharing a winning recipe. His is an adaption from Canadian Living, and mine is an adaptation of his adaptation...

I highly recommend this recipe to everyone. I will warn you however, that they are addictive! And habit-forming. But also very versatile. For example, I made a batch last week, and I used half the dough for buns on Friday night, half of the remaining to make pizza Saturday night, and baked off the rest as a mini-loaf on a Sunday morning. Oui!

Recipe in US measurements, see Joe's orignal post
Recipe in metric measurements, see below

Makes 12 - 16 buns, depending on what size you make them.

1) In a large bowl, proof the yeast:
This means to put tepid/slightly warm water in a bowl; stir in sugar; add yeast & let rest till nice & puffy (~ 10 min). If it doesn't do this, your yeast is dead. Don't go further! Get new yeast!

205 g water
15 g sugar
9 g yeast (dried)

2) In a medium size pan, warm the milk, butter & other ingredients:
240 g milk (demi-écremé or skim)
27 g butter
15 g sugar
10 g salt

3) Add warmed milk mixture to bowl of proofed yeast & stir.
Being an ex-scientist type, I measured the tempurature of the warmed milk mixture to be 33°C before I added it to the bowl of yeast/water mixture. Don't want to kill the yeast with too much heat! All you really want to do is melt the butter. The milk felt tepid or lukewarm when I dipped my finger in it to see (if you don't have a handy thermometer). That's all you really need.

4) Add flour, divided:
Weigh out the two portions of flour shown below. Use flour from the 435 g bowl first. Add it to the yeast 1/3 of the quantity at a time. With a wood spoon, add the first portion of flour & stir like crazy till well mixed. Then add the 2nd portion, and stir like craxy. Finally, add the 3rd portion of flour. After 435g of flour is incorporated, add a quantity of the 300 g flour until the dough is ready to be turned out onto a work surface for final kneading. (See next step.)
435 g flour
300 g flour.

5) Turn onto work surface & knead the dough.
Using a floured surface, knead the dough, and again, encorporate only as much of the remaining 300g of flour as necessary. I've found that I've used almost all of the 300g of flour (~ 250 g) to get the dough soft, supple & so that it pushes back when I put my finger in it. Whenever it's too sticky, I just add more flour, a little at a time, until it's not sticky anymore. A temperature of the dough that is between 22 - 24C means it's ready go into a greased bowl (shown in picture). No more kneading necessary! Takes less than 10 minutes.

6) Let proof.
Depending on the day's humidity, air temp, etc, this can take 45 minutes to over an hour. Be sure to put oiled plastic wrap on it. It should double in size.

7) Punch down, roll into balls, put onto baking sheet & let rise a 2nd time. Pre-heat oven to 210°C: I portioned the buns to be 75g each. When putting onto the tray, use silpat or parchment paper. Also, I pressed down to make flatter (3" in diameter, to be exact...!) Cover again with oiled film for 2nd rising.
8) Brush egg wash on top & sprinkle with toppings.
Egg wash = 1 whole egg with some water mixed with a fork (or just whites if that's all you have). Toppings I like are sesame seeds (for the traditional bun), poppy seeds, or a combo of it. My personal favorite is "everything", ie, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic salt, and pepper. (That's what's pictured at the top of this post)

9) Bake 25 - 30 minutes until golden & hollow sounding when you tap the bottom. Make sure they are good & hard. They soften when they're cooled down, so don't be afraid to let them in the oven an extra 5 minutes after you think they might be done. But not too long, otherwise you risk burning or drying them out!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Les Journées Patrimoine

Last weekend was the once-a-year Journées Patrimoine, when various historical & artistic buildings are opened to the public (when they're normally off limits). 2008 marks its 25th year, and Le Figaro said attendance was high again. Over 12 million people took advantage of the open doors, with over 20,000 people alone visiting the Elysée (France's equivalance of the White House). We went to the Elysée last year. Eric woke up early that morning, and while watching the morning news, he learned about the event. (I was working so much then that I didn't even know what day it was, let alone what was happening in Paris!) Next, he woke me up & we literally got out the door in 5 minutes or less. We rushed to get in line at 8:00....well ahead of the 9:30am opeing.... and still, it was a 6 hour wait. But we became fast friends with our neighbor, waited it out with the crowd, and once we were finally rewarded with the entrance tickets, we walked in building and we were amazed & awed at every corner we turned. Luckily, it was worth the wait. Too bad we forgot the camera at home!

This year was equally unplanned. On Saturday we were on our way to some mysterious address to exchange our cable box (at a Tabac of all places), and as we were passing through Palais Royale, we noticed lines were forming for the event. So, of course we did a detour & headed straight in. What we saw here were grandiose offices of the Minister of Culture & Communication, the Conseil d'Etat, and Le Conseil constitution, each overlooking the interior gardens of the Palais Royale. These guys work in class! All of it was incredible. The architecture is amazingly fluid and majestic and breathtaking. All the gilded rooms were over-the-top beautiful that can only be beautiful in spaces such as this, I think. And guess what, no camera again on this day, too!

Sunday was going to be different on the pictures front. We decided to check out places "dans nôtre coin" (in our neighborhood). We went to the Bank de France. This is an enormous series of buildings, in the Haussman style, with various courtyards hidden inside. I thought we might see the lobby of the bank, which is very magestic in it's own right (turn of the 20th century I would guess). But no, what we saw were rooms & rooms filled with antiques, and more gilded mirrors and moldings! This time there are pictures to share. We also went to the Bibliotèque Nationale (picture on right). It's going under a renovation right now to restore it to its original glory, so next year it won't be open for this event. All the books have been removed from the shelves in preparation for the restoration, but that didn't mask the sense of history and revrence. We learned that this library was really cutting edge technology for it's time. It even had a pneumatic tube system installed where all book requests would be sent to the back warehouse, where someone would receive the tube & find the book out of shelves & shelves of inventory! We also learned that there's quite a large collection in the coins museum. I might've expected to see that at the Banque de France, but oh well, who says things always need to be logical!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thomas Keller Recipes: Ile Flottante

This is an Ile flottante like I've never seen before! What class. What refinement. What a surprise. We learned how to make the traditional île flottante dessert in the Anglo program at Ecole Ferrandi (Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française). It tasted GREAT. It looked nice....the caramel added a nice touch (see below). However, I haven't made it at home since then, even though I like the flavors. I simply wasn't motivated. Maybe it had something to do with no chocolate!
Made at Ecole Ferrandi, 2006
But that all changed when I saw this one in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook (1999). This one inspired me! And this recipe requires some inspiration because, in fact, what looks so simple is actually an accumulation of a lot of steps. But it's oh-so-worth- it!

If you want to see the process on how this is made, check out this incredible blog, French Laundry at Home . She does an awesome job of showing all the steps. It involves:
  1. Making a mint oil ==> it's hard to see in mine, but it's under the black dots in the crème anglaise. The black dots are a reduction of balsamic vinaiger which I added on my own - it's not part of Keller's recipe. My mint oil didn't infuse long enough & wasn't green enough, so that's why I ended up adding the balsamic which, by the way, tasted great with it!
  2. Making the meringue
  3. Making a chocolate mousse for putting inside the meringue. This is the best part. Chocolate!
  4. Making the chocolate tuiles.
  5. Shaving the chocolate (tempering the chocolate & then shaving it with a chef's knife; this is the long way to do it. You can also just use a vegetable peeler & peel a block of chocolate if you want or have a block.)
  6. Making candy sprinkles (blitzing a candy bar in my Cuisineart; another addition I made because I thought it would taste good. And it did!).
  7. Making the crème anglaise.
  8. Assembling it (ie, emptying a hole in the meringue, spooning in the chocolate mousse & then trimming the outside to make it look perfect)
  9. Plating it.
But this is worth the effort! We had a nice dinner & finished it with this dessert. The chocolate mousse inside is a GREAT surprise since it's not part of the traditional dessert. The thing that was so amazing is how light this tasted. It was full of flavor - the mint, meringue, crème anglaise, and chocolate all worked so well together! And yet, we were not weighed down by a heavy dessert. In fact, it left us wishing we could have a just a little bit more! That, in my opinion, is the right way to end a dinner and the sign of a good dessert! Can't wait to make these again.

Dinner with Antonio on Wednesday

Once a year, maybe twice if we're lucky, an old friend of Eric's flies through Paris. We always invite him over to dinner. It's always a pleasure. And finally, we get to reciprocate. Antonio & his family of 7 (5 daughters!) used to live in Paris & it was Eric who used to always get invited to their house during his business trips. Isabelle would prepare wonderful meals, once even in her last month of pregnancy with the twins, during the month of August! And those familiar with Paris know that most apartements have no air conditioning! And it was a "simple" meal of 5 courses all done with grace & ease, Eric told me.

Anyway, I think Antonio is slightly intrigued to watch this new career path of mine. He asks tons of questions (where do I want to open a restaurant? Europe or US? what city? how big? when?). Each time more questions. However, I still don't have the answers! I wish my crystal ball could tell me where we'll end up & how.....but it's not working that way!

Nonetheless, inviting Antonio over to dinner is a great excuse to practice my craft and to ask for feedback, although I'm not quite sure how unbiased he could be. He did admit, "Even if I didn't like it, I would say it was good....but it's not that....this REALLY IS good!" We had a great evening. Lots of laughs, lots of stories, plenty of wine. And then at nearly 12:30am, it was time to call it a night. Until next time. Maybe I'll have some answers by then!

1st course: Mediterranean Fiesta
Tomato ravioli sombreros stuffed with goat cheese (hand made), crab meat, slow-roasted tomato "tartare" with basil froth& tomato powder

Main Course:
Roasted medallions of pork tenderloin with pork demi-glace
Purée of petits pois, fresh peas & mint oil
Home-made bi-colored cannelloni (spinach & natural) stuffed with ricotta & sun-dried tomatoes.

Cheese Course:
Brie de Meaux, salade de mache & roasted fig
Baguette toasts with olive oil & fleur de sel


New York style cheesecake with cherry marmalade & rum raison ice cream.

The cheesecake recipe is from Alaine Ducasse. I'll post it separately.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Romantic légumes

Every once in a while, while you are prepping the daily load of carrots, petit pois, pomme de terre (potatos), tomatos, etc, etc, you come across something that brings a little smile to your face.

I've always heard of the expression "like two peas in a pod"....but I never saw one before! I tried to explain to my french colleagues the romanticism I was attaching to this little pea pod, but they only thought it was a little strange that I was so intrigued by my "petit pois"!

But the one that really stole my heart was this potato.
(Sorry for the pun; I just couldn't resist!). I promise
you that I didn't alter it one in tourner (or
shaping)...I found it in the potato bin at my local légumerie, just like that. Well, with the peel, of course. Another "little smile moment"... :)