By Ann | November 11, 2014
I met my friend Jérôme on Twitter (the same place where he met his boyfriend) and we instantly bonded over bugnes, a sweet beignet eaten before Lent in the area around Lyon and St-Etienne. When I visited Lyon to research my book, he took me on a tour, pointing out pâtisseries flaunting hot pink tarts made from the city’s famous pralines, leading me through hidden “traboule” alleys, and past storied bouchons. In Paris, we often meet for lunch or tea, cake or cheese, coffee or wine, museum expositions or dinner with our partners, or all of the above, to talk about the things we love most: books, cooking, travel, family, and all the other bits in between. “Friendship is one of the most beautiful gifts life has to offer,” Jérôme has said. And I agree.
Now that I live in New York, I don’t see Jérôme as often as I’d like. Happily, we’ve found a way to continue our conversation via our very own cooking club. There are no rules, just the urge to try a slightly-more-complicated-than-usual recipe, and share the experience. We swap opinions and tips. We snap photos. Most recently we ventured into the tricky world of sugar, attempting a sauce caramel au beurre salé.
I first discovered salted butter caramel sauce at Breizh Café in Paris, a crêperie in the Marais, where it was drizzled over a dessert crêpe, a sticky, sweet, deep, and nutty trickle. I licked up every golden drop. Because I first ate it in a crêperie, and because it’s made of salted butter—a Breton staple—I assumed the ambrosial stuff hailed from Brittany. And because it was dribbled so sparingly over my plate, I also assumed it was difficult and expensive to make. Wrong, wrong! To learn the true history of sauce caramel au beurre salé, you’ll have to read chapter three of my book :) But today I’m happy to share the recipe.
I started with two cups of sugar, a dash of water, and a fair amount of trepidation. (I’d heard many horror stories about working with melted sugar and I have an active imagination.) I very assiduously did NOT stir the mixture, for fear of crystallization—despite my best efforts, however, crystals soon formed. The surface became covered in a white, sandy layer, while the sugar underneath rapidly melted and browned—it was like watching molten lava boil beneath the earth’s crust (and, seriously, it seemed just as hot). I was afraid of burning the whole thing, so I removed the pot from the heat and swirled the contents (without a spoon). The liquid was SO HOT, it melted the crystals, while the color continued to deepen. I then beat in a measure of hot, heavy cream, and several lumps of butter.
The color of the sauce was glorious, nut brown and glossy as a polished chestnut. Alas, I could see rocky grains of crystallized sugar dotted throughout. I feared that reheating the sauce would cause the sugar to recrystalize, but when brought to the boil, the butter and cream seemed to stabilize the mixture. The clumps melted and I was left with my own pot of dark gold.
“I’m always nervous when making caramel,” wrote Jérôme, when we exchanged emails about our caramel capers. “But it’s also marvelous to see the magic of chemistry at work!” (This is why we’re friends.) As a certified pâtisser, he gave me a little tip: “To avoid crystallizing the sugar, many pâtissiers add a tablespoon of glucose [corn syrup]. This helps prevent the sugar crystals from gathering. It’s very useful, and you can also use it for candied fruit, bonbons, pulled sugar… I think it makes the caramel sauce even more smooth and rich, and the sugar is more stable.”
I’ll have to try his trick before we move onto our new cooking project. What’s next, Jé? Une bûche de Noël? :)
Sauce Caramel au beurre salé/
Salted butter caramel sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons salted butter
Pinch of fleur de sel (optional)
Heat the cream in the microwave, or on the stove in a small saucepan. Cut the butter into cubes.
In a large, deep pot (larger than you think you will need), pour in the sugar and add the water, and corn syrup (if using). Heat the sugar over medium heat. If the sugar melts unevenly, swirl the pot gently, but do NOT stir with a spoon. Continue cooking until the sugar achieves a deep, dark brown color. If you’re getting nervous about burning the mixture, remove it from the heat and continue swirling the pot. The sugar will retain enough heat to continue browning, even off flame.
Remove from the flame. Beat in the hot cream with a whisk, followed by the cubes of butter, and the pinch of fleur de sel (if using). Return the pot to medium heat and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Allow to cool, then transfer to a storage container.
A few tips:
–DO NOT lick the spoon or otherwise touch the hot caramel—you will be sorry! Wait at least 15 minutes before tasting it.
–The sauce gets thicker as it cools and is almost solid in the fridge. Before serving, microwave it for about 15 seconds to warm it up, check the consistency and stir in a drizzle of cream or milk if needed, and microwave for another 10 seconds.
–I forgot to add the fleur de sel, but stirred in a pinch after I transferred the sauce to its plastic container.
–The sauce lasts for about two weeks (or, honestly, three to four weeks).
–It’s delicious on crêpes, pound cake, waffles, pancakes, a spoon…
By Ann | November 4, 2014
I love eating kale, but I hate cleaning it. By the time I’ve washed the leaves, stripped away the tough stems, and unfurled half a roll of paper towels to dry everything, the last thing I want to do is spend more time in the kitchen cooking the stuff. Happily, Amelia Crook of the gorgeous blog Simple Provisions has saved my Tuesday evening with a fast, hands-off recipe for crispy kale and chickpea salad. I spent more time washing the kale than I did roasting it!
After a stint in New York (where she worked at Martha Stewart), Amelia returned to her native Australia in 2012. She lives with her husband and baby in Kyneton, Victoria, in an old house with a big garden. “This is an experiment in slower living,” she says. Her blog offers fresh, inventive, seasonal recipes, and fun features like “Look in the fridge”—a series of icebox tell-all tales; she featured mine here—eek! She illustrates posts with her beautiful photos, which make me want to immediately cook everything she’s cooking (or move into her serene and cozy home—Amelia? Do you need a resident pot washer?). Today I’m delighted to share a glimpse of her house, along with tips for fast meals, and a bright, satisfyingly crunchy recipe.
On adjusting to her newly “hectic” evening routine:
“We’ve recently gone from two adults needing to be fed to two adults and a baby, which means meal times last from 5pm to 8pm, with bathing and cooking thrown in. If I’m organized, I’ll have something semi-prepared for dinner which helps things flow more smoothly. If I haven’t done any prep, it feels like I’ve never cooked dinner before and I can’t think of a single thing to cook. So far, we’ve still eaten every night though!”
On her favorite pantry staples:
“Pasta (linguine and orecchiette are my favorites), tinned beans and chickpeas, eggs, anchovies, feta, as well as fresh herbs and greens growing in the garden (kale and chard in the winter, lettuce in summer). I can usually cobble something together from this.”
On reaping the rewards of weekend cooking:
“Cooking a batch of vegetables on the weekend and storing them gives you an excellent starting point for dinners during the week. Here’s how I do it.”
On her go-to “can’t be bothered” meal:
“I can scramble eggs in a few minutes, while the toast cooks, and I’ll call that dinner. If I really don’t feel like cooking, then I’ll get take out. We live in a small town that has surprisingly good, but limited, options for take out. Thai, pizza and Indian are on rotation.”
Her secret magic ingredient:
“I try to think about what will give me the biggest hit of flavor for the least amount of work. My current favourite trick is to make a herb and garlic oil that I store in the fridge and use to drizzle over eggs, salads, potatoes and meat. It brightens up an otherwise simple and quick dish.”
On the “holy trinity”:
“When I first discovered the combination of kale, eggs, feta and chickpeas under the broiler, I ate it four times in one week. It’s delicious, easy and good for you—that’s the holy trinity as far as I’m concerned.”
Grilled kale and chickpea salad
Adapted from a recipe by Amelia Crook
Note from Ann: I loved this salad’s juxtaposition of flavors and textures—it’s tangy, salty, and crunchy with jammy bursts from the roasted tomatoes. Amelia tops her salad with a fried egg: “Lemon and feta combine with the egg yolk to form a creamy, tangy dressing that oozes over the blackened, crunchy kale, warm tomatoes and slightly crispy chickpeas,” she says. But since I’d already eaten a few eggs this week, I decided to mix mine with quinoa, which added a delicate crunch and wholesome heartiness.
2 cups curly kale leaves, torn into bite-size pieces (washed and well-dried)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese
2 eggs (optional—see below for variation)
3/4 cup quinoa (optional—see below for variation)
Salt and pepper
Preheat the broiler on high.
In a large bowl, toss the kale, cherry tomatoes, and chickpeas with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly over a large baking sheet and place under the broiler. Cook for about 4 minutes, checking after a minute or two, to make sure the kale isn’t aflame. Rotate the tray and broil for another 4 minutes. Amelia says, “You want the kale to have crispy edges, with green in the middle. Some of the edges will go black but this just adds a good charcoal flavor.”
If you’re using the eggs: Fry two eggs sunny side up, until the whites are set and the yolks still runny. Divide the salad between two plates, sprinkle over the feta and a spritz of lemon juice. Place an egg on top of each portion. Enjoy!
If you’re using the quinoa: Prepare it according to the package instructions. (I made it in my rice cooker by rinsing, draining thoroughly, and adding a 2-1 ratio of water to grain.) When the quinoa is cooked, drizzle in a glug of olive oil. Toss the quinoa with the kale salad, juice of half a lemon, feta cheese. Season generously. Enjoy!
(Photos from Amelia Crook, except for top and bottom.)
By Ann | October 31, 2014
Last year, Lucy was too little for a Halloween costume. But this year, she decided to dress up as her favorite food: CHEESE. (Or did her food-loving mother decide for her? She can’t talk yet so… you decide.)
Inspired by my visit to Wisconsin and this brilliant blogger, I made her a cheese costume. (And when I say “made” I mean I begged my friends to help me—you guys know I’m not craftsy.) I picked up a Packers cheesehead and yellow onesie, and my talented friend Esther (a graphic designer) created a patch that says “aged 13 months,” which friends helped me print onto an iron-on decal. A toy mouse completes the look, which would be perfect except…
Lucy hates her cheesehead.
Out takes after the jump…
By Ann | October 28, 2014
Today Mastering the Art of French Eating hits shelves as a paperback, with a (slightly) new cover and subtitle ! Sigh… these books, they grow up so fast.
Here’s a description:
When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone.
Not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.
“Mastering the Art of French Eating makes you want to be in Paris. It will also make you very hungry.” —Wall Street Journal
I can’t describe what a total thrill it is to see that beloved old Penguin symbol on the book’s spine! Of course, I’m biased, but I think the lovely lightweight paperback edition makes a perfect traveling companion. I would be thrilled if you picked up a copy at your local bookstore or online:
Meanwhile, my friends on the web are celebrating with a few giveaways (and more to come):
My publisher has created this beautiful ad in the book trade’s newsletter, Shelf Awareness Pro.
And I’m delighted to hit the road for a couple of book signings:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Penguin Bookshop (Sewickley, PA)
Wednesday, Nov 19, 2014
I love meeting readers and I also love book clubs! If you and your friends are reading Mastering the Art of French Eating, I’d be thrilled to visit your group by phone or Skype to chat and answer any questions—just send me a message via this website’s “contact” form.
Finally, are you hungry for crêpes? I’m about to send out the latest edition of my newsletter, which includes a special recipe for dessert crêpes (cut from the original book!). Subscribe here to check it out.
I’ll be back again soon with a post about cheese :) In the meantime, thanks, as always, for reading.
By Ann | October 21, 2014
I always feel like I’m the last person to find out things. So when I read an article about the Eiffel Tower’s two-year, thirty million Euro renovation—unveiled this month—I wasn’t surprised that I knew nothing about it, even though la Dame Fer is around the corner from my apartment. The renovation added solar panels (they heat the structure’s water) as well as a glass observation floor that allows visitors to gaze straight down—57 stories. Yowzers!
In honor of the tower’s new “looking,” I thought I’d share a few of my favorite cheap eats in the area. As I’ve mentioned before, the neighborhood has its share of tourist traps serving bad food. But there are also hidden gems. If you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower and on a budget, here are three great options for lunch:
I realize I am revealing my lowbrow palate by saying this, but when they’re fresh and hot, I really love a sandwich grecque. The sandwiches at Apollon—a Greek restaurant/traiteur—start with your choice of sauce (I always get harissa) dabbed on warmed pita. The guy behind the counter then stuffs the bread to bursting with seasoned chicken shaved off the spit, lettuce, tomato, and French fries. The result is greasy, salty, spicy and completely delicious. There’s also a vegetarian version, which replaces the meat with cheesy spinach-feta croquettes, equally salty, greasy, and delicious. (If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, the counter offers terrific Greek salad, hummus, and other dips.) A full menu (and table service) is available in the restaurant, but for the truly cheap experience, order your sandwich to take away.
Price: €5.50 (per sandwich)
Bread and cheese are France’s greatest cheap eats. Happily, one of my favorite fromageries is located a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. Tucked away on a side street off the rue Cler, Marie-Anne Cantin is a small shop where everything is delicious. On a recent visit, I picked up a wedge of St-Nectaire fermier and a slice of vieux Comté. A handful of cherry tomatoes from one of the fruit sellers on rue Cler, and a bit of bread rounded out my picnic lunch, enjoyed on a sunny afternoon at the Champ de Mars. Note: this is a budget meal for two or more.
Price: €15 (two cheeses, baguette, and a handful of cherry tomatoes)
The Relatively Cheap
I know, I know—you probably didn’t come to Paris to eat Italian food. But for a hot, (relatively) cheap lunch, I love Sapori di Parma, an eccentric Italian restaurant/épicerie located a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower. The owner, an older Italian gentleman, communicates in a hybrid of Italian and French, flinging scraps of mortadella into the mouths of babies, and describing his favorite dishes with great gusto. He convinced me to try the pizzoccheri Valtellina: housemade buckwheat pasta tossed with potatoes, braised chard, and melted cheese into a rib-sticking winter dish. Though I splashed out on the more expensive lunch menu—€14.80 for a plate of charcuterie, the aforementioned pasta, wine, and coffee—for the truly budget conscious, there’s a simple, two-course prix fixe for €11.80 (entrée + plat + café, or plat + dessert + café). You can also buy Italian charcuterie and cheese to take away.
Price: €14.80 (entrée, plat, glass of wine, and coffee)
24 rue Jean Nicot, 7e
tel: 01 45 55 68 47
12 rue du Champ de Mars, 7e
tel: 01 45 50 43 94
Sapori di Parma (no website)
58 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, 7e
tel: 01 45 56 19 38
By Ann | October 17, 2014
I’m so excited about the paperback of Mastering the Art of French Eating, which hits bookstores October 28! I just received my advance copies and they’re gorgeous—I can’t wait to share the new edition with you all.
To celebrate the paperback launch, I’m visiting the Penguin Bookshop—Pittsburgh’s awesome independent bookstore, located in Sewickley, Pennsylvania—for a special book event. The evening will include wine and nibbles, as well as a talk on French cuisine by yours truly. The Penguin is one of my favorite indies and if you’re in the area, I would be thrilled to meet you!
Here are the details:
When: Wednesday, November 5, 6pm
Where: Penguin Bookshop (417 1/2 Beaver Street, Sewickley, PA)
What: Books, bites, booze (wine), and a talk about French cuisine. Tickets are $5, or $20 (with book) and can be purchased at the Penguin. A signed book makes an excellent holiday gift! :)
For more info, click here.
Hope to see you there!
By Ann | October 8, 2014
I recently got into a discussion online about salting eggplant. Do you salt yours? I usually do not because I like to: A) avoid excess salt, and B) avoid extra steps in the kitchen. But the other people participating in this discussion indicated that I was wrong, very wrong.
Curious about whether salting eggplant is really worth it, I decided to reach out to some of the best home cooks I know—fellow bloggers and food writers—to find out whether they salt eggplant, why or why not. Here’s what they said…
From those who DO salt:
Maria Speck, author of Ancient Grains, Modern Meals: “I was raised by a Greek mom who wouldn’t dream of not salting her eggplant. But I wasn’t sure seeing so much conflicting advice. In fact, I’ve asked myself this question for years and after trying it out to learn for myself, I strongly recommend it. In my next cookbook Simply Ancient Grains (out in April 2015), I write: ‘Salting alters the texture of the fruit to make the flesh more supple and mouth-watering. I always find it worth my time. Compare it for yourself.'”
Camille Malmquist, blogger at Croque Camille and pastry chef at Frenchie To Go: “Yes, in theory, to draw off the bitter juices. It drains some of the water out, for faster browning once the eggplant hits the pan, and it’s usually not a big deal to cut up my eggplant first, salt it, and then leave it to drain while I do other mise en place.”
From those who DO NOT salt:
John Baxter, author of The Perfect Meal and Paris at the End of the World: “Having tried it both ways, I couldn’t detect much difference. Salting produced a few spoonsful of vinegary liquid, but the taste seemed the same. I had thought it might make the plant less inclined to absorb oil, a major advantage in cooking moussaka, but there was no appreciable change there either—unlike, say, cucumber, where salting and draining produces a quite different texture.”
Heather Robinson, blogger at Lost in Arles: “If your eggplant is young and fresh, it shouldn’t be bitter after it is cooked properly. And, as you are hopefully cooking it immediately after preparing it—as you should, because why let it oxidize?—there is no need to salt to ‘get rid of’ any extra liquid. And who needs extra salt no matter how carefully you get rid of it after?”
Rachel Roddy, blogger at Rachel Eats and author of Five Quarters (forthcoming June 2015): “As an Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson devotee, I salted for years. But I generally don’t anymore, especially with the rather nice, neat, almost sweet and creamy aubergines we get in Rome. If the aubergine look a little wilder, bolder and possibly bitter (like those from Sicily) I might well give them a salt. Very big aubergines, which I generally avoid, which might be watery, I might salt. I don’t even salt for parmigiana now, as I fry the slices in so much oil that water just evaporates away.”
Meg Bortin, blogger at The Everyday French Chef and author of Desperate to be a Housewife: “I never salt eggplant—I find it’s a bother and serves no purpose. On the other hand, I very rarely fry eggplant in oil, so over-absorption of oil is not a problem.”
Amelia Crook, blogger at Simple Provisions: “If the eggplant and fresh and lovely, particularly if I’ve picked it from my garden, then I don’t bother salting.”
Wini Moranville, author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: “No! I don’t salt eggplant. Supposedly, salting makes the eggplant less bitter (I’ve never found my locally grown eggplants to be bitter) and it also keeps the eggplant from absorbing too much oil. Frankly, when I’m making something with eggplant—especially ratatouille—the flavor of the olive oil is a big part of what makes it so good. Certainly, I don’t want it greasy, but if it absorbs a little olive oil, that’s part of the point!”
And from those in between:
Jill Colonna, author of Mad About Macarons: “I find with the time eggplant takes to prepare, Picard [French frozen food chain] do the most amazing aubergine slices that have been prepared previously on a grill. So I just defrost them and use them directly without any oil for making a moussaka (the rest is homemade!) or parmesan aubergine bake. I’m a real lazy gourmet ;-) That gives me more time to make dessert.”
Shannon Faris, blogger at The Misanthropic Hostess: “I don’t cook with
eggplant at ALL. The stuff scares me to death. Numerous times I’ve
parlayed with the aubergine enigma, starting with visions of silky, smokey
results to get fishy mush in return. I love eggplant… just not when I make it. Even simple grilled eggplant is fabulous—as long as it doesn’t come from our grill.”
After reading these thoughts, I decided to conduct my own Eggplant Taste Test. I bought two old eggplants from the Farmers Market and one young eggplant from my local grocery store. (It was supposed to be the other way around, but the aubergine at D’Agostino was fresher than at the Union Square Green Market—go figure.) I cubed the fruit and and roasted it in four batches:
1) Young and unsalted.
2) Old and unsalted.
3) Young and salted.
4) Old and salted.
And the result was…
They all tasted the same. The texture, too, was the same. Maybe Batch #3 (young and salted) was a bit more bitter than the rest—but that disproves every theory.
I used my roasted eggplant cubes to make this shortcut moussaka recipe from the New York Times. It was easy and delicious, but next time I’ll be able to whip it up even faster :)
Do you salt eggplant?
By Ann | September 30, 2014
People are funny with their food preferences, aren’t they? Like my friend, Heather, who thinks leftover roast chicken tastes metallic—she can only eat it in a sauce. (After she mentioned it, I noticed it too.) My husband strongly prefers white meat (though he’ll eat the other stuff if it’s hidden in a sauce). Then there’s my friend, Steve, who doesn’t really like sauce at all. I’m guilty, too—I’ll eat offal like liver or giblets, but won’t touch brains or tripe. I like soup hot enough to blister the roof of my mouth. And I also favor chicken breast over thighs. Eek! Do I have to forfeit my food lover credentials?
Anyway, all this to say that I’m always looking for ways to use up those unloved bits of roast chicken. Soup is a good bet (like this spicy lentil Mulligatawny). So is chicken pot pie. I made one last weekend, cramming three kinds of vegetables—mushrooms, asparagus, and peas—into a velouté sauce, along with cubed roast chicken.
I topped the stew with a batch of quick biscuits, moistening the dough with yogurt instead of buttermilk, and adding a handful of chopped parsley that I found wilting at the bottom of the fridge. The yogurt made the biscuits slightly tangy, all fluffy interior and crisp top. But if you’re Team Pastry, go ahead and unfurl a sheet of pâte brisée on top, or even the frozen puff variety from your friendly neighborhood supermarket.
Besides being soothing enough to engender world peace, chicken pot pie has two other positive qualities: 1) You can make the stew ahead of time and freeze it. Just defrost and top with store-bought pastry for an easy meal. 2) Small, discerning babies (like my own) enjoy it and don’t even know they’re eating so many vegetables. Win, win, win!
Chicken pot pie with parsley biscuits
For the chicken stew:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cream sherry (optional)
5 cups chicken broth
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb white button mushrooms, diced
1 lb asparagus, ends snapped off, and cut into 1-inch segments
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups roast chicken, diced
Salt and pepper
Parsley yogurt biscuits
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 oz cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk, or yogurt (NOT Greek-style, or strained)
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
In a large pot, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the sherry (if using) and allow the alcohol to evaporate. Add the chicken broth and simmer, stirring often, until the sauce is thick.
Meanwhile, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until fragrant. Add the mushrooms, asparagus, peas, and dried thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir the vegetables into the sauce, along with the chicken. Taste and adjust seasonings. Place the stew in a 9″ x 13″ ceramic baking dish. (Alternatively, you can pause here and refrigerate or freeze the stew until you’re ready to use it. Just make sure to reheat it before continuing; see note below.*)
Make the biscuits. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and parsley. Blend in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the yogurt and stir with a fork until the dough comes together—it will be sticky, with bits of flour on the side of the bowl. I like to knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl to bring everything together.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using gentle, floured fingertips, pat the dough into an 8-inch x 10-inch rectangle, about 1-inch thick. Cut the dough into 2 to 3-inch squares (or use the rim of a 2-inch juice glass). Arrange the biscuits on top of the stew. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the biscuits are golden and the stew is bubbly around the sides.
*Make-ahead note: Before topping with biscuits, be sure to reheat the stew. You could pop it in the hot oven for 25 minutes. Or use the microwave (as I do :)
By Ann | September 23, 2014
It’s Tuesday and according Samantha Vérant it’s the perfect night to set your stove on fire! She’s burning up the kitchen with her fresh and healthy recipe for shrimp flambéed in Pastis.
Samantha is an American living in Toulouse with her husband, Jean-Luc, and two step-children—and the author of a new book, Seven Letters from Paris. If you love stories about falling in love (with a Frenchman!), you’ll love her heartfelt memoir. “A real-life fairy tale. You’ll be rooting for this bubbly American heroine and her prince charmant,” says Elizabeth Bard, author of Lunch in Paris. I can’t wait to read it! Today, I’m delighted to share Samantha’s tale of cooking misadventures and her recipe for anise shrimp and mango-avocado salsa. (AND, I’m giving away a copy of her book! Find details at the bottom of this post.)
Fiery Tuesday Nights
by Samantha Vérant
Four years ago, I married a Frenchman, moved to southwestern France, and became an instant stepmother to two tween-aged children. New country, new language, and new life aside, one of the biggest challenges I faced was cooking for a French family. While most of the meals we ate are typical in any household, like spaghetti with meat sauce or fajitas, my family was used to eating quite a few French meals—recipes I’d never attempted. I experimented a lot, even tried to broaden the menu, figuring if my family was open to escargot in a buttery, parsley infused garlic sauce, surely, an American classic—tuna noodle casserole—wouldn’t cause a war. Big mistake.
You live. And you learn. I had to get with the program. Stat.
Thankfully, my husband, Jean-Luc, loves to cook and made for an excellent teacher. I was slowly inducted into the finer points of quiche making and introduced to all of the “ettes”—raclettes, tartiflettes, and galettes—my current go-to meals depending on the season. As my confidence in my French kitchen grew, I became more courageous, trying my hand at everything from bouef bourguignon to civet de sanglier and lapin à la moutarde. Still, I was a bit wary of flammable dishes, acting as sous chef and leaving Jean-Luc to light the match.
Ermagad! I’m going to set the house on fire, or singe my eyebrows off, or…or…
But I’m an American woman and I wasn’t about to let a little heat scare me out of my own kitchen. I went through so many adjustments; I knew a little flambé wasn’t going to kill me. Really, the only scarier than a little fire was the expression on the kids’ faces when I slopped the tuna noodle casserole on their plates.
I’ll give credit when credit is due. The shrimp recipe is Jean-Luc’s. The add-ons, alternatives, and sides are mine. Here’s where Franco-American fusion meld together to create a delicious (and quick) meal. The bonus? It’s worthy of a dinner party. Because you never know who will be coming over on a Tuesday night.
Shrimp flambéed in Pastis with mango avocado salsa and sticky rice
Adapted from Samantha Vérant
Note from Ann: I love Pastis as an apéro (in Provence, in the summer, with a bowl of olives) but I was initially dubious about this recipe. Would anise-flavored liqueur match well with the prawns? Turns out, the boozy licorice sweetness is a beautiful counterpoint to the shrimp. “Can’t get your hands on Pastis?” says Samantha. “No worries. One of things I’ve learned while living in France is how to a substitute an ingredient. There is always a solution.” She suggests Tequila or Cognac—and I actually used absinthe, which, at 110 proof, produced EXCITING flames! Though this recipe involves a considerable amount of chopping—which makes it not quite a quick meal—I found it healthy and satisfying, with unusual flavors—totally worth the extra effort.
For the shrimp:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
5 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped
2 lbs unshelled shrimp
1/4 cup Pastis (or Cognac or Tequila)
Salt and pepper
For the mango avocado salsa:
2 avocados, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1 mango, diced
Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 lime, juiced
Pepper (to taste)
To serve: Sticky rice, basmati, or brown rice, cooked according to package instructions.
Prepare the mango-avocado salsa: Combine the ingredients in a bowl, taste and adjust seasoning.
In a sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallots, and ginger, cooking until softened and fragrant. Stir in the shrimp, cooking until they begin to turn pink. Add the chopped parsley. Remove the pan from the heat and turn off the burner. Add the Pastis and light it with a match. (“I recommend a ponytail if you have long hair!” says Samantha) Shake the pan gently, tossing the shrimp. Once the flame has settled down (if it doesn’t, snuff it out with the cover of large pot), return the pan to low heat. Cook until the shrimp are firm and pink, about one to two minutes. At this point, I removed the shrimp added a splash of water, and reduced the liquid, just to make sure my 110-proof booze had completely evaporated :) Return the shrimp to the pan, taste and adjust seasonings.
“For a lovely (and very colorful) presentation,” says Samantha, “take a small ramekin, a 1/2-cup measuring cup, or a “circle” tool and tightly pack it with rice. Place your chosen tool on the corner of a plate and tap the top with a wooden spoon, then lift. The rice should be in a tight, well shaped form. Plate the shrimp and garnish the whole dish with the mango slaw. Serve with wedges of lime.”
*Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Vérant Giveaway!*
Samantha is giving away a signed copy of her book to one of you lucky readers!
1. Leave a comment below with your favorite romantic city.
2. For an extra entry, follow Samantha on Twitter (@samantha_verant) then leave a separate comment to let me know.
3. For an extra, extra entry, tweet the following and leave a comment to let me know: I’m entered to win Seven Letters from Paris by @Samantha_Verant from @AnnMahNet. More info: www.annmah.net
The contest ends September 29. A winner will be selected at random and announced here. Good luck!
(Non-food photos from Samantha Vérant.)
UPDATE: The winner is Denise! Thanks for playing, tout le monde.
By Ann | September 17, 2014
I think people can be divided into two categories: lunch buyers and lunch bringers. I used to be the former but New York City (and paying for childcare) have turned me into the latter. Every Sunday, I make something to eat during the week—sometimes a quiche, but more often a hearty bean salad. I used to find those sorts of recipes soooo time consuming—all that mincing, zesting, and grating, not to mention the herb washing, drying, and plucking—so many elements to prepare—but if I don’t get distracted by shiny things like my iPad, I can finish in ninety minutes, dishes washed and counters wiped. (Honestly, now that I’ve typed that sentence, I’ve realized that ninety minutes is, in fact, a long time—but I listen to NPR at the same time so it’s kind of meditative? Maybe?)
Anyway, making a weekly bean/grain salad means I’m always on the lookout for new bean/grain salad recipes because a girl can only eat so many cumin-dusted chick peas. Last week, I was delighted to scarf down a French lentil salad with feta cheese and pecans from David Lebovitz’s beautiful new cookbook, My Paris Kitchen.
The recipe reads like a tour of my pantry: French green lentils (smuggled from Paris), thyme, red wine vinegar, toasted pecans. I had a bunch of cilantro wilting in the fridge, which I used instead of parsley, and crumbled in a block of feta, as suggested. The result was a satisfying meal—nourrissant, as my French friend, Jérôme, might say—rich with nuts and the salty tang of feta.
I’m guessing David probably doesn’t share my lunch mania, but his new book is a treasure trove of brown bag ideas. I can’t wait to make sandwiches from his beet hummus. There’s poireaux vinaigrette, the leeks scattered with bacon and hard-boiled eggs. A quiche of ham, blue cheese, and pear. Roasted cauliflower dusted with dukkah, an Egyptian spiced nut mix (which I’d combine with quinoa, maybe). Israeli couscous tossed with pistachios and preserved lemon (add a can of chick peas and call it a meal). Wheat berry salad with roasted root vegetables and pomegranate vinaigrette. Many of these recipes come from the section titled “Sides” but all of them have enough star power for a hungry luncher.
The book also has Paris stories, cooking tips, and witty observations sprinkled throughout, not to mention recipes for meatier main dishes. The desserts are spectacular, featuring the sophisticated flavors you’d expect from David’s Chez Panisse pastry chef past, while easy enough for a nervous baker (like me) to tackle. The book echoes David’s food blog (which—in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of it—is wildly popular), but with MORE—more photos, more funny stories, more recipes. Indeed, this book an invitation into David’s kitchen… and how wonderful it is to find it as warm and delicious and creative a place as one always hoped.
I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the book’s most decadent side dish, a gratin of potatoes speckled with blue cheese and roasted garlic. We made short work of it for dinner one night, paired with a butcher-roasted chicken. It was heaven; even the baby loved it. My version of the lentil salad recipe is below, but to make the potatoes, you’ll have to buy the book :) You won’t regret it.
Serves four to six
250 grams French green lentils (Puy variety)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
Large handful cilantro leaves, chopped
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil or walnut oil (or combination of the two)
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
Rinse the lentils and place them in a saucepan. Cover with water by 1 inch, add the bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then decrease to a simmer, cooking for 15 minutes. Add the vegetables and continue to cook until the lentils are tender, splash in a dash of hot water if things look dry. (David’s recipe says 5 to 10 minutes, but mine took 20. Test regularly.)
Make the vinaigrette in a large bowl (use the one you’ll dress the salad in). Stir together the vinegar, mustard, oil, and shallot. Season lightly.
Drain the lentils thoroughly. While they’re still warm, stir them into the vinaigrette— they’ll soak up all the delicious dressing. Add the cilantro, nuts, and feta cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.