French Archive

Monday, June 16, 2014

valerie’s french chocolate cake

valerie's french chocolate cake

My friend Valerie makes one chocolate cake. No, I don’t mean one chocolate cake for school birthday cupcakes and one for grown-up dinner parties, one for wedding cakes and one for really decadent layer cakes, one for roulades and one for a Thursday afternoon, just because. I mean just one recipe. She serves it plain to guests after dinner, she makes it when she hears it’s your birthday and she stacks, and coats it hypercolored frosting and studs it with superheroes for her kids’ birthdays.

what you'll need
melted chocolate and butter

It’s incredibly simple, just butter (she’s French, so bien sûr), dark chocolate, sugar, flour, a bit of baking powder and her secret ingredient: water. A spoonful or two here and another there creates a decadent crumb you won’t read about in any cookbook. Sure, you could use milk or maybe replace a spoonful with some kirsch but she does not so I do not. The whole thing, save some hand-whisked egg yolks and machine-whipped egg whites (which gives it an airy lift and almost crackly meringue of a lid), is mixed in the pot where you melt the chocolate. It bakes in 30 minutes, which is convenient when your afternoon is rerouted, and tastes amazing. And I bet she regrets ever giving me the recipe.

stir the flour right in

Continued after the jump »

Monday, February 24, 2014

dijon and cognac beef stew

dijon and cognac beef stew

I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.

what you'll need
rendering the bacon fat

This isn’t just any beef stew, however. This stew is fancy. It’s luxe and lush and so intensely flavored, if you’re anything like me, after one bite you’ll forget every crock pot attempt that yielded thin broths, tough meat, weak flavor and, always, unevenly cooked vegetables (potato mush and still-rubbery carrots, sigh), or at least I did. It will an excellent consolation prize for a winter you’re totally ready to be done with, pretty as it can occasionally be.

snowy february

Continued after the jump »

Monday, March 4, 2013

french onion tart + uk cookbook release

french onion tart, little tuft of salad

Hello from 30,000 feet! I wrote this on my 23rd airplane flight since November 2012, but here’s the part where you can be certain at last that I’m as weird as you already suspected: I still love flying as much as this guy. How could I not? At the time, there were perfect white puffs of clouds below us (I always call them Simpson’s Clouds, because they remind me of the ones in the show’s opener) and the sky above the clouds, as always, was piercingly blue. The day before, it was snow-sided mountains down below, and before that, circular fields inside perfect grids, fern-like trenches and mosaics that stretched to the horizon. That I also get to hang out at awesome bookstores and meet really nice people who indulge me (but really shouldn’t, lest I feel encouraged) by laughing at my terrible jokes only makes it more fun.

a two-pound bag, you can use all/most
onion halves and peels

This strange thing that’s been happening over these book tours that I spend the entirety of my time outside the kitchen pining for it. I constantly jot down recipe ideas and become obsessed with making something very specific when I get home, like English muffins that taste like rye bread or a breakfast burrito like the awesome one I had at the Salt Lake City Airport (seriously) or intense homesick cravings for street meat from Rafiqi’s. Then I get home and… nothing. My cooking motivation goes through the floor. I try not to fight it; I hate when cooking is a chore, so we’ll order in or go out for one night, and then another. Usually, by the third evening, I am so completely over it — the salad with too much dressing, the raw-centered burger that you send back and comes out burnt through — that I’m back in the kitchen, relieved that absence made my cooking obsession stronger.

starting to wilt

Continued after the jump »

Friday, December 28, 2012

fromage fort

fromage fort

I think we should all go to a party. And we should all eat this. I know, it doesn’t look like much. I am sure you’ve seen cheese spread on a slice of baguette before. It probably looked prettier than this too; less blue, more smooth. But please, lean in anyway, because I have to tell you: this is brilliant. And I can’t believe I’ve gone most of my life without knowing about it. Don’t let it happen to you.

odds and ends of cheese, wine, yes
grate the harder stuff

You know that thing that happens when you have friends over? No, I don’t mean the Santa Baby sing-along or red-wine-on-the-white-sofa thing or the ow-my-head-hurts thing the next day, though all of those are grand too. What I mean is, what we usually do is stop by a cheese store or counter and pick up a bunch of wedges of this and that and put them out with wine and bread and at the end of the night, there’s always one sorry little glass left of wine left and a few nubs of cheese. Maybe they end up in the trash. They shouldn’t. And they won’t anymore because let me introduce you to (drumroll, Oprah voice, please)… fromage fort!

four cheese happy place

Continued after the jump »

Saturday, April 9, 2011

french onion soup

french onion soup

I’m firmly of the belief that no matter what ails you in the realm of the kitchen, onion soup can cure it. Never cooked before? Don’t think you’ll be able to pull off the kind of cooking you believe you need to go to a restaurant to experience? Start with onion soup. Have only $5 to spend on dinner? Refrigerator is almost bare? Onion soup is your friend. Want your home to have a transcendent aroma bouncing off every wall, the kind that’s so distracting that you don’t even know or care what’s on the stove, only that you must have it now? Onion soup is waiting for you.

sliced onions, weepy blogger
after 15 minutes heating

I realize it was unfair to even make a passing reference to weepingly delicious onion soup the other day without refreshing it here. I talked up once in 2006, a lifetime ago (or several, if you’re this guy) but it was a very literal recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking which benefits from some streamlining. And yet, not too much. Onion soup is a remarkably simple thing to make but when simplified too liberally — I’ve seen recipes that instructed you to just caramelize onions for a bit, add stock, cheese etc. — the nuance that raises it to the transcendent level I’ve known it to be gets lost. Julia Child’s original version — with the very long caramelization of onions that I beg you not to skimp on because this is all the work there really is, the slip of raw grated onion, the cheese within and on top of the soup and starting the croutons toasted hard so they don’t fall apart in the soup — raises the soup beyond the everyday, without making it too difficult to whip up almost any day. Which I promise will happen when you realize the staggering gap between effort and outcome that Child’s onion soup manages to bridge.

after long, slow caramelization

Continued after the jump »