French Archive

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

apple tarte tatin, anew

apple tarte tatin, anew

My brain is currently in Paris, idling in a cafe after a bike ride along the Seine. It may not come home. It started a few weeks ago, when an obsession with getting to the bottom of a baked spinach dish mentioned in a letter by Julia Child allowed me to, once again, dive deeply into the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What I didn’t have was an exit strategy, which is especially dangerous when day to day life lately has been a bit more about double ear infections, sleep deprivation, cookbooking in a tiny, overheated kitchen, oh, and then we paid taxes things nobody needs to hear me complain about. In short: I choose Paris, instead. So the last few weeks have brought to our table weeknight roasted chicken, tiny gold potatoes, simple green salads, skinny green beans, white wine, weepingly delicious onion soup and a spate of apple tarte tatins.

apples, cored, with a little bevel
foamy butter
a light caramel that looks dark

The tarte tatin is one of my favorite apple desserts, but also one of my most consistent failures. Again and again over the years, I’ve tried to get it right but rarely did. Some were too sweet. Often, the apples didn’t cook through. I burnt the caramel more times than I’ll admit to, even in the last week. I’ve cut the apples all wrong. I’ve used puff pastry that didn’t want to puff and short crusts that crumbled under the caramelized apple juices. And a good lot of the time, the caramel just never came together, and remained a toasty syrup with a puddle of butter floating on top. Not that anyone complains about such things. More or less, if there’s a place where you can mess up a tarte tatin, I’ve done it. Multiple times.

don't worry, they'll shrink

Continued after the jump »

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

the best baked spinach

the best baked spinach

On a beach vacation that already feels like it was too long ago, I tucked into the collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and realized I’d inadvertently brought on vacation with me the very best book ever for my current brand of mental unevenness. Apparently, even the great Julia Child went a little insane writing her cookbook. She fretted over if varied and uneven ingredients would keep her recipes from working as she wanted them to in others’ kitchens and even had occasional bouts of frustration with her tiny, ill-equipped kitchens. And Julia is like my superhero! I was no less than 10 pages in when I already felt better about my choices, the work I had left, life itself, the universe at large… or perhaps it was just those no-good piña coladas and that blue-meets-blue horizon working their magic on me. Nevertheless, I thanked Julia.

overflowing spinach
wilting the spinach

In one of my favorite early letters, Julia gushes about the produce in France: “Strawberries, for instance, are dreamberries, but extremely fragile.* Beans are so deliciously beany…” and goes on to explain that the French hadn’t really gotten onto the system of growing hardier produce that would keep longer in the markets. Amusingly, however, she found U.S. packages of spinach at the grocery store and it from there that she went on a tangent about a French “system” for spinach which she found “terribly good” and went on to describe a gentle cooking of spinach, stewing it in a very small amount of roux for a little binding and broth before stirring in a small amount of cheese and baking it in a dish topped with breadcrumbs.

all that spinach because only this

Continued after the jump »

Monday, October 26, 2009

silky, decadent old-school chocolate mousse

chocolate mousse

Did you hear? The Eighties are back. Right outside my very front door, people too young to have experienced the decade the first time around are parading down the sidewalks in leggings and high-top sneakers, shoulder padded blazers, thick belts and inadvisable doses of fluorescent clothing, without a stitch of irony. You couldn’t pay me to join them; I aim only make myself live down each fashion disaster once in a lifetime, but in the kitchen? Oh yes, bring it on.

almost ribbony yolks

Out of nowhere this summer (or perhaps out of the thin air of the 36th week of pregnancy), I began craving that 1980s dessert menu standard, chocolate mousse. And I didn’t mean, modernized chocolate mousse, the kind that’s been “rethought” and “renovated” into something delicious, but surely not mousse. I didn’t mean quickie chocolate mousse, which is usually little more than melted chocolate folded with whipped cream, if even that natural. And I sure as heck didn’t mean the chocolate pudding I tried to assuage my tastebuds with, which although really delicious, was no replacement for the decadence of mousse.

chocolate mousse

Continued after the jump »

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

quiche lorraine

quiche lorraine

So, I’m cheating. I really wasn’t planning on cooking just yet. You see, I spent a whole lot of the last few weeks of pregnancy honing in on cookbooks that focus on simpler, but uncompromised cooking (and I will absolutely do a post on these, soon), bookmarking the kind of recipes I could imagine assembling with one hand tied behind my back (or you know, holding a squawking newborn) and even banking a decent amount of recipes, such as that date spice loaf and the stuffed eggplant, and a few other things I have even told you about yet. And I don’t need to cook either: Our fridge is filled with homemade matzo ball soup, spaghetti and meatballs, endless bagel fixings, pickles galore, fruit, sandwich bread, lunch meats, milk for cereal and you name it (did I tell you our families were awesome or what?). Do you hear me? There is no reason on earth that I need to be pulling down the pots and pans right now. And yet I did. Because there was something — one tiny thing, perhaps — that I had not anticipated when I mapped these early weeks out in my head.

I am so freaking hungry.

leekscaramelizing the leeks and onions

Here’s the thing: When I was pregnant, I never had a huge appetite. I don’t know why, I just didn’t. Trying to figure out what to eat was an exacting process, to say the least. I’d eat perhaps half of whatever I had in front of me, and listlessly push the rest around the plate. I tried to woo my tastebuds with beef empanadas, migas and pasta but I have to confess: none of it did anything for me. It kinda blew.

ham, diced

Continued after the jump »

Saturday, January 17, 2009

sugar puffs

chouquettes

I have been wanting to make the sugar puffs known as chouquettes forever, or at least as long as it has been since I read about them for the first time on Chocolate and Zucchini. I loved Clotilde’s descriptions of buying them by weight in French bakeries and how the best part is eating the sugar crystals (by licking your finger and reaching in, of course) that have collected in the bottom of the bag. They’re apparently the after-school goûter, or snack of choice, for the French schoolkid set and though I might be getting a late start on them, I am quickly making up for lost time.

mini chips and pearl sugarblending in the flourpiping the moundschouquettes, ready to bake

Chouquettes are actually really simple: they are based on the “paste” or pâte à choux dough that is also used to form cream puffs, éclairs and gougères — a simple mix of water, melted butter, flour and eggs. There’s only a smidgen of sugar in them, which is why that craggy pearl sugar on top, or — who are we kidding — a deluge of miniature chocolate chips, are so essential. And it was precisely the absence of that pearl sugar that caused my, ahem, five-plus year delay in making them.

sugar puffs

Continued after the jump »


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