Monday, November 29, 2010

Dee's Tapanade by Canal Saint-Martin

It seemed like dumb luck, serendipitous dumb luck. My friends, Dee, Mary Jo and I were having dinner at Astier in Paris, and decided to spend the afternoon in the area. Getting off at the Republique metro stop, we walked around and then decided to stop along the Canal Saint-Martin for a few minutes. All seemed quiet on this late fall afternoon, as people walked across the footbridge and on the cobblestone walkway. It was peaceful, until we heard a huge rush of water. Looking up, I realized the canal locks were operating to allow the passage of a few barges. The canal was ordered to be built by Napoleon I in 1802, to supply fresh water to Paris and the construction was funded by a new tax on wine. We watched the locks fill up with the barges patiently waiting to continue their voyage down the canal. As the sun filtered through the trees, Dee pulled out a container of homemade tapanade from her bag. I had a ficelle au fromage in my bag and Mary Jo had something to drink and glasses. Parfait...a picnic was made! If I'm ever stuck on a deserted island, I want to be there with a flight attendant. They always have food and water in their bags, just waiting for the right moment to appear. I suppose it comes from years of travel and always having to be prepared for the unexpected or the opportune. I don't think we could have planned it any better if we had tried.

Dee's Tapanade

1/2 pound mixed black olives, pitted (Kalamata olives work well)
2 anchovy fillets
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1-2 tablespoon capers
1 small handful basil leaves, rinsed
1 small handful fresh parsley, rinsed
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process to combine, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the mixture becomes a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and serve at room temperature.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Roasted Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

While having dinner at La Regalade in Paris last month I had a Chestnut Soup that I knew I had to try and make. I loved all of the different flavors that came from the bottom layer of foie gras, chives and cheese. Not wanting to try and totally replicate it, I made my own version. With Thanksgiving approaching, I had a few sugar pumpkins on hand I thought I'd add to the soup. I usually use a good quality canned pumpkin for my recipes, but my son Zac, raised the bar. At college he searched for and found sugar pumpkins to make his grandmother's recipe for pumpkin bread. That led him and his friends on a sparkling fall day, to a farm in western New York with a corn maze. How fun was that? I just got my pumpkins at the local grocery store with no fun factor. He cooked the pumpkin, strained it and froze it until he had time to make the bread. For my pumpkins, I decided to roast them for a fuller flavor. Could you use canned pumpkin? Yes, just make sure it is a good quality one. It would certainly simplify the recipe. I've never roasted chestnuts before, but I think that would also bring more flavor than using canned ones. That was my compromise. I had a can of chestnuts in the cupboard and I caved in to the convenience. So, after figuring out that I wanted a puree of roasted pumpkin and chestnuts, I moved on to the spices and bottom savory layer. No cinnamon would grace my soup...that is for the pie. I did want spices that enhanced the pumpkin and chestnuts without being in the foreground, but instead lingered and mixed like a charming dinner guest. Ginger, cardamom, cayenne and a whisper of nutmeg got the invitation. Now to the savory bits and pieces on the bottom layer. First, I sauteed chanterelle and baby bella mushrooms in butter. Then I cooked Vermont maple-brined, and maple smoked, uncured bacon from Whole Foods. Whew! I'm not really a bacon eater, but the way this was prepared sealed the deal. The maple smoked bacon seemed to be able to subtly partner with the soup flavors. Next, I made croutons by brushing cubed ciabatta with olive oil and lightly toasting in a cast iron skillet. A few cilantro leaves add a fresh flavor that ties it all together. All of these components can be made at different times before assembling. The soup can be made and frozen in advance, and the croutons can be made up to a week ahead. The mushrooms and bacon can be prepared the day before. All of the do ahead work makes the final preparations simple. You could even cut up leftover turkey to add to the bottom savory layer for a light weekend supper. This Parisian inspired soup is truly an all American star.

Happy Thanksgiving week to my American friends!

Roasted Pumpkin Chestnut Soup

For the soup:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups roasted or canned pumpkin puree*
1 cup whole peeled chestnuts
4-5 cups good quality chicken stock or vegetable broth, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of nutmeg

cayenne pepper and salt to taste

Optional: 2 tablespoons half and half cream

*If roasting the pumpkin, you'll need:

3 pound pie pumpkin
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
olive oil

A 3 pound pumpkin equals about 2 pounds once the stem, inner seeds and fibrous center are removed. Once it is roasted, it equals about 2 cups mashed pumpkin. To roast the pumpkin, cut a washed pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and fibrous center.
Cut each half into 6-8 wedges and place outer side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Add the thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and loosely cover with foil. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft and tender. When cool enough to handle, peel off the outer peel and place in a bowl. Remove the thyme leaves from the stems and add to the roasted pumpkin.
For the bottom layer:
6 strips bacon, sliced in 1/4 inch pieces and sauteed
1 cup sliced and sauteed baby bella mushrooms, or a mixture of other small mushrooms
1 1/2 cups unseasoned croutons
Leaves from 6-8 sprigs fresh cilantro

In a 4 quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until translucent and tender. Stir in the pumpkin and chestnuts. Add the chicken or vegetable broth, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg. Using a stick blender or blender, puree until smooth.
Add more broth if needed to reach desired consistency. Season with cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

At this point the soup may be frozen or stored in the refrigerator. Just before reheating, stir in any cream, if using.

Before serving, layer the bowls with equal amounts of the bottom layer ingredients.
Ladle soup into the bowls at the table and serve.Makes 6-7 cups soup.
Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course.
Black and white photo was taken and developed by Zac. Thanks!

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Brocante and Dinner at L'Amuse Bouche

The golden fall leaves settled on the well worn forks and spoons, showing off both their age and beauty at this brocante or flea market, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Lenny and I weren't sure what we'd find here, but as a friend recently said to me, you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket. Sometimes you hit it big and today we weren't quite sure. There were plenty of interesting things, but the prices seemed a little high. If you wanted some bling, these hooks reflected their metallic aura in the patina of the mirror. There were rugs and rings. Perfume and pigs. And more pigs to save your pennies in. There were games I knew how to play, and some I didn't. I've never used a zig-zag corkscrew, but I think it is a game I might be able to figure out! Lenny and I both loved these metal chairs for either inside or out. I imagine we couldn't get them through airport security though, for the plane ride home. Maybe they will still be around when I finally get my Parisian apartment.....a girl can dream right?! Since this brocante was set up in the neighborhood streets, along the way the stores were still doing their business. I couldn't help but notice the bakeries and food stores, since the enticing aromas drifted out onto the street among the vendors clocks and faces, and books and globes. Then there was more spooning. And I can't even comment on this lamp, but can think of a few good ones!! We didn't really hit it big, the only thing I parted euros for was a scarf. I know, I know...I promised not to get another one, but it was only 5 euros, and it matched my outfit.

By this time the sun was getting low in the autumn sky and we were meeting a friend, Nöelle for dinner. T
he previous week our concierge had made a reservation for us at L'Ardoise for this evening. When he called to confirm, he was told there was no reservation. When he pressed further they got their knickers in a twist, but it was finally determined the restaurant made a mistake. wasn't the first time I'd been without a reservation on a Saturday night in Paris, but it was the first time a restaurant had penciled it in for the wrong day. After some quick phone calls, we secured (thank you, Phillipe!) the last table at a very small, neighborhood restaurant. L'Amuse-Bouche is run by a couple. Giles Lambert is the chef, and his wife manages the tables. We were the first to arrive at the cozy restaurant, and it was a relief to see the "Table Réservée" place card. The seating was a little tight and our table for 3 was nestled snuggly by the door. Madame immediately brought menus and an amuse-bouche of savory pastries, along with a brusque request for Nöelle to scoot her chair in. I think she runs a tight ship! After we were settled, Monsier Lambert came out of the kitchen to shake our hands and welcome us as if we had just arrived at his home. The warm color of the walls, the yellow plates and evening light added to the ambience, but made all of my photos an unappetizing yellow, so please forgive the glare. For our first course, Nöelle had langoustine ravioli, Lenny had pâté with smoked duck, served with crusty bread and arugula, and I had tiny mussels in a casserole, which I didn't care for. We agreed that Lenny's pâté was the best choice. For our main course, Nöelle chose paupiettes de lièvre, which is a rabbit dish that is not often on a menu. It was served with mushrooms and mashed potatoes and she thought it was very nice. Lenny and I both had a croustillant pouch filled with lamb and mushrooms in a sauce, that sat on a serving of mashed potatoes and topped with crispy vegetables. It was pure, home cooked comfort food.
They are known for their dessert soufflés, so Lenny had a pistachio soufflé that had a layer of chocolate at the bottom,and Nöelle had a Grand Marnier soufflé that came with its own bottle of Grand Marnier to pour in the center! Since a meal is rarely complete for me without chocolate, I had a warm chocolate cake with crème anglaise and ice cream, that was garnished with fresh figs. All in all, we dined well and left happy!
186,rue du Chateau, Paris, France
01 43 35 31 61


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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fall Maple Leaf Cookies

The autumn leaves are at full peak in my small New England coastal town. Tourists, or Leaf Peepers as we call them, come by the busload to see natures full regalia. When a few of us on my crew wanted to show our appreciation to the concierges and airport agents in Paris, we wanted to bring them a sampling of our America. Last year I made Eiffel Tower, Merci and Au Revoir cookies. This year we brought bagels and cream cheese, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake, peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies and brownies. As I looked at the brilliant colors around town, I decided to also make maple leaf shaped sugar cookies. I had four colors of petal dust I had gotten at Christmas time, that just happened to be colors of fall leaves. You cannot go wrong by brushing on these colors in any combination. I started at the edges, with a food dedicated paint brush, and worked inward using the colors singularly and mixing them. The metallic gold and copper blended into the green and mango orange.Each one was as varied and different as the leaves on the trees. I layered the brownies and chocolate chip cookies first in the bottom of the gold box that was lined with decorative tissue paper. Next were the fall colored leaf cookies. The box came with a gold grosgrain ribbon that I tucked a leaf bouquet into, which helped bring a little bit more of New England to our friends in Paris. I think they really loved tasting a bit of our culture as much as we loved showing our appreciation. Merci!!

Maple Leaf Sugar Cookies

For the cookies:
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract

For the color:
3-4 fall colors of petal dust
a #6 round watercolor brush

In large bowl or food processor, cream sugar and butter together until fluffy. Add egg, and almond extract until well blended. Add the flour and salt and mix until it begins to form a ball, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed. If the dough is too dry, add a few drops of water. Scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press together to form a thick flat disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick, or
desired thickness. The dough needs to be just the right temperature to roll and cut properly. If it is too cold, it is hard to roll, and if it is too soft it becomes difficult to cut and pick up. Roll any scraps back into a ball and chill again. Use as little flour as possible to roll out, so they don't get tough. After cutting, place on a baking sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes or until just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. I use an insulated baking sheet to prevent the edges from getting too brown.*

Makes 4 dozen, 3 inch (1/8 inch thick) cookies.

*My tips: Keep dough chilled just enough so it is easy to roll and cut, but not so cold that it is hard and cracks. I like to roll between 2 layers of plastic wrap. This keeps the dough from sticking without extra flour that makes the dough tough. I even roll it to desired thickness, between 2 layers of plastic wrap before chilling. Then when it comes out of the refrigerator, you won't have to roll and you'll be ready to cut. If the dough warms up too much while working with it, you can slide the whole layer onto a cookie sheet and chill, without disturbing what you've already done. Also, bake sugar cookies on insulated pans for even browning.

Coloring the cookies:
To color the cookies, use 3-4 fall color petal dust colors. I used Super Gold, Copper, Moss Green, and Mango, Color about 6 cookies at a time by placing them on parchment or a silicone baking mat. Lightly dip the paintbrush into the petal dust and tap off any excess. Starting on the edges, lightly dust the cookies using any combination of colors you choose or blending several colors together. Vary the colors on each cookie for a more interest.
For the petal dust:

Gold Box by Hallmark

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