Archive for the ‘French’ Category

Dorie Greenspan visited Seattle last week as part of her book tour to promote Around My French Table. I’ve been a big fan of Dorie ever since I stole my mom’s copy of “Baking with Julia,” the baking book that Dorie wrote to accompany Julia Child’s PBS series. This latest cookbook (Dorie’s tenth) is peppered with stories about French life and bursts with over 300 recipes that are as accessible to the intermediate home cook as they are delicious.

There is a lot to love about this book. The recipes are generally for everyday food and Dorie sprinkles them with stories about where she first tasted the dish and what inspired her in creating her recipe. These vignettes are sweet, without being overly precious. There are helpful sidebars that include advice for serving and storing, as well as tips Dorie labels Bonne Idée. This means something like “good idea” if my rudimentary French isn’t failing me. These are often variations that can take the dish from simple to elegant by making a few simple changes.

Dorie has inspired many cooks – amateur and professional – over the years and has a huge following of fans. Yet she is as elegant and gracious a person as I could ever hope to meet. Since her book tour stopped in Seattle last week, I’ve been curling up with “Around my French Table” nearly every night. As the days become shorter and cool autumn nights cause my furnace to click on, I’ve been craving hearty braises and warm soups. Dorie’s Creamy Cauliflower Soup sounded about right.

I wanted to make this recipe tonight – Friday – because there is an entire site dedicated to cooking through the book by making one of the recipes each Friday. French Fridays with Dorie chooses a recipe each week and fans sign on to cook along. Well, cauliflower soup was what I was craving this week but alas, they chose a different recipe. I don’t care, I made it anyways.

I love cauliflower already but this thick and creamy soup is a great showcase for this humble vegetable. I happened to have all these ingredients on hand with the exception of white pepper. Black pepper is close enough, even if it does fleck the soup with little black dots. I used my immersion blender to puree the soup. Whether you use a food processor, blender or immersion blender, I suggest pureeing it to within an inch of its life. I had a spoon on hand to taste for texture as well as salt and pepper.

I didn’t have any of the suggested garnishes, but if anyone wants to send me truffles or caviar, my address is 123 Champagne Taste St, Beerbudgetville, WA. Merci!

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
By Dorie Greenspan, from “Around my French Table”

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Vidalia, Spanish, or large yellow onions (about ¾ pound) coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed and thinly sliced
3 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 thyme sprigs, leaves only
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, broken into florets (discard the tough core)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Optional toppings
Extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil
Grated cheese
Crushed toasted walnuts
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Shaved truffles

Put the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot and warm over low heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions, garlic, celery, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of white pepper. Stir until all the ingredients glisten with oil and butter, then cover the pot and cook slowly, stirring often, for 20 minutes.

Toss the cauliflower into the pot and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that the broth simmers gently, and cook, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very soft.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor; or use an immersion blender. This soup is best when it is very smooth, so if you think it needs it, push it through a strainer. (If you used a standard blender, this shouldn’t be necessary.) Taste for salt and pepper; I like to pepper the soup generously.

Serve plain or garnished with the topping of your choice.

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Seattle has become a great french fry town. What makes a great french fry? It’s the double fry. That’s right – the double fry. The first fry cooks the potato just fine, but it’s the second fry that gets them superextracrispy and that my friends, is the key to great french fries.

Last Friday, Gavin and I went to Restaurant Campagne down at Pike Place Market. We had a gift certificate that we’ve been meaning to use for months. Actually, it was a “discount” gift certificate we bought online. We decided to sit at the bar rather than the restaurant because a) we could maximize our budget by taking advantage of the happy hour prices and b) we actually find their bar menu more appealing.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so the place was empty. They offer free “snacks” in the bar on Fridays (crostini, Marcona almonds and the like), but I was in a carnivorous mood. Gavin got the Steak Frites and I ordered the lamb burger. I have to mention that Gavin will ALWAYS order a Steak Frites if it’s an option. He didn’t think he liked French food until a couple of years ago. He’s a french fry afficionado (hence my knowledge of the “double fry”). Once he realized that French restaurants often have fries on the menu (even though they are Belgian…but I digress), he was all for it. Throw in a nice steak and consider it DONE.

The lamb burger was delicious. I’ve only started to eat lamb recently, and even then only the mild cuts. This burger was a bit gamey, but you know what? I liked it! The meat was so tender and juicy. The burger came with a mountain of semi-pickled red onions and of course those incredible fries. I was pleased to see it made Seattle Magazine’s Best Burger list

The bar was definitely easier on the wallet than the restaurant, yet we still received A-plus service. I’m a sucker for good service and Campagne does it right. We declined on dessert, but were pleasantly surprised to get a sweet treat with our check…

Campagne on Urbanspoon

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Pâté Temptation

The Boat Street Café is dangerously close to my office. It isn’t cheap, but when you can get delicious pâté and a glass of wine for $10 in this town it is pretty great. Their happy hours (5-7pm) are only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but it is a charming place and hey, Thursday is the new Friday, right?

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It is a widely held belief that the best pastries in Seattle can be found at Cafe Besalu. I have long subscribed to this belief. Thankfully, Besalu is not close enough to my house for me to be a regular patron. When I am in the neighborhood though…I make a point of stopping in for their out-of-this-world pain au chocolat.

Lately however, there has been a lot of talk about a NEW bakery in town. A new bakery that may just very well (gasp), take the top honors. Honoré Artisan Bakery even had the nerve to open a few blocks away from Besalu.

A taste test was in order. I was thinking of it as “The Battle of the Century” or “The Battle of the Boulangeries.” The bulge? The butter?
Anyways, you get where I am going with this. I’ll stick with the Battle of the Bakeries. Last weekend, Gavin and I had errands to run in that part of the city and when I suggested we stop and not one but TWO bakeries…he was on board.
On the left…the reigning champion: Cafe Besalu. In the other corner…the challenger: Honoré. Look at the challenger, all bronzed and puffed up. Besalu’s fighter looks a little saggy, a little deflated even. I was starting to worry for my beloved Besalu.
But then, I took a bite. Sure, Honoré tries to one-up the competition with not one but TWO layers of chocolate. It’s efforts however, are in vain. Besalu’s pain au chocolat is flaky beyond compare. It’s buttery, soft and tender dough balance just right with the bittersweet chocolate inside. It finishes with a slightly salty aftertaste.

Honoré’s pain au chocolat looked promising, but was much less flaky. I would even say it was doughy. There would only be one clear winner in this battle…Cafe Besalu.
Honoré is good. They are definitely on their way to being one of the top contenders. One thing they offer, that Besalu does not, are macarons.

Now, here is where the excel. I have long been a fan of the macarons from Le Panier, but THESE macarons…wow. Just wow. The white one above was coconut with salt caramel filling. The green was pistachio. Or, as my friend Therese calls them, “pistach-i-crack.” I have a feeling another bakery battle is in order….

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There’s really nothing more conforting than a grilled cheese sandwich. For a light supper however, a grilled ham & cheese is both comforting and satisfying. The French call this a Croque-monsier. I am not sure of the exact translation, but if you add a fried egg to the top it becomes a Croque-madame.

The traditional recipe uses brioche and if you can find that, it makes a superior sandwich. Challah will work, or just a good crusty french bread. Many recipes also call for a Mornay sauce (a creamy cheese sauce), but I think the runny yoke is all the sauce you’ll need.

Croque-madame (for two)
Four thick slices of bread (brioche, challah or french)
1 cup grated cheese (gruyere is tradtional, I mix gruyere with cheddar or Beecher’s)
6-8 slices Black Forest Ham
2-3 Tablespoons butter
2 eggs
salt & pepper

Pile the grated cheese and ham between two slices of bread. Gernerously butter both sides of the bread. Place sandwiches into a nonstick skillet on medium-low. Slowly cook the sandwiches until golden brown and flip to cook the other side. It is important to cook the sandwiches slowly so the cheese melts before the bread gets too browned.

Once the sanwiches are golden and the cheese is melted, remove from the pan onto plates to “rest” while you fry the eggs. Incread the heat to medium and place 1 tablesppon of butter into the pan. Fry the eggs until the whites are opaque, sprinkling with salt & pepper while they cook. Gently flip the eggs and cook on the other side for 10-20 seconds (until the whites around the yolk feel firm, but the yolks are still soft to the touch). Flip each egg – yolk side up – onto each sandwich. Serve immediately.

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