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2011/05/13 / Josefa

French Fridays: Spinach and Bacon Quiche

In a previous post, I wrote that  quiches are basically glorified omelets. They entail little more than sautéing some veggies, grating some cheese, and whisking a couple of eggs in some dairy then baking the veggies and custard in a pie crust. They are delightfully easy to make but they have a big impact. So I was not looking forward to following detailed directions for this recipe: Make the tart dough. Partially bake the tart dough. Steam the spinach. Run it under cold water. Wring out the water. Fry the bacon. Drain all but one tablespoon of the fat. Cook the onion in the bacon fat…etc…etc.

But I did. And, let me tell you, it was worth it! The tart dough was buttery and flaky. I added a couple extra strips of bacon (how could I not) and I reduced the amount of spinach slightly. I also sprinkled dried thyme on top of the grated parmesan. I always add thyme to my quiches. I find it adds a layer of interest to the overall flavor and it bakes up with a nice, rustic look.

2011/05/06 / Josefa

French Fridays: Tourteau de Chèvre

I was ecstatic when I read the ingredients for this recipe. It called for flavoring with vanilla extract (…that’s the boring part…sorry), cognac (interesting…), or orange-flower water (yes!!!). Mazaher or orange-flower water as Ms. Greenspan calls it is more commonly referred to as orange blossom water. There is also maward which is rose water and both are common ingredients in some of my favorite Middle Eastern sweets. 

I was additionally looking forward to making this goat cheese cheesecake so I could compare it to the one I made last year. I made Claudia Fleming’s recipe from The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern and I blogged about it here. I hoped the goat cheese in The Last Course recipe would yield a more tart and less sweet cheesecake. However, I was disappointed as it was sugary and dense like traditional American cheesecakes.

But this tourteau did not disappoint. And Ms. Greenspan herself states, “This creation is so unlike what we know as cheesecake in America that I hesitate to use the name for fear of misleading you.”  It was light and airy thanks to the whipped egg whites. It was fragrant thanks to the mazaher.

In case you are interested in a more scientific explanation, flower waters are made by mixing essential oil and distilled water. Mazaher is distilled water containing essential oil from the flower of the Bitter Orange tree (Citrus aurentium). Maward contains essential oil distilled from the Damascus Rose (Rosa damascena). Essential oils are aromatic compounds extracted from plants through distillation and are used in perfumes, soaps, lotions, candles and other bath products. Distillation is the process of separating a mixture of liquids. I think I just finally put to use my college major and minor: biology major with a concentration in plant biology and a chemistry minor.

2011/04/29 / Josefa

French Fridays: Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak

I knew I was going to marry my husband the first time he cooked for me. He made steak tacos, guacamole, and scallop ceviche. After that, I was his eager sous chef in the kitchen. One of the first things he taught me to do was sear a piece of meat properly. I remember watching in awe as he prepared steaks for dinner one night. He poured a little olive oil into his heavy-bottomed skillet and then, just like in this recipe, he added a pat of butter to the oil. It’s a simple thing to do but it adds a layer of flavor to the beef. I also learned the importance of searing meat to lock in the juices. After all, I grew up in a Lebanese household where my mother stewed meat slowly over low heat with many vegetables.

While my favorite cut of beef is the rib eye steak, I enjoy how tender the filet mignon is. And with this recipe, the heavy cream and cognac sauce offer the much needed fat and sweetness to contrast with this tender cut of beef.

I also caught up and made last week’s recipe. I made one sweet and one savory baton because, truthfully, I was not excited to eat the equivalent of bread and mustard. I used fig spread and sprinkled gruyère cheese on the sweet baton. And I made my own olive spread for the savory baton which I sprinkled with dried rosemary and thyme. These were easy and delicious and the possibilities are endless.

2011/04/25 / Josefa

Easter Baking Egg-stravaganza

Look what hopped onto the dinner table for Easter! The kids were egg-static. Ok…I’ll stop with the Easter puns. But seriously, they were so egg-cited (sorry) to eat some bunny cake. Just look at their smiling faces.

I made the cake using my trusty Nordic Ware Bunny Cake Pan which I bought through William-Sonoma when my daughter was only six months old. Unfortunately, they no longer carry the pan, but they do offer the recipe on their web site here. And I did find the pan through Amazon here if you’re interested in checking it out. The two halves adhere with the fluffiest, yummiest butter cream frosting and I dusted the cake with confectioners’ sugar.

I poured the extra batter into these adorable baking cups which I picked up at Stop & Shop. And I glazed the cupcakes with some dark chocolate ganache I had in the fridge from last week’s French Fridays recipe.

I also had some fun making and using royal icing for the very first time. While I still need a lot of practice, I think they turned out alright. 

We finished off the day with a good, old-fashioned, Lebanese style egg war. You choose an egg. You turn to the person next to you and you tap the tip of your egg against the tip of their egg, hoping to crack only their egg. If the tip of your egg cracks, you can flip it over and use the other end. But if both ends are cracked, you’re out of the game. You all keep tapping until only one person is left with an egg with no cracks (or only one end cracked) and is crowned winner of the egg war! It’s silly, but it’s tradition.

2011/04/15 / Josefa

French Fridays: Vanilla Éclairs

Recently, I saw No Reservations: An Evening with Anthony Bourdain. He was outspoken and cruel though exceedingly hilarious as he spoke about his colleagues at the Food Network. He slammed the likes of Sandra Lee and Rachel Ray for perpetuating a food culture of mediocrity. But by the end of his show, he spoke in earnest as he encouraged Americans to travel and learn about other cultures. Food is culture. And more so, food is history, he said. Just look down at your plate and you will see a recipe passed down over generations. You may see your grandmother or a neighbor.

While he was talking about this, my mind flashed back to one of my favorite childhood memories. My family and I lived in Venezuela when I was a little girl. I was four or five years old and my mother used to bathe my brother and sister and me in a large sink in the laundry room. And while we played in the water, she would spoon feed us one of her tastiest stews: a fish and yucca stew. She would stick a spoonful of food in my mouth and by the time she had fed my brother and sister each a spoonful, I would have swallowed and would be waiting for another spoonful.

The other day, I caught myself doing something similar with my four year old and one year old. They were my captive audience in the bath. And I busted out a platter of fruit. Between the three of us, we ate three clementines, one pear, and one apple. While I was laughing at the realization that I have become my mother, I was also having another realization: feeding my family, and feeding them WELL, is the greatest act of love I can offer. And this is just one of the many reasons why I am loving French Fridays.

For this week’s French Fridays, I made éclairs with vanilla pastry cream for the filling and chocolate ganache for the glaze. I am delighted that now I know how to make pudding from scratch, as the pastry cream is basically pudding.

I also used Icelandic dark chocolate for the glaze and it did not disappoint. I have been obsessed with Iceland ever since I fell in love with Bjork’s music in college. Some day I’ll visit Iceland, but till then, I’ll just have to indulge myself with Icelandic products. I piped the éclairs with my star attachment and I agree with Ms. Greenspan that the ridges were hard to glaze.

These were a huge hit with my entire family and some friends and I am proud to say that now I know how to make éclairs.

I also played a bit of catch up and made Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Salad which was on the recipe schedule a few weeks ago. I was surprised that this grain really does have a thin ring around it when it is fully cooked. I used sesame oil instead of the recommended walnut or hazelnut oil and I think it was too bitter. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this salad, especially since it basically called for boiling water and assembling a bunch of ingredients.

2011/04/08 / Josefa

French Fridays: Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli

I’ve been away from French Fridays for a couple of weeks. My life has been busy and chaotic, yet wonderfully full! We are in the middle of gutting and remodeling a house. (Yikes! Breath.) And my sister, her husband, and two little boys just moved from out of state to my quiet little shoreline town in Connecticut. I am delighted that now my sister, my mother, and I all live in the same town. And while I’ve been spending many agonizing hours at Ring’s End and Home Depot, I find great joy and comfort in popping over to my sister’s or mother’s for a quick visit. My favorite part of the day is when I stop by or they stop by for a Lebanese subhiyeh which is the social equivalent of Sunday brunch or a coffee klatch

Since socializing is central to Lebanese culture and food is the primary vehicle for socializing, I invited my sister and her family to dinner so I could try out some French Fridays recipes on them. I decided to make two French Fridays recipes this week. In addition to Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli, I also made Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce which was on the recipe schedule from a couple of weeks ago. First, I offer you Garlicky Crumb-Coated Broccoli:

I loved the contrast between the textures of this dish. The butter was velvety, while the bread crumbs provided crunch. I enjoyed tossing the bread crumbs into the melted butter until they absorbed all the butter and continued to cook and toast and turn a nutty brown. Next time, I might use fewer crumbs and more garlic.

Second, I offer you Scallops with Caramel-Orange Sauce. My heart sank when my sister expressed that she does not like scallops, but this recipe was a huge hit with both my sister and brother-in-law. She loved the scallops, ate several of them, and asked for the recipe. I think the key is searing the scallops properly which creates a nice crust while retaining a sweet and moist interior. The sweet and savory sauce is a lovely alternative to the deep fried, chewy scallops typically found at seafood shanties throughout New England.

2011/04/07 / Josefa

Leaf in Web

I recently acquired a Nikon D90 and it has transformed my photo taking capabilities. It’s covered with many scary buttons, so I spent a few weeks with a private instructor learning how to use them. Don’t get me wrong. I still have a loooooong way to go, but even with minimal instruction and training, this camera is so good that it immediately improved the quality of my photos.

Take “Leaf in Web” for instance…

I would like to thank my fancy new camera for helping me win a prize in the 2010 Madison Land Conservation Trust photo contest. I placed third in the Landscapes/Waterscapes category. It has also helped me take many closeups of the food I make for French Fridays with Dorie. While I need to improve the composition of my photographs, at least the photo above shows that I have some understanding of aperture! Go me!

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