Sunday, March 22, 2015

Morning-After Stew

Yesterday we had our monthly French Food Camp in Laguna, with a focus on Spring Herbs & foods.  What a day, what a day!!  We had cooks young and old in the kitchen, including my friend C and her little granddaughter, who volunteered to help make the chocolate tarte.  A short time later, this little four year old happened to lock herself in the powder room.  But while most kids would have had a meltdown, she figured it out and unlocked the door.  Good Girl!! 

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The last guests left after five, and I stayed up with my houseguests chatting by candlelight until ten.  This morning, it was time to do a last pass to clean up the kitchen, they survey the scene again.  The day before, we had the most gorgeous vases of spring branches and flowers courtesy of my friend the most talented Mary Qvale.  Here the ladies were getting ready to be seated for the starter, a grapefruit and shrimp salad that transports me to Paris.

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This morning, all but my own vase and magnolia brances were gone.   Sniff, sigh….I miss those branches!

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I still have one of Mary’s amazing orchids to appreciate too.  I could be spoiled if I have this in my home~

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The bar was sort of cleaned up; I say sort of because it looked a bit of a mess.  Sign of a nice culinary class/party.

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The herb table is still there, waiting for me to put the potted herbs and other discussion props away.

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We discussed a large roster of herbs, the fine and the sturdy.  It was a good afternoon to learn what to do with lemon verbena.

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And what the heck is this plant thing called Chervil?  Believe me, you need this in your garden!

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A few hours of clean up ahead, I think a coffee on the divan might be in order.

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But oh, yes, I have guests.  And food to put away still.  The day after a party one has to deal with all the leftovers.  And while the rib eye steaks were awesome yesterday, with a pat of herbed butter…

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…this morning at six am the remnants were not looking so appetizing.  I had sliced the large steaks into smaller portions, for a family-style three-tray-pass, but there was still a fair bit left, and none of it dog-scraps.  I could make this into chilli for Dad, or cold sandwiches, but he rarely likes to eat anything too “leftover.”

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But that’s fine with me, and I know what my family will and will not eat.  After many a large family dinner, if there is any meat such as a prime rib bone or extra steak, I can still use those bones and meat to make another meal.  The concept of French food thrift is a great one, and often lost here as people throw it all away.  Not necessary, if you get right at it the next morning.  I cleaned out the fridge for some flaccid week-old celery, a piece of lemon, a parsnip, a few tired carrots and a half bottle of red wine left over from yesterday.  Time to transform the leftover steak.

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I pulled a few shallots, bay leaves, dried thyme, fresh oregano snipped from the herb table and a clove of garlic. 

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In winter, I would use this meat and bones if any and leftover veggies and wine to make a stew.  Today I decided to do the same, but in Spring fashion.  I’ll show you my latest French copper this week, but for now I’ll just say I used my Mom’s 1950’s Danish enamel cookware.  Personal attachment to these pieces, and they work just fine, though a French daubiere or Staub cocotte would also be grand.

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So in layers, I added the celery, the steak pieces, the herbs, the vegetables to the pot.  Finished off with the last of the fresh herbs and a few pinches of the dried herbes de Provence that we talked about yesterday.  The bottle of red wine was poured on top and the pot filled with water, enough to cover the contents. No need for stock, this makes its own beef stock.

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Oh wait, there was one more addition.  The rosemary that finished the little bar towel gift that D gave me.  Into the pot the rosemary went.  To bake at 300 degrees, for about three hours.

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As my guests rose around 9am and came to the table for breakfast, the kitchen and much of the house smelled of roasting herbs, red wine and home cooking.  Or you can call it lunch in the making.  After breakfast, I took the stew pot out of the oven to cool and pulled the last of the little spring veggies from the kitchen door baskets.  Little tiny tasty veggies~

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As we came to lunchtime, I gently boiled then lightly broiled the veggies.  The very tender chunks of meat went onto the bed of vegetables, and a quick scissor of fresh herbs on top. 

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In winter we usually want something hearty and stew-like, but in spring, stews need a lighter treatment.  The veggies here are barely cooked, slightly crunchy but not raw.  The cooking liquid was boiled down to a reduction, then thickened with a roux, and served boated on the side. 

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Not at all a bad way to use what is in your fridge for one more meal.  Enjoy your Sunday…if you are interested in coming to next month’s French Food Camp on April 18 we will be brunching is style.  You can see details HERE or email me andrea at FrenchBasketeer.com

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Art of Tidying Up

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal this week about a best selling book by Japanese author Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.   It’s a very interesting article, and I must say, a topic that always resonates with me.  I positively love to have everything organized and clean.  Our home is not small, but it’s not tidy either.   We have lots of stuff, and I’m constantly arranging and rearranging all the stuff for the three of us.  Unlike my brother (whom I love dearly) and a handful of others in my life who are Clean Surfaces kind of people, my parents and I can’t bear to part with let alone say no to any {new} stuff.  I have mentioned that our basement contains anything you might ever want; it’s a little Alibaba’s Cave full of sawed-off broom handles (the used broom end having been tossed) and cleaned and stored jars, and all kinds of interesting things.  Not exactly hoarder-quantity, but enough.   I thought I was doing well this week to get rid of a car-full of R’s books, which had been sitting in the garage, but there were certain ones I simply could not part with.  I mean, how can you say No to Shakespeare, Proust, Tolstoy and Twain? 

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And after last week’s Paris Bistro lunch affair, I decided I had to have the 1900’s Dutch lustreware bowl my friend brought; it is the perfect size and color for Céleri Rémoulade, which I make often.   And being me, I liked it so much, I found a second one on ebay that I will bring to Beaune.  Like my china cupboard needs any more dishes…but it’s ok, it’s been Tidied recently and I made room.  

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This past week, Jill and I did quite a bit of filming for French Food Camp and it was really lovely to pretend that the rest of my kitchen was as tidy as the screen shots.

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Looks pretty good, right?

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Clean and tidy, oui.

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Until you open the top drawer below the stove.  Yikes~  Now, I swear I clean out this drawer every few 2-3 months.  The problem is that the kitchen is heavily used, and my Mom has the habit of throwing any small clean utensil in this drawer since she has no idea where else it might go.  As such, the drawer ends up being an I-Spy when I ask someone to open the drawer and find me an apple corer or herb scissors. Can you find those~?

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Inspired by Marie, I took everything out of the drawer and began to organize.  Thankfully I have a second kitchen, and certain utensils can go there, and I did the major overhaul-clean-out-every-drawer-and-cabinet thing a while ago.  For the kitchen as well as the rest of the house, I pretty much know, if it comes into the house,  know I will be using it.  My friend Peggy in Connecticut has a rule that no new thing can come into the house unless something else goes out; I have used that as a guideline for a long time, hearing her voice say those words; it works sometimes for me but not always.

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I know what I need and use, but for some reason I now have ten vegetable peelers in the drawer.  Some of these are from France, and some are from Williams Sonoma.  I got a two free peelers last week but they are made in {another country} and they can’t peel a potato worth anything.  Time to pare down the peeler collection….

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There are a few other things that are non-negotiable.  My niece Lauren made this little pipecleaner frog for me, and it’s always in this drawer.  It does not peel or core or chop anything, but it’s there because I think of her every time I open the drawer and it makes me smile. Non-negotiable no to declutter.  Marie’s mantra is “does it give you joy?”  Yes, I feel joy every time I see this frog and every other thing in my house.

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I keep a stash of rubber bands and ties (which I use all the time to reseal foods), pastry cutters, various tools, Eiffel Tower scissors and vintage porcelain dish-towel markers in the drawer; one is for towels to dry your hands, and the other indicates a towel for glasses.  I have never used these tags, but they are always in the drawer.  Can someone use them??  $20 the pair.  I tied up the pile of rubber bands with a twistie, in the effort to be tidy.

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Various serving pieces were removed and relocated to their proper locations.

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The end result was a drawer that looks positively organized and contains all that I need that is not within arm’s reach on the countertop.  Everything here is important to me personally, or necessary to cook with.  I thought it looked quite good! For the time that it lasts, upon which time I will reorganize it yet again.

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Not stopping there, Jill and I tidied up the silverware.  Or part of it.  The knives look great all in a row, but this will last for all of about a week.  Still, tidy is nice.  Cheese and butter spreaders are next, handy and organized.

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I feel like I’m on a roll and will keep going with all the tidying.  I will not be buying Marie’s book, though I’m sure it’s great, but will take it as great inspiration as a wanna-be-tidy person. 

Today we were busy with market shopping, lunch, a few phone calls to old friends and spending time together.  No time for tidy, it was time for food and flour and rolling pasta.  That is, it was time to make a mess.  And what pasta we had: hand-cut homemade papardelle with a pesto of basil and spinach from the market with garlic and lemon and the last of the winter walnuts.  All local; goodness it was good; I’m making this for friend again soon.  Making this pasta, I was happy to not be tidy.

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Have a lovely weekend and hope you are eating and living well, whether you are making a mess or cleaning one up~

Friday, February 27, 2015

French Food Camp goes Paris Bistro

After several weeks of menu planning, and a few days of prep cooking, I was finally ready for the run-up to the French Food Camp Paris Bistro event at home in Laguna.  The night before, I stayed up very late to make some crème brûlée infused with my favorite-of-the-moment Ladurée tea, amongst other to do’s.   My Biscuit Dog is no help, but she is a lot of support, watching me from her bed underneath my favorite kitchen chair at midnight.  This look says Mommy, enough! Time for bed~

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The next morning, I rose early to crank out three shortbread crusts, then go off to the market do to the final shopping.  Some of the produce stays outside the kitchen door since there isn’t enough room inside.  Guests who come up the kitchen stairs can see what is going into today’s meal just by glancing at the various baskets as I greet them at the Dutch door.  Today, leeks, various potatoes, citrus, various herbs and lots and lots of salads~

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In the kitchen, before the guests arrived, I plumped up some sun-dried figs with some citrus and port.  This glorious combination will go into a chocolate tarte.

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And a trio of beet varieties from the Irvine Farmers Market got dressed with fresh thyme and a quick drizzle of olive oil, then into the oven wrapped in foil.  Roast at 350 until they pierce with a fork (they should be tender).  Cool and then slip the skins off.  A must for a Parisian Salad!!

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Meanwhile, outside, Jill set the table, with Limoges and lots of roses, corks and candles.  We added glassware later.  But a communal table was fun and reminiscent of some of my favorite bistros in Paris, past and present.

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When I think of Paris bistros, I think of roses.  There may be one big bunch in a Champagne bucket, or a single rose on each table.  But we went for a row of Champagne buckets, stuffed with roses, down the center of the table. You can buy them by the bunch for $3.99 at Trader Joes.  Accordion music was playing, and it was a fun atmosphere for a lunch. 

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The hour before the Camp began was like the hour before the opening of a bistro….is it all in place?  Napkins? Menus? Mustard and butter and water on the tables?? Oui~ Check.  The scene was set!!

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My prep was interrupted for a bit when a car I didn’t recognize pulled up the drive.  None other than the fabulous Jonnie of Bread Artisan Bakery.  She and her colleague brought a mass of baguettes, French-style in the flour sacks, along with a handful of seeded epi and three loaves of au levain miche

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I can not be more excited about any bakery in Southern California….this is my comfort food, my staple, the one bite and it-takes-me-home kind of food.  I’m going to have an event at home for Bread Artisan Bakery as soon as we can coordinate it, but if you live in Southern California and love truly authentic French bread, you must try this bread.  I sent the last of the baguettes and epi home with my friends, and the miche was sliced by Jill and put in the freezer, with the bits being used to make herbes de Provence croutons.   Every morning I have a slice of this bread and an egg for breakfast; it’s insanely good!!!  You can buy this bread at the Downtown Santa Ana Farmers Market on Thursdays 4-8pm, otherwise it’s wholesale, or you have to beg Jonnie to sell you some, I guess!!

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As guests arrived, I gave them a tour of the bread and appie table…we had my favorite celeri remoulade (bistro comfort food if there is one) and a terrine I made of porc and veal.  Chicken liver galore and potted herbed goat cheese…

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Jill wrote out the abbreviated menu on an enormous LP mirror supplied by my antiquaire friend Leah~

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the pop-up brocante was a lot of fun, to browse and to shop and to admire the enormous glass cloches

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Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we got busy assembling a variety of dishes.  When I lived in Paris and frequented many bistros, I loved potato cakes with bacon.  In Paris you got a slice, but I decided to make minis.

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Personal potato and bacon cakes; these were soooo good and worthy of any Paris bistro.

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On the other side of the kitchen, we rolled out shortbread crust and talked about pastry and Paris at length.

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I demonstrated how to roll out a full crust, with all tips you need to do this right~

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We ended up with a table full of desserts, including chocolate mousse two ways, lemon tarte, and passion fruit tarte~

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The passion fruit tarte is adapted from the Picasso of Pastry, my very favorite patissier, Pierre Hermé.  It’s Jill’s favorite patisserie moment from Paris, can you tell~

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This sweet confection is now going to be her signature tarte.  It was delicious, surprizing, delicate, amazing, gorgeous, nothing less than expected for a Parisian patisserie~

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I layered one of the chocolate tartes with figs and port wine with citrus. Wow, in a bite~  To be a Parisian patisserie it must be better than the rest, in taste, ingredients or texture.

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A Katie-Approved dessert plate~~!!!

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Oh, but while some of us got started on the desserts, there were still main dishes to enjoy.  Like any bistro, we cranked out the plates from the modest kitchen.  Steak-frites, with fries three ways: salted, herbed and truffled.  Universally loved by all the diners.  This was reason enough to come for lunch for the afternoon~

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There was a gorgeous bistro salad plated for everyone.  Very simple but delicious with a Dijon vinaigrette and fresh herbs~

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Or did we love the desserts more?  this is the problem of dining in France and in Paris…it’s all good, and if you came to the class, you’d know how to make these dishes yourself~

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The next French Food Camp is next month in Laguna, for spring foods.  If you would like to host your own French Food Camp or have me come show you how, please contact me;