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Category: Starter

Parmesan soup from ‘l’ami Jean’

Stéphane Jégo

Stéphane Jégo

Last friday I was in Paris for the week-end. A bit of business and a lot of pleasure. What a better way to start a Friday night than with a dinner at one of my favourite bistrots in Paris, l’ami Jean. I can’t tell you how much I love this place. Not only is the chef Stéphane Jégo a friend, but he is also a genius in the kitchen. His cuisine matches my taste. He cooks in the true bistrot way, which is, in my opinion, gastronomy without the ‘chichi‘. At l’ami Jean, you dine on wooden rustic tables, the room feels like a tavern, you can see, feel and hear the chef. The heat and wine flatter my cheeks, and yes, I feel full and happy when the meal is finished. That’s how I like to eat, enjoying the food, the quality, the atmosphere and the talent. You can just go there for a drink and a charcuterie plate, or have a culinary feast.

All the simple ingredients

All the simple ingredients

When I lived in Paris, I was a regular at l’ami Jean, a few steps away from the Eiffel tower. Not only was it a street away from my apartment, but I also met Stéphane on a daily basis outside our kid’s school as his daughter was in the same class as mine. While waiting for our kids, Stéphane would talk about his latest dishes, making me hungry as a wolf by 11:45 am. At l’ami Jean, you instantly feel the strength in the kitchen. The high-powered energy, fuelled by the rugged Breton Stéphane, makes this place a tour de force.

parcrout

In the kitchen at l'ami Jean

In the kitchen at l’ami Jean

There’s nothing more comforting than finding out that the soup you had once upon a ‘memory‘ is still on the menu. I am talking about the famous Parmesan soup, a must-have at l’ami Jean. I just had to order it once again, this very rich and decadent soup filled with bits of deliciousness – shallots, chives, croûtons and bacon sitting impatiently at the bottom of a soup dish, ready to be immersed in a velvety and creamy Parmesan ‘émulsion’, as Stéphane calls it. What can you say when a soup hits all the right notes? C’est si bon!

mfsoup

loutulips

Stéphane was kind enough to share this recipe. As soon as we were back home in Médoc, I found myself making the soup for lunch. The kids loved it so much at the restaurant, and wanted to know if I could re-create it at home. It was so good, so delicious, I think I’ll be making it again for Christmas. Merci Stéphane! I feel like I have Paris on a plate again.

L’ami Jean, 27 rue Malar, 75007, Paris France.

Ingredients: (Serves a very generous 4-6)
2 onions (coarsely chopped)
50 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter
200 g/ 1/2 pound parmesan (sliced)
1 liter/ 1 quart chicken stock
2 liters/ 2 quarts cream
1 liter/ 1 quart milk
50 g/ 1/3 cup bacon (finely chopped)
10 branches of chives (finely chopped)
1 shallot (finely chopped)
2 tbsp croûtons (fry some diced small cubes of country bread in olive oil until golden)
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Coarsely chop the onions. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onions and fry on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Add 150 g of sliced parmesan, chicken stock, milk and cream. Simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop finely the bacon. Fry for 5 minutes until crispy. Seta side. Finely chop the chives, shallots (as fine as possible). Set aside.
When the soup is ready, add the remaining sliced parmesan. Simmer for a further 10 minutes. Mix in a food processor, and strain through a sieve. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the soup warm.
Place the shallots, chives, croûtons and bacon in a soup dish, serve soup immediately.

Once upon a time in Paris after a big meal at l'ami Jean

Once upon a time in Paris after a big meal at l’ami Jean

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Caramelized beetroot tarte tatin

Beetroot tarte tatin

I just can’t shake off that Christmas spirit. As soon as December 1st arrived, the kids opened their chocolate Advent calendar and I started unpacking the Christmas ornaments stored in the attic. I had been eyeing the packed boxes for weeks, patiently waiting for the right moment. I couldn’t wait to meet our old friends again, the ballerina that Mia refuses to part with after every Christmas, the spaced-out monkey, the dog Hudson sadly broke two years ago, whose spirit remains intact ever since. And those cubes, my all-time favourite… For this special occasion, I wanted a to make a festive meal winning me back to childhood days. I made a caramelized beetroot tarte tatin, flavoured with red onion and balsamic vinegar. The deep-red velvet color is so theatrical, perfect for this magical moment . There I was, a plate on my lap with a slice of this tarte, enjoying each bite as the luscious crème fraîche generously coated the beetroots and croustillant pastry. May the holiday season begin!

Beetroot tarte tatin slice

My Christmas ornaments

Caramelized beetroot tarte tatin

Ingredients:

800-900 g beetroots/ up to 2 pounds beetroots (approx. medium-sized 6 beetroots cooked and peeled)
1 large red onion (sliced)
2 tbsp brown sugar
40 g/ 3-4 tbsp butter + butter to line the cake pan
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)

Pastry:
For the shortcrust pastry:
200 g/ 1 & 1/2 cup plain flour
125 g/ 1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and sliced in cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp cold water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and mix using your hands until dough is crumbly. Make a well in the center, add egg and water. Mix well until dough is soft and form a ball. Roll dough on a floured surface, adding flour if necessary if dough is too sticky. With a rolling-pin, roll dough large enough to cover the cake pan.

For serving:
Crème fraîche (or sour cream) – 1 tbsp per person
A large handful of chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F

Remove the skin from the cooked beetroots and slice in quarters. In a large frying pan, heat the brown sugar. As soon as it’s starting to melt, add the butter and stir. Add the beetroots and red onion, fry (on a medium to high heat) for 10-12 minutes, until they start to caramelize, add balsamic vinegar, reduce for 2 minutes until sauce is thick and glossy. Set aside.

To assemble:
Butter a round cake pan, layer the beetroots so the surface is entirely covered (try to pick out the red onion for the surface layer) – make sure to ‘display’ them nicely as the tart will be inverted. Add the red onions and sauce. Place the pastry sheet on top and tuck in at the edges. Prick the pastry with a fork all over. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning it out gently. Place on a serving plate. (Don’t worry if a few pieces of beetroot fall out-of-place, you can simply re-arrange them like a puzzle).

Hound

Winter cocotte


I was so delighted to see all the carrots with character at the market on Saturday. All the deep shades and smells inspired me to make a hearty dish filled with warmth. So I picked a few purple and yellow carrots, parsnip for its sweetness, a small pumpkin for the fleshiness, topinambours for the unbelievable nutty after-taste, a fine match with chestnuts. All the ‘best of‘ the season gathered in one dish. I rushed over to my butcher, ordered one slice of poitrine fumée. I get such satisfaction from details, like a perfect slice of bacon, proudly shown to you on a sheet of white paper. I also knew that it was going to dramatically change my dish, turning it into a richly flavoured burgundy colored winter’s stew. It’s amazing what a little piece of meat can do.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

15 chestnuts (peeled and cooked)
1 small pumpkin (peeled, deseeded & cut into small slices – I used the ‘mini’ pumpkins )
2 carrots (diced)
1 parsnip (diced)
1 celery branch (sliced)
4 small topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (sliced finely in ‘rondelles’)
1 garlic clove (sliced finely)
1 onion (sliced finely)
150 g/ 1/3 pound slice of bacon (whole or diced)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp red wine
80 ml/ 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp butter
A small handful of fresh chives (finely chopped)
A small handful of parsley (finely chopped)
Salt & pepper for seasoning

In a medium-sized cocotte/ pot, heat olive oil (on a medium heat) and fry the onion until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the bacon and fry for another 4-5 minutes. (Note: If you are using poitrine fumée/ smoked slab bacon like I did, I would suggest to blanch the meat in boiling water for a few minutes before frying). Add all the carrots, topinambours, celery, parsnip, garlic, squash, chestnuts and stir until the vegetables get coated. Season with salt and pepper. After 5 minutes add the red wine, reduce for 2 minutes, then add the chicken or vegetable stock. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20-25 minutes. The vegetables shouldn’t be overcooked as it is nice to keep everything on the crunchier side. When ready to serve, add butter, chopped chives and parsley. (For those who like a little extra taste, you can drizzle a hint of vinaigrette (2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp mustard, 1 tsp wine vinegar, salt & pepper – mix well).

Who says dogs can’t read!

A French Thanksgiving in Médoc

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. Oscar Wilde

My family and I are from all over. My mother is French, my father Chinese, my husband is Icelandic and a quarter German, my grandfather was Polish… Une famille bien mélangée as one would say. French is the main language at home, but so is English, followed by Icelandic and Chinese (Mandarin). Whatever works.
Culture defines who we are and enables us to express ourselves. When you have so many different ones within your family, you start combining all sets of beliefs and try to be as open-minded as possible. I call it wisdom.
I have been so inspired lately by the Thanksgiving preparations from my friends and fellow bloggers. Having been invited to a few Thanksgiving events in my life mostly through American amis, I have never had a chance to truly celebrate it at home. So last night, I decided to prepare a little French Thanksgiving repas familial.

We are all so busy, so caught up in our daily lives that any reminder to stop and think ‘What am I thankful for’ is wonderful. It’s a beautiful thought, and there aren’t enough of those these days.

I am so thankful for my family, they are my love and inspiration, my raison d’être. It’s been two years since we embarked on an adventurous move to Médoc. It’s been a sensational world of discoveries, stimulation and revelations. I love the nature that surrounds us, the new friends we have met, the freedom we give to our dogs, the joy we share at the table.

Château Lanessan

One of the perks of living in this part of France is being able to drop by a château to buy wine. I recently went to château Lanessan to get a few good bottles and walk through the vineyards. I always make sure to bring my friends there. We enjoy the wine-tasting and visiting the property surrounded by beautiful horse stables. It’s one of my favourite châteaux in Médoc, so enchanting in its neo-Tudoresque style. There’s something terribly romantic about that place. It certainly stirs one’s imagination. My children call it the Scooby-Doo ghost castle, I call it the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ château.

Right here, right now, the best place to be is in the vineyards. The golden leaves are dancing away from the autumn wind, soon the trees will be bare leaving me chagrined. For now, I am reflecting on the honeyed caramel hues, so pleasurable to the eye and to the soul. Could these gourmand colours be an appetite opener? I would like to think so.

Honey Bee

So here was the menu for my improvised Thanksgiving. We started with a potage de topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes) with parsnip chips. Just the word topinambour sounds so festive, like a soup with drum beats! We then enjoyed a cocotte de daube de boeuf (beef stew) with autumn vegetables. For dessert, I chose my all-time favourite, a Mont-blanc. It’s my version of a Mont-blanc (classic dessert that looks like snow-capped mountain), a meringue with whipped cream, the all mighty god of all goodies crème de marron, and marrons glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar and glazed). It’s about time I share my love and passion for chestnut vanilla cream from Clément Faugier. I am a huge fan since I was a kid, eating it straight from the pot or mixed with fromage blanc. It’s a cream made of chestnuts, vanilla and sugar. I hope you can all get it, one way or another, for it is my most treasured péché mignon (sweet weakness)!

As if our family tree was not complicated enough, it recently grew a few more branches. Our dog family is as diverse as the human one. We have two new additions, an American and a Hungarian. Miss Honey Bee, (a smooth fox terrier from American lines) and Luc (another smooth born to our two wonderful Hungarian imports Yul and Sky). Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Black pig sausage & Luc

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

Topinambours potage
500 g/ 1 pound topinambours-Jerusalem artichokes (peeled and sliced coarsely)
500 ml/ 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 shallot (sliced)
20 ml/ 2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche
A pinch of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Parsnip chips:
4-5 parsnips
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt (for seasoning)
In a large heavy saucepan, fill oil no more than halfway and heat to 180°C/ 350 F. You can test one slice of parsnip, drop it in the oil – if it starts sizzling, the oil is ready. Fry parsnip slices by batches, 2-3 minutes each, or until golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, slice coarsely and set aside. In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and continue frying for 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add chicken stock. Lower heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Mix in food processor until you get a smooth and velvety soup. Return to pot, season more if necessary and add crème fraîche. Serve immediately with sprinkled parsnip chips and parsley.

Daube de boeuf (beef stew – to be prepared the night before)
1 kg/ 2 pounds paleron de boeuf (beef shoulder, or preferred stewing-type beef)
150 g chunk of bacon/ 1/3 pounds (cut in sticks, lardons or sliced)
250 ml/ 1 cup red wine
250 ml/ 1 cup beef stock
2 small parsnips (cut in chunks)
1 carrot (cut in chunks)
5 small topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (sliced in semi-thick rondelles)
1 leek (sliced in two pieces)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
1 shallot (sliced)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp flour
1 bay leaf
A small handful of chopped chives
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
50 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter (for frying)

Place beef with sliced onions, 3 cloves, bay leaf and thyme in a bowl. Pour wine, cover with cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge. You can add a bit of water so the beef is covered. The next day, drain beef and pat dry, reserve wine and herbs, discard cloves. In a large cocotte/ pot, melt the butter, brown beef on all sides and set aside on a plate. In the same pot, add a bit more butter, fry the onions, bacon and shallot for 3 minutes, add the garlic, carrot and beef. Take off the heat, add flour, mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat, add reserved wine and leave to reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock. Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon, add the thyme, bay leaf, parsnips, leek and sliced topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours, or until beef is tender.

Mont-blanc
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
300-400 g/1 1/2 cup crème de marrons/ chestnut cream
6 marrons glacés/glazed candied chestnuts (cut in small chunks)
Icing sugar (for garnishing)

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. The egg whites should form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes). With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

To assemble:
Whip the cream, place 2 tbsp on each meringue. Pipe the chestnut cream (pastry bag with a small round tip), add small chunks of marrons glacés on top and sprinkle with icing sugar.

The wacky and wonderful world of cèpes

Freshly picked cèpes mushroom and wild cyclamens

After all the excitement build-up since the kids started school, days of searching in vain, we finally found beautiful cèpes. I have been sharing a few moments from my mushroom adventures through Instagram, discovering amazing parts of the forest I never knew. Every morning, I feel like an explorer, entering the woods with my stick, scrambling the leaves, and always looking down. I have lost my trail several times, playing games of twister with the fern, spiky branches and leaves everywhere. Total freedom. If I was in the girls scouts, I think I’d deserve a few brownie points for bravery and eagerness.

Into the wild

It’s rare to meet fellow mushroom pickers where we are, but I have met a few retired farmers holding large cèpes-filled baskets. It is considered very rude and inappropriate to ask where they unearthed their cèpes. Everybody has their secret places and they are not to be shared. Cèpes are most likely to be found by oak trees, but they can really be found everywhere. I heard that grandfathers reveal their lucky cèpes locations on their deathbeds. It’s in the family’s vault. There are also women curiously referred to as mushroom witches. They know where to go and can feel the cèpes from afar. These women go home with thirty kilograms of brown buttons every day. Whatever it is, there is an element of magic in the forest. I believe it is enchanted, filled with secrets and powers. The overwhelming energy makes me feel like a stronger person. The other day, I stumbled across the most fairytale-like view. Thousands of pink and white wild cyclamens glowing in the darkest part of the woods. I don’t think I could have asked for a better movie-set. Now I should really believe in fairies!

My husband took the kids mushroom hunting Sunday morning. It was pouring with rain, but they were all geared up and super excited. They came back home totally drenched, but their faces were brightened with the biggest smiles. They found twenty gorgeous cèpes very near our house. For lunch, I prepared buttered tagliatelle with garlic cèpes (fried in garlic and parsley) for the kids. For us grown-ups, we had cèpes omelette and cèpes carpaccio (sliced raw) with olive oil, salt and pepper. The kids were so proud, and I could see how gratified they felt when we thanked them for ‘providing’ food for the family.

Cleaning cèpes is simple. I use a knife, toothbrush, a damp cloth and a potato peeler. Cut off the tip of the mushroom’s stalk, scrape off as much earth as possible, peel a single layer of the stalk. It is not advised to wash them in water, because they are like sponges. You can wipe them with a damp cloth for a proper final cleaning.

Médoc is immersed in cèpes culture. Here, the cèpe mushroom is the king of the forest and one of the most sought-after delicacies. They are so hearty and flavorful, with the perfect combination of earthy and sweet taste. There are so many ways to enjoy cèpes, this is only the beginning of this fall’s love affair. Here are a few recipes I’ve been cooking this week.

Basic cèpes cooking tips:

● Always season cèpes with salt as soon as you start to cook them.
● Cook mushrooms on a high heat so the water evaporates faster
● If your frying pan is small, cook mushrooms in batches to avoid soggy mushrooms (if there is too much water released at once, the mushrooms won’t brown and cook in its own juice)
● If you want to store cèpes, it is best to wrap them in a cloth and stored in the refrigerator. Never put them in a plastic bag.

Potato and cèpes soup (serves 4)

400 g fresh cèpes, sliced (+ 1 tbsp butter, one garlic and one shallot, finely chopped, for frying)
8 medium potatoes
3 cloves of garlic
A pinch of nutmeg
3 tbsp butter
6 tbsp crème fraîche (or more depending on your taste)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Peel and chop potatoes into medium chunks. In a large pot, add potatoes, salt, nutmeg and garlic. Pour water just enough to cover the potatoes. Cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes. Mash soup with a potato masher. Add butter, pepper and crème fraîche. Cover and set aside. Now you can prepare the cèpes, which will take a few minutes. Melt butter in a frying pan, add finely chopped shallots and garlic and fry for a few minutes. Turn heat to high, add sliced cèpes, sprinkle with salt, give the pan a good shake – this should take one minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve soup in large bowls, add a generous amount of cèpes per person, sprinkle with more parsley.

Cèpes en persillade (serves 4)

Should you not have any cèpes, many other seasonal mushrooms works well with persillade.

1 kg fresh cèpes mushrooms, sliced in half if they are small enough (see photo), or sliced.
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1 large shallot
3-4 tbsp butter or olive oil, for frying

Peel garlic and shallot and chop them as finely as possible. I use my food processor – quick and easy. Finely chop parsley. Set aside.
In a frying pan, melt butter, add finely chopped shallots and garlic and fry for a 1-2 minutes. Turn heat to high, add sliced cèpes, sprinkle with salt, give the pan a good shake – this should take 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Cèpes omelette – serves one very generous omelette

4 medium-sized cèpes (sliced)
3 eggs
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped shallots
A handful of chopped parsley
1 tbsp butter or olive oil, for frying

Whisk 3 eggs in a bowl till slighly frothy. Set aside. In a medium-sized frying pan, melt butter (or olive oil) add garlic and shallots and fry for 2 minutes. Add sliced cèpes, season with salt, stir well and cook for 30 seconds on a medium heat. Take a few cèpes and set aside to garnish the omelette. Add beaten eggs, salt and pepper, lower heat and cook for 3 minutes (depending on how you like your omelette cooked). Sprinkle with parsley. Take off from heat, gently roll omelette on each side. Return pan to heat for a few seconds. Place on a plate, plate saved cèpes on top of the omelette, sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Cèpes carpaccio

4 small cèpes per person
Olive oil, salt and black pepper for seasoning

Only choose smaller cèpes for this recipe. Slice cèpes into thin slices. Place on a plate, drizzle some olive oil, salt and pepper.

September is for snails

There are only two hundred snail farms in France, so you can imagine my delight when I discovered that one of them was just around the corner. Heliciculturalist Françoise Pion and her husband Francis have been successfully cultivating the Helix aspersa maxima, better known as the ‘gros gris’ snail. France remains the largest consumers of snails in the world, consuming 40,000 tons per year. It is considered a delicacy and loved by most, especially cooked in the manner of ‘Escargots à la Bourguignonne‘, baked in the oven with garlic butter. Snail cuisine represents a very important part of French heritage, just like foie gras, wine and cheese.

Françoise & Francis Pion

Françoise advised me to come on a rainy day, when the snail pens are most impressive. The wooden sheds are covered in thousands of gros gris (large grey) snails. Even in my wildest imagination had I never witnessed such a scene. Cultivating snails requires a meticulous understanding of nature, balance and patience. The mortality rate can be as high as 40% as these molluscs are very sensitive to the environment, but the couple discovered a homeopathic doctor, a snail whisperer, renowned for his herbal treatments. The water sprayed on the snails is infused with a special concoction. Since then the snails have been healthier than ever, with hardly any mortality rates. These treatments are also used in oyster farms in the Arcachon bay and have proven to be very successful.

I have always loved snails since I was a child. If there are escargots on the menu, I will most probably order them. Ancient Romans considered snails to be an elite food, often served during Lent as it was neither considered meat nor fish. In the old days, châteaux in France had their own private snail farms to cater to their gourmet tables. Snails are mature when a lip forms at the opening of their shell. Snail picking usually starts in September. Unless you live in an snail-friendly environment or a snail farm, buying them fresh can be a difficult task. However, you can find good-quality canned or frozen snails in most fine ‘épiceries‘ (grocery store/delicatessen). Françoise’s clientèle is mostly based around Bordeaux and Médoc, catering to some of the major chefs around the region.

It was obvious I had to ask Françoise and her husband Francis to introduce me to snail recipes, as I have never cooked them before. They kindly shared a few of their favourite ones, such as snails à la Bourguignonne (her favourite – baked in garlic butter), snails à la Bordelaise (his favourite – meat based wine sauce) and snails sautéed in cèpes mushrooms and persillade (parsley and garlic). I had so much fun learning how to prepare these delicacies with them – I couldn’t have had better teachers! The garlic butter was exactly what I had wished for (I kept the left-over butter in the freezer – it will be perfect for steaks), and the Bordelaise sauce was pure extravagance. It was so good, next time I will make a double portion so I can save some sauce for a pasta dish.

Ingredients:

Preparing the snails:

Blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes. Rinse several times in clear water. In a large bowl of water mixed with 2 tbsp of vinegar, clean the snails with the help of a small brush (a toothbrush is good). Rinse in clear water again.

Prepare the court-bouillon (broth):

2 litres chicken broth
250 ml dry white wine
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper

Chop the onion, celery, carrot and parsley, add in a large saucepan with the wine and broth. Add bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil. Place snails in pot, the broth should cover snails entirely. Cover and cook them on a low heat for 2 hours. Let the snails cool in the broth. Use a small ‘snail’ fork to remove the snails from their shells. Insert the fork to separate the meat from the shells, twisting the shells away from the meat to separate. Discard (just tear with your fingers) the ‘twisted’ past of the snail (intestines). If you are cooking a recipe with shelled snails, return the snail back in its shell. Just push it back in with a small fork or use your index finger. If you are cooking the snail’s flesh, just set aside on a plate or prepare for freezing storage in a ziplock bag.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

For 7 dozen snails (84 snails)
250 g butter (at room temperature)
4 garlic cloves
1 shallot
1 bunch of parsley
1 tbsp fleur de sel/ coarse salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg

In a food processor, mix garlic and shallots for 2 minutes. Add parsley, salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix 1 minute. Add butter (at room temperature) and mix 30 more seconds until you get a smooth paste. Place a small piece of garlic butter (approx 1 tsp depending on size of snail) inside snail. Arrange snails in an appropriate dish and place them in a preheated oven at 200°C degrees for about 5-8 minutes and serve.

Escargots à la Bordelaise

For 9 dozen snails
450 g sausage meat
150 g ham (cut into small squares)
5 small shallots
2 garlic cloves
A handful of parsley
1 kg tomato passata
½ l red wine
½ l chicken broth
2 tbsp flour
Olive oil (for frying)
Salt and pepper
1 pinch chilli powder

In a large pan, heat olive oil and add minced garlic and shallots . Cook until soft and slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add sausage meat, ham and parsley and continue to cook until browned. Take the pan off the heat, add 1 tbsp of flour and mix well. Return to heat, add tomato passata, mix well, cover and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Add chicken broth, red wine, salt, pepper and chilli. Cover and cook for a further 15 minutes. Add shelled snails and cook for 10 minutes on a very low heat. Serve immediately.

Escargots aux cèpes

300 g cleaned and coarsely chopped cèpes mushrooms
300 g deshelled snails
1 garlic clove (sliced)
A bun of parsley, finely chopped
Butter (for frying) or garlic butter (see previous recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and slice mushrooms coarsely. Heat a frying pan on a medium heat. When the pan is very hot, add the mushrooms, without any fat. Fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Set aside and drain if necessary. Melt garlic butter (see previous recipes) in frying pan, sauté snails (deshelled) for 2-3 minutes. Return mushrooms to pan, stirring constantly. On a high heat, add chopped parsley and garlic, salt and pepper, mix well for 10 seconds. Serve immediately.

Dinner for friends

What to cook for homesick French friends? Well, les grands classiques, bien sûr! My friends Jean-Pierre and Alexia came over for a visit last week-end. They left Paris three long years ago and came back to France for a little holiday. They absolutely love their new life, but had turned into homesick Parisians, or, should I say homesick for good old French food. Nothing can really replace the authentic taste of baguette, country bread, Normandy butter and fresh foie gras from the Gers region. I can understand exactly how they feel as I have been in a similar situation when I lived abroad. Sentimentally speaking, I had to cook food that meant the world to me. Good times, good friends and good food have a precious link.

Pastis before…

And Pastis after (diluted with water).

So here was the menu: A little glass of Pastis for an apéritif. The hot summer nights call for a little anis seed infused cooling drink. For starters, a hearty old-fashioned onion soup that is so good you will want to keep this recipe forever. Served with Comté cheese tartines. The main course had to be special. In France, we have the Eiffel tower, we have couture, we have wine, and we have foie gras. Foie gras is the national festive food, often served for Christmas, new year’s eve or any special occasion. And there are so many special occasions. I got a glistening piece of foie gras from a producer in the Gers (he has a reputation for being ethical and working with proper methods).

Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac

Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples (flambés with cognac) on toast

Pan-fried foie gras with poached egg and Périgueux sauce

As they are good old friends dashing with humour, I couldnt’ help making a little ‘Portrait Chinois‘ (if you were a dish, what would you be?) of them through my cooking. For Jean-Pierre, it had to be the poached egg version with Périgueux sauce as his family is originally from there. For Alexia, the golden rosé apples match her beautiful mane, for my husband, a baked version with Chasselas grapes macerated in Cognac, very masculine and deep. And for me, a simple pan-fried version with figs and Chasselas grapes, since they come from my grandmother’s hometown Moissac. September rhymes with Chasselas grapes.

And what a better way to finish this sumptuous meal than with a Paris-Brest? A decadent choux pastry filled with praline and coffee cream reminding us all of good times spent at Chez Michel (10 Rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris), one of our favourite bistrots in Paris, where they make the best Paris-Brest in the world.

May good times last forever.

Main ingredients:
1 good-quality duck or goose foie gras (approx 500 g), veins and impurities removed, cut into 1-1.5 cm/ 1/2-inch thick slices
300 g Chasselas grapes (or good quality small green grapes)
8 small figs
1 golden rosé apple
Country bread
Cognac

Fig heaven

1) Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples and cognac.
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice apples horizontally.
In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras and apples. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras and apples. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the apples to cook for 3-5 mores minutes turning them on each sides. Drain the pan, keeping a little bit of duck fat and fry slice of bread in pan for 10 seconds on each sides. Serve apples and bread with foie gras.

2) Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Preheat oven 200°C. Peel and remove pips from grapes. Place in a bowl and soak in cognac for at least 2 hours. Place foie gras in a heat-proof small oven dish (I use a small Staub cocotte) and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, drain the fat and add macerated grapes in dish. Bake for 8 more minutes and serve.

3) Pan-fried foie gras with Chasselas grapes and figs
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice figs in quarters. Rinse and dry Chasselas grapes. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras, figs and grapes. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras, figs and grapes. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the figs and grapes to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.

4) Pan-fried foie gras with sauce Périgueux and poached egg.
Sauce Périgueux:
50 g butter
200 ml stock
1 small glass white wine
1 shallots (finely sliced)
2 g salt
10 g flour
1 bay leaf
1 chopped black truffle
2 g pepper

Chop the truffle and set aside. In a small pan, melt butter and fry shallots until soft. Add flour, stir well, add wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Stir well. Gradually add stock and stir constantly. Add bay leaf, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat. The sauce should be slightly thick and creamy. Strain the sauce and add the chopped truffle last.

Egg: In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. Prepare your egg by breaking it into a little cup so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the egg in the water. Cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if it needs a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make the form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like the egg cooked, 3-5 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon egg onto a plate. Set aside and drain.

Foie gras: Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Place the egg on top, drizzle generously with sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Old-fashioned French onion soup with Comté tartines
1 kg large yellow onions (sliced finely)
50 g duck fat (alternatively you can use butter instead)
1.5 litre good-quality chicken stock
100 g Comté cheese
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Old-fashioned French onion soup

Peel onions and slice them finely. In a large pot, heat duck fat and cook onions on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and cook for 15 minutes. Scoop out half of the onions and purée the onions in a food processor. Return the pureed onions to the soup and mix well. The soup should have a nice smooth velvety consistency as well as bits of onions.
In a pre-heated oven 200 °C, grill a few slices of country bread topped with a slice of Comté cheese for a few minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Serve soup in individual bowls, add a melted cheese tartine on top of each bowls and season with salt and pepper.

Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest
(serves 8-10)
For the choux pastry ring:
150 g plain flour
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g butter
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 tbsp flaked/sliced almonds
Icing sugar (for sprinkling)

For the cream filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g sugar
40 g flour
60 g ready-made praline mix (it’s a mixture of sugared ground almonds and hazelnuts – nearly like a paste)
350 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
175 g good-quality butter – at room temperature
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

For the choux pastry:
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt, sugar and bring to a simmer. Take the pan away from the heat and add the flour (in one go) and stir constantly until you get a smooth dough. Put back on a low heat for 2-3 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Off the heat, add the beaten eggs, slowly (reserve 4-5 tbsp for final brushing) and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature. Line baking tray with parchment paper and trace a 20 cm circle. Place the choux dough in a piping bag with a large nozzle (2.5 cm) and pipe the 20 cm ring. Pipe a second ring around the inside next to the first ring. Finally, pipe another ring on top of these two rings. Use remaining beaten egg adding a small pinch of salt – brush top ring with egg and sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is firm and golden. Take out from oven and immediately slice the ring horizontally into two layers so the steam escapes. Set aside and leave to cool.

For the cream filling:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the flour. In another pan, bring milk to a boil with the salt and coffee, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, return it to the pan, and whisk over gentle heat until boiling. Once thickened, cook the cream gently for one minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool completely, until cold. Once cooled, gradually ‘smooth’ in butter with a spatula, alternating with the praline. Note: If you are not a praline or coffee flavour fan, you can alternate and create your own filling with rum, vanilla, chocolate. As you wish.

Assembling:
Scoop cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Put the lower half of the pastry ring on a serving plate. Pipe the cream in ‘rosettes’ onto the ring and set the upper ring on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Keep in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

Lucky pumpkin soup

C’est la rentrée! Today is a big day as it’s back to school for kids in France! Two months of summer bliss have passed and the time has come to start a new school year. September is a very exciting month. The weather has ripened to perfection, the colours are becoming richer and slowly maturing to a golden hue. Harvest season is starting in Médoc – the grapes are soon ready to be picked and bottled into vintage ‘crus‘. There’s something in the air that’s so powerful and potent these days, as if it was nature’s way to say: ‘I am ready‘. Life and growth is a miracle we should never take for granted. Since I have been living in the country, my sensibility to life has been elevated to new heights.

I have been very lucky to have received yet another abundance of vegetable offerings, this time from Dania, a new friend I met recently through our dogs. Dania is a wonderful horse-breeder and owns a château nearby. She dropped by to give me some of her delicious organic vegetables. Potatoes, aubergines, carrots, garlic and amazing pumpkins of all sorts. I love pumpkins and always try to have a few on our table all year long. They are the heart of my kitchen and inspire me to cook and write. My Chinese grandfather told me that pumpkins have the power to transmit your ancestor‘s luck. That must be why they are my lucky charms.

To inaugurate an auspicious fall, I turned one of my beloved pumpkins into a soup. It’s earthy, wholesome and brings you good luck. I can’t think of a better way to start the new season.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

1 pumpkin (potiron – smaller type) – peeled, deseeded and chopped into chunks
1 small onion (chopped)
150 g chestnuts (peeled)
700 ml chicken stock
30 g butter
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Crème fraîche (for serving)
Salt and pepper for seasoning
8-10 thin slices of pancetta
A bunch of parsley (finely chopped)

In a large pot, heat the butter on a medium heat and fry the onions until soft and slightly golden, about 4-5 minutes. Add the coarsely sliced pumpkin and give it a good stir. Lower the heat and add the chicken stock and chestnuts. Stir. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender.
Puree the soup in batches using a food processor or blender. Return to pot, cover and cook for 10 more minutes on a very low heat. Stir occasionally. If the soup is too thick, you can add milk until you get the desired consistency.
In a frying pan, fry pancetta until golden. Drain and set aside. Chop parsley and pancetta to a fine crumble. Set aside. Instead of garnishing the soup from the top, I like to start from the bottom – I enjoy fetching the treasures with my spoon. Place a spoon of crème fraîche in each bowl, sprinkle a generous amount of parsley and pancetta ‘crumble’. Pour soup into bowls and serve.