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Category: Starter

An omelette for all seasons

A beautifully cooked omelette is one of life’s greatest pleasures. As simple as an omelette may sound, it is not always easy to achieve the perfect ‘cuisson‘ (cooking). It must be light, fluffy and velvety soft, just as you would imagine it being served on a silver tray in your dream hotel.

One of our house guests earlier this month, Mathieu (see previous post), is a master at cooking omelettes. We would literally queue up at the kitchen table every morning kindly placing our orders – omelette nature for Thorir, omelette with herbs for Isabelle, omelette with cheese for my husband. My favourite one was the tarragon and Saint-Nectaire cheese omelette. The ingredients just happened to be ready and available on the kitchen counter, so Mathieu made an improvised mix. It tasted like a truffled omelette, only nuttier and more aromatic due to the exquisite Saint-Nectaire cheese. Pure delight.

It is always a pleasure to have guests, but even better when they are marvelous omelette cooking guest hosts.

Ingredients:
3 free-range eggs
10 g butter
A small handful of chopped fresh tarragon
A few slices of Saint-Nectaire cheese (finely sliced and crust removed – you can use any of your favourite cheese)
Salt and black pepper to season

Crack three eggs in a bowl and whisk eggs until slightly frothy, about 3-4 minutes. Heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter starts sizzling, pour the eggs in the pan. Using a spatula, move the eggs in a circular motion for a few seconds and allow eggs to cook on a low heat. Sprinkle salt, pepper, chopped tarragon and sliced Saint-Nectaire cheese. When the cheese starts to melt, take the pan off the heat and gently roll the omelette on both sides. Flip over, return to heat and cook for 5 seconds until slightly golden. Serve immediately on a plate.

Omelettes are best served with a green salad.

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Spider crab cakes

Just like a summer hat, a pretty floral dress or a smashing bikini, crab cakes are a major part of my summer panoply. They always make me feel like I am on a holiday, somewhere on a beach with a faraway lighthouse. It’s the kind of food I want on every restaurant menu, and I dream of having them in all my favourite travel destinations – to sum it up, crab cakes are the top!

There’s something so satisfying when buying crustaceans delights. I came home with creatures from the sea, the ‘Araignées‘ (spider crabs). They have such impressive jewel-like faces, looking so fierce and frightful. Almost too beautiful to eat.

Crab picking is, I admit, quite a big ordeal. You’ll need good pliers and a ‘savoir-faire’ earnt from years of experience at seafood restaurants. But it can be fun, especially if you have company. You can of course used canned crab meat – it will save you a lot of time and still taste wonderful.

Ingredients: (makes approx. 12 small cakes)

4 potatoes (boiled and mashed)
2 spring onions (finely chopped)
1 tsp mustard
Handful of chopped parsley
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
12-16 crackers (like ritz crackers) – crushed
450 grs cooked crabmeat (I used fresh spider crabs, but you can also use other types or canned)
1 egg
Olive oil (for frying)
Lemon wedges (for serving)
Mayonnaise (for serving)
Shallot sauce (6 tbsp wine vinegar mixed with one chopped shallot)

In a large bowl, mix mashed potatoes, parsley, egg, mustard, lemon juice, zest, crushed crackers, chopped spring onions. Fold in the crabmeat gently.

Shape into small patties. Place patties on a plate, cover in cling film and refrigerate for one to two hours (Alternatively, you can also place in the freezer for 25 minutes should you have less time).

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, place crab cakes (in batches by 4/5) in pan and fry on each side about 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with lemon wedges, shallot sauce or mayonnaise.

Cockles and mussels

She died of a fever
And no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone
But her ghost wheels her barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

Lyrics from Molly Malone

It can be quite frustrating at times to go to the market and have a specific recipe in mind, but unfortunately the key ingredients are not available. That’s how I felt last week, when my mind was temporarily evaporating away from any possible ideas for lunch. Luckily, I heard an inspiring voice, it was Loïc the fishmonger saying to his customers ‘Look at their beauty, these mussels are exquisite‘. I had to have at look at the goods. The crow-blue shells were glistening with beauty, and yes, I agreed that the blue was exceptionally beautiful. When Loïc opened one of them, the yellow was brighter than the morning sun. This can only mean one thing – it must taste good.

I blindly bought mussels and when I saw cockles, my thoughts revived – I instantly knew I would make little ‘papillote’ parcels, filled with lemon zest, thyme, red onions and olive oil. Just like a summer gift, only better.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

You will need 6 sheets of aluminium paper foil
700 g mussels, cleaned
700 g cockles, cleaned
1 large red onion, finely chopped
Large handful of fresh thyme
Large handful of parsley
6 bay leaves
Grated zest of 2 lemons
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil

Vinaigrette:
1 tbsp mustard
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven 230° C/ 450 F

Clean the mussels and cockles – remove the ‘beard’ of the mussels and scrape any hard residue off the shells with a smooth knife blade. Soak for 20 minutes, rinse several times until water runs clear.
Prepare 6 sheets of aluminium foil to create parcels – Fold six 60 cm/ 24 inch pieces of aluminium foil in half. Place mussels, cockles, lemon zest, juice, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper in the center. Fold foil over the ingredients, making small overlapping folds along the edge to seal. Seal tightly.

Bake for 10 minutes. Prepare the vinaigrette. In a bowl, mix mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

When parcels are ready, serve immediately – pour in a deep-set plate and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Tomates farçies ‘à la Provençale’

One thing you will always see on our kitchen table are tomatoes . We never run out of them – they are the juiciest of all vegetables, always available, raw or cooked, to be part of the plat du jour.

In Provence, tomatoes were called ‘pomme d’amour’ (love apples) because of their aphrodisiac properties. For me, they are the little black dress of the kitchen – a basic element that every cook must have. The quality I admire most in cooking is improvisation. My aunt is the queen of this act – she can create any dish on a whim, no matter what is in the kitchen, you are sure to get a gourmet meal. With a few simple ingredients, even a few leftovers, you can achieve little wonders.

I will always remember the first time I had tomatoes farçies à la Provençale. I was eight years old, it was a warm and balmy Sunday evening at my aunt’s house in Moissac, South of France. We had been invited by friends, feasting all week on foie gras and confit de canard, so my aunt didn’t have time to do any grocery shopping. However, she looked in the fridge and said ‘Oh, I will just bake some tomates farçies’,. My mother answered with ‘Mmmmm, j’adore!’ and it turned out to be one of the most beautiful summer food memories – succulent tomatoes stuffed with sausage meat, topped with golden crunchy garlic breadcrumbs and perfumed with a bouquet of herbs.

Today, I love making this dish, and I secretly like to stage the act of that night, pretending that I didn’t have time to plan anything. So when my husband asks me, ‘What are we having for lunch?’, I’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t really have the time to plan anything, but hey, I’ll make some tomates farçies!

Ingredients:

As I love hazelnuts, I added them to this classic recipe – it goes well with the breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley, and I find that they enhance the herb flavours. This recipe’s stuffing is made with sausage meat, but you can alternate and have this dish vegetarian.

5 large tomatoes
5 good quality pork sausages (or any ground meat of your choice)
60 grs hazelnuts (ground – I used a food processor)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tsp mustard
salt & pepper
1 tsp thyme
A large handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 slices stale bread soaked in milk
2 large handfuls of plain breadcrumbs
5 tbsp olive oil (2 for roasting pan, 3 to drizzle on top of breadcrumbs)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400 degrees F.

Slice the top part of the tomato, as if you were slicing off the ‘hat’ part. Gently scoop out the tomato pulp and place upside down on a plate to drain for 10 minutes. Keep the ‘hat’ part and set aside.

Cut a slit in each sausage and squeeze out the meat. Soak stale bread in a bowl with the milk. Drain off excess milk and set aside. In a large bowl, mix crushed garlic, chopped shallots, sausage meat, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper, a small handful of parsley and the soaked bread. Sprinkle salt, pepper and a teaspoon of plain breadcrumbs in the bottom of each tomatoes. Fill tomatoes with the stuffing, add a layer of ground hazelnut, followed by a layer of plain breadcrumbs. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil in a baking dish and place the stuffed tomatoes. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil on each tomatoes, and add the reserved ‘hats’. Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Gazpacho with garlic cream

‘A cooked tomato is like a cooked oyster: ruined.’ André Simon, wine writer

Today was a perfect summer day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the breeze smelt of rose bouquets. I couldn’t think of a better lunch than having a bowl of chilled gazpacho, the summer soup.

I somehow feel like a ‘Bewitched’ character when I prepare this soup – there is something so ceremonial about the green and red color combination, and I love to casually throw in the vegetables in a large pot, letting the food processor perform all its magic for me. The result is a poignant soup bursting with tangy flavors, so healthy and filled with sunshine. I love adding the garlic cream and home-made croutons – it’s a real treat.

Ingredients: (serves 4 to 6)

Gazpacho
5 tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, chopped
3 slices of stale white bread
150 ml extra-virgin olive oil
40 ml milk
1 tsp tabasco
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the diced tomatoes, red pepper, cucumber, celery, onion, shredded bread, olive oil, milk, tabasco, vinegar and pepper in a large bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

Blend until smooth, add salt and vinegar to taste. Mix well. If you prefer a more ‘liquid’ consistency, add a little water. Keep chilled until serving time.

Garlic cream
1 clove of garlic, minced
100 ml double or single cream

Mince garlic with garlic crusher. In a small bowl, mix cream and crushed garlic, stir well. Pass the sauce through a sieve. Set aside and keep cool.

Garlic croutons:
1/2 stale baguette bread
70 ml olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced finely
Salt to taste

Preheat oven 180° C/350 F. Slice stale baguette bread into cubes. In a large bowl, mix cubed bread, olive oil, garlic and salt. Place on parchment covered baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Set aside to cool.

Serve chilled gazpacho soup with garlic cream (drizzled) and croutons.

Aïoli and seafood delight

There must have been something in the Atlantic ocean’s air this morning when I woke up – for all I wanted to do was to get the kids ready and drag everybody to Soulac-sur–mer for the Saturday seafood market.

Deep coral colours marked my day and opened my appetite for a crustacean lunch. If a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets, then mine is filled with tourteaux crabs, bulots and bigorneaux (marine snail). I just can’t explain my love for seafood, apart from the fact that I grew up by the sea, influencing my palate’s memory. The best crab I ever had was at Trishna’s (Birla Mansion, Sai Baba Marg, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, India), for their butter pepper garlic king crab fulfilled my every wish for food perfection.

I love going to Soulac’s market because of its ‘Belle Epoque’ look and feel. Located at the tip of Médoc, Soulac is sheltered by pine-covered dunes and fronted by the Atlantic ocean. Attractive villas sprang up in th early 19th century making this village a little gem of a seaside resort. I am always told by locals that the charm of Soulac is its inacessibilty – as it’s a quite a little detour to get there, it is never over-crowded by tourists.

There was so much choice that I hesitated for a while, from freshly fished daurades, bar, oysters and lobsters to name a few. I decided to choose a dos de cabillaud (cod) for two reasons: the kids like it, and I thought of a perfect match – the aïoli. Aïoli is a classic French Provençal sauce made of garlic, olive oil and egg yolk. My mother is originally from Séte in the South of France, and whenever she was homesick she would always talk about a good aïoli. After an aïoli meal, you might feel embalmed by garlic, chasing away any hint of a future cold. This is pure sunshine food! I couldn’t resist adding a few goodies – cooked tourteaux crab, a few shrimps, bulots (winkles) and a pot of fresh mayonnaise – they are perfect starters when we come home famished from the market!

I like to serve the aïoli sauce with vegetables and fish. The classic version requires boiled eggs, but I don’t add them because I find the sauce so powerful that I want to keep the taste simple. You can add any vegetables you like – I found these beautiful cranberry beans at the market so I added a few to this recipe. This dish offers a perfect blend of flavours, and the sauce is the high note of the meal. You can use a food processor to make this sauce, or a pestle and mortar (which is what I used).

Ingredients: (serves 4)

For the aïoli sauce
2 egg yolks
4 cloves garlic (I like it strong, but you can add 2 if you prefer a milder version)
120 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crush the garlic with a garlic crusher and transfer to the pestle and mortar. Crush the garlic again to obtain a smooth purée. Transfer to a bowl, add egg yolks and start whisking away, slowly adding the olive oil. When the sauce starts to thicken (like a mayonnaise), add salt, pepper and lemon juice. Alternatively, you can mix everything in a food processor. Blend steadily until a thick sauce starts to form.

For the fish and vegetables:
600-800 grs cod (or any white fish of your choice)
4 carrots (cut in small quarters)
2 large handfuls of cranberry beans (optional)
300 grs French green beans (haricots verts extra-fins – tips cut off)
8 small potatoes
A small handful of parsley to sprinkle
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat your oven 200° celsius.

In an oven proof dish, place the fish – add salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Cook in pre-heated oven for 15 minutes (or until fish is cooked to your taste).

Cook carrots and potatoes in salted boiling water for approx 15 minutes, add the green beans 8 minutes towards the end as they cook faster. Drain and set aside.

Serve the aïoli with the fish with vegetables.

Flammekueche


This onion and bacon tart takes me back to my college days in Paris, when my friends and I would finish class and rush to St Germain-des-Près for drinks and a Flammekueche. Perhaps it was a 90’s kind of thing, but we loved eating this delicious Alsatian speciality. This pizza style tart topped with a mixture of crème fraîche, fromage blanc, onions and bacon strips is my idea of a heavenly snack. This is an ideal Monday meal after all the heavy week-end cooking I’ve been doing. It takes less than 10 minutes to make, and 12-15 minutes to bake! Nice and easy!

Ingredients:

1 ready-made 230 grs puff pastry (I use Herta – pâte feuilleutée), but you can also use ready-pizza dough
150 ml thick crème fraîche
50 grs fromage blanc
3 small onions (sliced finely)
150 grs finely diced bacon (lardons)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp canola oil

Pre-heat the over to 210° degrees celsius/425 F.

In a bowl, mix the crème fraîche, fromage blanc, nutmeg and canola oil. Pre-fry the diced bacon (lardons) in a frying pan for 5 minutes. Set aside. Slice the onions finely. Roll out the pastry (either rectangle or round shaped) and fold the borders (1 cm). Spread the cream mixture on the dough evenly, sprinkle onion and bacon all over. Finish with a dash of salt and pepper. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes. Serve with a salad.

Aux Lyonnais

Our children are very good eaters. We like taking them to restaurants, and despite a few raised eyebrows, it’s always been a real pleasure (apart from the few times when we traumatized the staff!). It’s a priority for us to teach ‘les enfants’ good ‘food culture’ at an early age, and we find that by introducing them to a varied menu, it widens their palate to new horizons. Could that be the secret to no more picky eaters?

Of all our kids, our little boy Hudson is particularly keen on food. He has been to many restaurants in his life, and ever since he was a baby, he loved eating, especially what we were eating. As a matter of fact, Hudson was nearly born in a restaurant. As I was finishing a superb meal at ‘Aux Lyonnais’ (32, rue St Marc 75002), I started having heavy contractions and had to rush off to the clinic. From that day on, whenever I go back to ‘Aux Lyonnais’ with Hudson, he is referred to as ‘le bébé Lyonnais’! Needless to say, ‘Aux Lyonnais’ became his favourite restaurant at age… three.

Lyon’s gastronomy excellence can be explained by the fact that it’s close to regions providing the best food in France – the chicken from Bresse, beef from Charolais, fruits from the Drome, ‘cochonailles’ (sausages, pâtés, ham…) from the Monts du Lyonnais, and amazing cheeses like Rocamadour and St Marcellin from the Dauphiné. With all these products, the kitchen’s are naturally blessed.

Yesterday, I was going through some old photos and stumbled across Hudson’s picture taken at ‘Aux Lyonnais’. It inspired me to cook a Lyonnais style meatloaf and a smashing pink praline tart with an île flottante – all inspired from my son’s favourite restaurant of course. You can have a full-on experience and do them all. It might look like a bit of a project at first, but with a well planned cooking schedule, the results will be very satisfying!

The lyonnais meatloaf is originally made with a typical Lyonnais pistachio cervelat sausage, but as it is not always easy to find in stores or supermarkets, I chose to make it with minced pork (taken from good quality pork sausages). The ‘brioche’ is a bread bun made with egg, milk, butter and yeast.

The pink praline tart is such a delight to make. Pink pralines are old-fashioned candies – you’ll need almonds, water, sugar and red food colouring. They are so delicious, vintage-looking and pretty in pink. You’ll be using these candies by crushing them in your food processor or with a mortar and pestle, to make the praline tart. They can be easily stored in a glass jar. This recipe (see below) is a simplified version – I was very happy with the result. Save a few pralines to drizzle on the ‘oeufs à la neige’. You can also buy pink pralines at selected fine stores.

Ingredients:

Brioche:

250 grs plain flour
110 grs butter (room temperature cut in cubes)
3 eggs
7 grs dry baking yeast
3 tbsp warm milk
3 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten, for glaze

In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, water and milk. Mix well. Incorporate salt and eggs, mix well and add butter. Knead continuously for 15 minutes. When the dough is elastic, shape into a ball, leave in the bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place. Flatten the dough slightly and place the pork meat filling in the center. Press the edges and seal. Place in a lightly buttered loaf tin and cover with a clean cloth. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat oven 180° degrees celsius. Brush the brioche with the egg yolk and bake for 35–40 minutes until risen and golden brown. Let it cool for 15 minutes place on a wire rack. Serve with a warm potato salad.

For the ‘meatloaf’ filling:

4 skinned good quality sausages
A large handful of good-quality pistachio nuts
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (minced)
30 ml white wine (optional)
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

Slice onion, mince the garlic. Slice the sausages and squeeze out the pork meat. In a saucepan, fry the onion until soft (4 min) in 1 tbsp butter, add the garlic, thyme and sausage meat for 8 minutes until cooked and semi-golden. Deglaze with the white wine, add salt and pepper. Set aside, add the pistachios, mix well and leave to cool.

Warm potato salad:

4 large potatoes (peeled and cut in 4)
2 shallots (sliced finely)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp grain mustard
salt and pepper
A dash of chopped parsley

Boil potatoes till tender. In a large bowl, make a vinaigrette by mixing the shallots, olive oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slice the potatoes and add to the vinaigrette. Mix gently and add parsley.

Pink praline tart:

80 almonds
160 grs sugar
140 grs water
3 drops red food colouring
100 ml crème fraîche
Shortcrust pastry (bough from store) or homemade (see recipe below)

Step 1: Make the pink pralines – simple version

On a medium heat, mix almonds, water, sugar and red food colouring in a pan. Do not stir until the water starts to boil, then you can start swirling the pan gently. When the liquid starts to thicken (after approx 5 minutes), stir continuously until you feel a caramel texture. Take away from heat on/off and stir until the sugar crystallizes. Put almonds on parchment paper and let them cool. This process can take up to 12-15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven 180° degrees celsius. Roll out pastry on a floured surface and line the tart baking pan (I use a small 20 cm pan), and place parchment paper with marbles (or any oven-proof weights). Pre-bake your shortcrust pastry approx 15 minutes. Set aside

In a food processor, smash pink pralines into chunky bits. In a pan, add pralines and crème fraîche, boil gently for 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and pour in the pastry shell. Leave to cool and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Easy shortcrust pastry

125 grs plain flour
60 ml water
90 grs butter
1/4 tsp salt

Mix water with salt in a large bowl. Slice butter into cubes. Mix all ingredients together, ‘working’ the dough 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for at leat an hour.

Ile flottante:

3 eggs yolks
175 ml milk
1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
75 grs sugar

For egg whites:
3 egg whites
40 grs caster sugar (for egg whites)
1/4 tsp salt

Separate egg whites and egg yolks. In a saucepan, add milk, sugar and vanilla – bring to a gentle boil. Take off the heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Bring back to the low heat, and whisk for 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly. Set aside and leave to cool.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites, when the mixture starts to set, gradually add sugar and salt, and continue to whisk until firm peaks appear. Place bowl in a microwave for 40 seconds on a low setting. This will firm up the egg whites. Should you not have a microwave, you can place large spoonfuls of required egg whites in boiling water for 30 seconds.
Pour custard into bowls, and shape round large balls (with a large slotted spoon) of egg-whites to place on custard. Drizzle with crushed pink pralines. Serve with a slice of pink praline tart.