Tag: France

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

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.


(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.

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.

Sunday best

Out of all the days of the week, Sunday is the golden day. We take time off and enjoy a quality ‘déjeuner‘. Our kids love this family ritual, and I secure it by making sure to cook something memorable. I would like to imagine my children’s lives bookmarked by food memories, especially Sunday lunches. It’s a sacred moment in time where all the ingredients matter.

With so many recipes ideas flowing in my head, I always have a soft spot for Lyonnaise cooking. In a way, it’s the French equivalent to my other food love which is Shanghainese cooking. They both have a point in common where a lot of elements are ‘drunken‘ by wine and spirits. There is also a lot of sourness mixed with sweetness, refined and preserved meats. My identity is defined between these two food cultures where East meets West. It’s good to know where you stand.

I made a Xérès vinegar chicken à la Lyonnaise, a classic dish filled assertive with flavours. I love serving this with braised endives and red wild rice from Camargue – the tangy sauce is a big appetite opener and goes perfectly well with the slightly bitter taste of the endives.

Ingredients (for 6 people) :

6 large chicken legs
80 g butter
2 tbsp olive oil (for frying chicken)
3 shallots (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 garlic cloves
3 tbsp plain flour
2 large tomatoes (chopped)
6 bay leaves
300 ml white wine
150 ml Xérès vinegar
150 ml chicken stock
A handful of chopped chives
Salt and pepper

Chop shallots, onion and garlic cloves. Chop tomatoes to small squares. Set aside. Dissolve 1 cube of chicken stock in 150 ml warm water and set aside.

In a frying pan, heat olive oil and fry chicken legs till golden on both sides (approx 4 minutes on each sides). Set aside on a large plate.

In an oven-proof large cooking pot, melt butter and fry shallots, onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes on a medium heat, drizzle flour, mix well, and add chicken legs. Stir gently so the chicken gets coated. Add wine, vinegar and reduce for 4 minutes, still on a medium heat. Add chicken stock, season with salt and pepper. Add bay leaves and tomatoes. Cover and place in a preheated oven (210°C) for 25-30 minutes.

When ready, sprinkle with chopped chives and serve immediately. I serve this dish with braised endives and wild red organic rice from Camargue (bought at my local organic health store).

Braised endives:

3 endives/ chicory (leaves plucked and washed)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
A pinch of salt

In a large pot, melt butter until golden, add endives, stir, add salt and continue stirring for 3 minutes. Lower heat and cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Summer peach and vervain tart

My grandmother loved taking me on long garden walks in the beautiful countryside of Périgord. She always had a pair of old-fashioned garden scissors ready to cut off a few of her favorite herbs and flowers. She loved vervain, and religiously had a cup of infused leaves every night before going to sleep – ‘La petite tisane du soir’ she would say. She also mixed them to sliced summer peaches with a dash of sugar – she would leave the peaches to marinate in a covered bowl all day in the fridge. In Roman times, vervain was associated with the god Venus, as it had magical properties to revive lost love. This marvelous herb is such a divine match with summer peaches, so I was inspired to make a peach tart with a vervain infused custard, reminding me of sweet childhood days with my grandmother. The pastry dough is just as she used to do it, with ground almonds – extra delicious and crumbly. The combination of the citrus vervain taste with cream and peaches topped with a large cloud of fruit fool will make your summer brighter than ever.


For the pastry:

250 g/2 cups plain flour

150 g/ 2/3 cups butter (softened at room temperature)

30 g/ ¼ cup caster sugar

60 g icing/ ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

80 g/ ½ cup ground almonds

1 egg

1 pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms a homogenous dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Take out 30 minutes before rolling out.

For the vervain-infused custard base:

400 ml/ 1 and a half cup milk

20 vervain leaves (fresh or dried – alternatively you can use 4 vervain teabags)

2 egg yolks

2 tbsp plain flour or cornstarch

50 g/ ¼ cup white sugar

In a saucepan, boil the milk and throw in the vervain leaves (or teabags). Take off the heat and let the vervain infuse for 10-15 minutes. In a bowl, mix the flour (or cornstarch), egg yolks and sugar together. Blend in the vervain-infused milk slowly and re-heat (on a low heat) until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Should the mixture have lumps, you can pass it though a sieve. Set aside to cool.

For the tart:

3 large peaches, sliced (in half moon shapes)

For the fruit fool cream topping:

200 ml/1 cup whipping cream

1 plum, 1 peach, 1 nectarine (or any summer fruit you wish – they should be on the riper side)

50 g/ ¼ cup caster sugar

Chop fruits to small bits. Set aside. Whip cream until stiff, adding caster sugar halfway. Fold in the chopped fruits.

A few leaves of fresh vervain

Final stages:

On a floured parchment covered surface, roll out the dough to fit your tart pan. Butter the tart pan, line with the pastry dough, and cut out excess overhang dough approx. ¼ inch/ 1 cm off the rim. Fold in the excess dough to make a double thick rim. Pierce dough with a fork and place in the freezer for 30 minutes (this tip will prevent the dough

from shrinking when you bake it). When ready, line the inside with parchment, fill with dried beans (I use my son’s marbles), and blind bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 F/ 180° C.

Leave to rest for 10 minutes. Fill the tart base with the vervain infused custard, place the sliced peaches on top in a circular shape, pushing them in slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar and bake again for 15-20 minutes at 350 F/ 180° C. The peaches might get watery when you take out the tart from the oven – no worries, they will set nicely once the tart has cooled down. Leave to cool completely, serve with fruit fool on top of the tart, or on the side. Sprinkle with a few fresh vervain leaves.

It’s radish time!

A big moment during the day is the ‘apéritif’ hour, an interlude between the end of an activity and the beginning of a meal. A glass of rosé wine or champagne (or anything you like), served with saucisson sec, pickles, and crunchy radishes is an important part of French food culture.

Radishes were traditionally eaten to stimulate the appetite and prepare the palate for food. These peppery pink vegetables, eaten with a sliver of butter and a pinch of fleur de sel, is one of the simple pleasures in life that make me love France so much. Whether you are in a bistrot or a three Michelin starred restaurant, you are likely to be served radishes, gougères and hopefully a glass of champagne! Read the rest of this entry »