BONJOUR!

Breakfast…. comme il faut!

Yes, one day I will have to master croissants and pain au chocolat from scratch… but for the time being, no need to worry about it…

(note to self: never ever compose a blog in less than 45 seconds, or you risk a huge typo right on the title! Blogging is hard when you are away from home 😉

PARIS, JE t’AIME…

When we finally took off for Paris our Boeing 777, the biggest and most comfortable of the jumbo jets, didn’t even notice the heavy rain and overcast enveloping Washington DC. And the happy couple it was transporting to the place they love so much didn’t’ mind the foul weather either. Clouds and rain, after all, are the norm in Parisian winter months, so we were ready for it. But, the initial day of such trips is the most difficult: an early morning arrival after a night on the plane with only a few hours of sleep, followed by the huge but requisite struggle to defeat jet lag. To reset our circadian clocks to the new schedule we walked outside as much as possible, and only saw the inside of our hotel room after night fell.

Having lived in Paris for several years we don’t visit many museums or tourist hot spots. “… Been there, done that,” from the Tour Eiffel to La Defense, from Montmartre to the Louvre, from Musee d’Orsay to Musee Salvador Dali, from cemetiere Pere Lachaise to the quartier Latin … Instead, what we love about Paris are the neighborhoods we used to call home. As we turn each corner we pass by each of our favorite cafes, brasseries, and boulangeries. We enjoy repeating our weekly Saturday afternoon walks, and that’s exactly what we did again yesterday… we departed our hotel close to Ecole Militaire and walked and walked, and walked some more….

We stopped at La Grande Epicerie de Paris, where I bought some “pimente d’espelette,” we strolled up rue de Rennes , then turned down to boulevard Montparnasse. We walked and walked some more, stood at the corner of Boulevards St Michel and St Germain, the gateway to Notre Dame, now so beautiful after its recent cleaning, and continued down to the cafe Les Deux Magots, which brings memories of dining outside at countless cafes throughout Paris, savoring the views of people passing by. Yesterday it was 40 F (3 C), but all the seats outside were filled by people from all over the world, each one living their own private love affair with Paris.

What’s for dinner? It was a simple meal at Le Bosquet, a classic brasserie two blocks from our hotel. The same waiter from several years ago handed us a menu that was almost unchanged. Why change oysters, confit de canard, and tarte Tatin? 😉

On a side note – If you haven’t seen the film Paris, Je t’Aime, I urge you to do so – it is a series of short stories by different directors, filmed in different Parisian neighborhoods. One of our favorites is the final vignette, the narrative (in broken, yet adorable French) of a lonely, middle-aged American woman who, after studying French for a few years, finally visits Paris for the first time in her life. Beautiful, touching, and a declaration of love for one of the most amazing cities in the world.

I feel the same way. It’s so nice to see it all again!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

MY NEW FAVORITE TOMATO SAUCE

Strange things happen in my kitchen.  Countless recipes wait in an imaginary line,  that most will stay in for years, until I finally get around to making them.  But occasionally a recipe casts a spell on me, forcing a menu change, a search for exotic ingredients, the abandonment of seasonal cooking, and my personal resolve to drop everything else and cook it right away, as soon as humanly possible.  I bring this up because it happened last weekend, when the  Barefoot Contessa’s guest chef, Joseph Realmuto,  shared the recipe for his restaurant’s favorite tomato sauce (for the past 22 years).  It involved vodka,  slow roasted tomatoes and onions, and was finished with heavy cream.   I stopped in my tracks, slowly turned, headed  to the kitchen,  and made it.  And that, my friends, was the right move… 😉



PENNE A LA VECCHIA BETTOLA

(adapted from Joseph Realmuto, original recipe from La Vecchia Bettola, Firenze)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 T dried red pepper flakes
1 T dried oregano
1/2 cup vodka
1 can best quality whole tomatoes (28 ounces)
salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
fresh herbs of your choice (oregano, basil)
parmiggiano reggiano cheese, grated

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onions, cook for about 8 minutes over medium heat, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano, and saute for a couple of minutes, mixing constantly. Add the vodka and simmer until the mixture is slightly reduced. Drain the tomatoes and add them to the skillet, crushing them slightly with your hands or a large wooden spoon (careful, they will splatter!). Season lightly with salt. Cover the skillet and place in the oven for one and a half hours. Remove the skillet from the oven, let it cool for 15 minutes, then place the contents in a blender. Puree until smooth.

While you cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, finish the sauce back in the skillet, setting over medium heat, and adding heavy cream. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes, add the cooked pasta, and allow them to gently simmer for a few more minutes. Add fresh herbs and parmiggiano cheese right before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: In this day and age it’s hard to believe I’d even bother with another recipe for tomato sauce.   I usually alternate between my two favorites: the first involves a quick saute of onions in olive oil, a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper and some herbs; the second is a   very popular recipe from Marcella Hazan, worth all the butter it calls for.  😉

With the addition of this recipe I have my own tomato trilogy. It’s a breeze to prepare, but the combination of vodka and slow roasted tomatoes makes it taste complex. I reduced the cream  because 1 full cup of heavy cream seemed excessive;  feel free to do as your heart (and palate) desires. The vodka provides a background of heat that’s perfect with the intense flavor of tomatoes, concentrated by roasting.  It’s a delicious sauce that may be prepared in advance and blended right before finishing.

CROISSANTS: PARIS AT HOME ON A SPECIAL DAY

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary, so to start the day on a wonderful note, I decided to bring a little bit of Paris – the place where we met and later lived for a year – to our home. Even if croissants are not originally from France, they convey its image with every delicious bite. When we lived in Paris, we used to go for long runs on Saturdays that always ended with a “pain au chocolat pour le monsieur, croissant pur beurre pour madame“. With the mandatory coffee or hot chocolate, depending on the weather, and our mood… Wonderful memories!

CROISSANTS DU BOULANGER
(original recipe from The Baker’s Companion, adapted by Ford, from The Fresh Loaf website)

for the dough

2 large eggs plus scalded low fat milk cooled to 90°F to make 2 cups (16 oz.)
1 tsp sugar for unsweetened dough
5 1/2 to 6 cups (23.3 to 25.5 oz.) all purpose unbleached flour
2 1/4 tsp (7 g) instant yeast
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs. (1 oz.) melted butter

for the butter
3 + 3/4 sticks (15 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (2.1 oz.) unbleached flour
flour for sprinkling

Beat the eggs and milk and 1 tsp 1 tsp of sugar. Beat in the yeast and 3 cups of flour until all is well blended. Cover and let stand at room temperature for an hour or so. In a separate bowl blend the salt, and 2 1/2 cup of flour. Hold until the yeast mixture has doubled in size.

Blend the 3 + 3/4 sticks of butter and the 1/2 cup of flour. Lightly flour a piece of plastic wrap and place the butter mixture on it. Shape the butter into an 8” x 8” square. Wrap it and place it into the refrigerator until the dough is ready.

Back to the dough, add the melted butter and beat well. Add in the flour mixture and mix well to form a rough ball, then knead for 8 to 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or knead in an electric mixer, using a dough hook. Cover the dough and place it in the refrigerator for an hour.

Rolling & Folding: Remove the dough from the refrigerator and put it on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a square about 12 inches on a side. No need to obsess about the dimensions, just try to be close. Put the butter square in the center of the dough square but turn it so that the corners of the butter square point toward the sides of the dough square. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter until they meet in the middle. Pinch and seal the edges of the dough together.

Turn the square over and tap it gently with your rolling pin or by hand into a rectangular shape. Make sure everything is still completely, but lightly, floured. Begin rolling the dough from the center, away from and towards you, into a larger rectangle 20 inches long and 10 inches wide. Puncture any air bubble with a toothpick. Keep the dough, the work surface, and the rolling pin well dusted with flour.

When the dough is the right size, fold the bottom third of the dough up beyond the center and the top third over (like a business letter) and turn the dough package a quarter turn to the right so it looks like a book ready to be opened. If the dough is still cold and still relaxed, do another rolling and turning as before. If it begins to feel too soft or wants to resist being rolled, cover it, put it on a small baking sheet, and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or longer (even a day) to chill and relax.

If you’ve successfully rolled it out and folded it twice, you’ve completed two turns. Classic puff pastry gets six; and puffed dough gets four. Continue refrigerating it after each two turns, or more often if necessary, until four turns are completed. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours or preferably overnight. One recipe is adequate for two dozen croissants.

Making the croissants…

1 recipe of dough above
egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the chilled puff dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of the dough to a 12” x 18” rectangle. Trim the edges, using a very sharp knife or a pizza-cutting wheel. This removes the folded edges that would inhibit the puffing of the dough.

Cut the dough into three strips lengthwise, 4” x 18”. Then cut these strips in half to give six rectangles 4” x 9”. Make a diagonal cut on each of these rectangles to give a total of twelve triangles. Make a 1” cut in the 4” base of one of the triangle. If you desire to fill the croissant, place a small amount of filling along the base before rolling it. Pull this base slightly stretching it, and then roll the dough toward the apex. Tuck the point on the bottom and bend the ends to make a crescent. Repeat with the other eleven triangles.

Place the croissants on a lightly greased, parchment-lined baking sheet about a half-inch apart. Cover with a greased plastic sheet, and allow to rise until doubled. When fully proofed, about 45 to 60 minutes, brush the croissants with the egg wash. Bake in the 400°F oven until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. The interior temperature should be 195 to 200°F. Cool the rolls on a wire rack, before eating or storing.

Repeat with the other half of the dough or store it in the refrigerator or freezer for later.

jump for more

IMPROMPTU PASTA DINNER

It was a dark and stormy night… no, not really, but it was a busy day at work and we wanted to go home, get some comfy clothes, kick back and relax.  My night to cook: I pulled out a cookbook, but even browsing for recipes seemed like an herculean effort, so I opened the fridge searching for inspiration. Voila’: half a bunch of asparagus! In the pantry, I spotted a can of Muir fire-roasted tomatoes (love that stuff!).  It was all that I needed.  Dinner took shape in less than 20 min, resulting in two happy humans and an enjoyable evening ahead of us.

PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS COINS and TOMATOES
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 shallot
1 T olive oil
fresh asparagus
1 small can Muir fire-roasted tomatoes
salt and pepper
grated parmiggiano-reggiano cheese
pasta of your preference

Set a large pot with salted water to boil.

Using a sharp knife, cut the asparagus into small coins, trying to get them in similar sizes, about 1/4 inch thick.  Dice the shallot.  Open the can of tomatoes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, saute the shallots until translucent, immediately add the asparagus coins, and cook them in medium-high heat, moving them around. Season with salt and pepper, and try a bite after a couple of minutes.  They should be still very firm.   Add the tomatoes, cook for a few more minutes, adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain and add to the skillet with the asparagus/tomato sauce.  Cook them together for a minute or so, add parmiggiano on top and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Slicing asparagus in little coins is a fun way to enjoy it.  In Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Anne Burrell made a salad of raw asparagus cut this way – I’ve been saving the recipe to try it when Spring comes.  Time for a little disclaimer:  we understand that buying asparagus in mid-winter is politically incorrect.  Yes, they traveled a long distance.  But, we needed an asparagus-fix. It might even speed the arrival of Spring!   😉