Pommes Dauphinois (Potato Gratin)

We had potato gratin twice while we were in Paris, and I vowed to up my game with my version at home.

I often use my mom’s simple recipe which calls for flour and milk (very little butter), but after chipping away at the browned, buttery crusts formed by both the versions I had in Paris, I knew it was the fat factor that made the difference.

I consulted two recipes, one from Julia Child and the other from Dorie Greenspan. I went with Dorie’s simply because I was eager to try some recipes from her book, Around My French Table (a gift from my mother-in-law).

Her version was perfect right down to the decadent, bubbly brown crust. It called for 1 3/4 cup of heavy cream (!), so I’m not surprised. I’m replacing mashed potatoes with this for Thanksgiving.

I found a digital version of her recipe over at Bon Appetit.

Télescope Coffee Shop

Don’t get me wrong, I really love what I do. But I have to admit, I’ve got a little job envy today.

As a die-hard coffee addict appreciator, I can’t believe it took me this long to accept an invitation from our friend Lindsey to head over to Télescope. After a few days of the typical bistrot coffee, this fantastic coffee house was a literal and figurative eye opener. I met co-owner and barista David Flynn. What a guy – soft-spoken, friendly and full of exuberance for what he does. And he pulls off a very well-groomed paintbrush mustache, so bonus points for that. Incredibly talented, co-owns a thriving cafe in Paris with a devoted following and a warm atmosphere – yeah, I’d take that life. I will refrain from a lengthy narrative about about tasting notes, but it was the first time that I enjoyed a coffee like a fine wine. We came back the next day and I had a sampling of some different shots of espresso, all amazing. Full bodied, well structured, notes of banana, chocolate, lemon zest, oatmeal. All in a friendly, casual environment with great conversation and great music.

My mind raced about how to up our coffee game at home. High on the flavor and the serious buzz, an idea was…errr…brewing in my mind. Our DeLonghi is on its last legs, and we’ve been thinking about what to get. So I asked David about manual espresso machines, and if one were foolhardy enough to jump in to that, where one would begin. He recommended the Rancilio Silvia as a good starter, and I am plotting. Since all good comedy is rooted in suffering, I will be sure to share some of my misadventures if I decide to take the plunge.

-Evan

Roasted Figs and Goat Cheese Salad

Many thanks to David Lebovitz for this fantastic roasted fig recipe. I paired them with my favorite goat cheese salad. Happiness.

Peach Raspberry Crisp

I bought a mountain of peaches on Saturday, so of course I made the Barefoot Contessa’s Peach Raspberry Crisp. Because, you know, that’s what you do with a mountain of peaches.

It’s a crowd pleaser, and easy to make. Here’s the recipe.

Grilled Peach, Mozzarella and Arugula Salad

My new favorite salad (and a crowd pleaser last Friday). Thanks to Farmhouse Delivery for the recipe!

The Creamiest Aioli

Two weekends ago, we had dinner with my husband’s family. My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook, but she outdid herself with this creamy, garlicky aioli.

She served parmesan topped grilled steaks on a bed of lemony arugula and baked potato wedges which we all dipped (and redipped) into the aioli. Heaven! We were all embarrassed by the degree to which we fawned over it. It quickly went from polite, to exuberant, to an eyes-rolling-into-the-back-of-our-head-style swoon.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so a few nights ago, I recreated the whole meal (including a double batch of the aioli). Here are the recipes:

Aioli recipe via Epicurious.com
Baked potato wedges via The Barefoot Contessa
Arugula salad with steak, shaved parmesan and lemon vinaigrette via The Barefoot Contessa

La Fermette Cheese

Three young goat cheeses: Pyramide Cendre, Chavignole and Coeur Gourmand. Perfection

Easy Tarte Tatin


Sounds like an oxymoron, right?

Well, to me it does considering I’ve seen my share of tatins gone wrong.

I was inspired by this video by David Lebovitz. In it, he goes to the Bastille Market (still one of my favorite places on earth), snaps up some ingredients, then brings them home and effortlessly whips up lunch. Oh, you make it look so easy, David.

One of the things he makes a classic tarte tatin. The ease with which he tossed butter and sugar in the pan, arranged apples on top, cooked it, put the crust on, and baked it, inspired me to take another crack.

This time instead of babying and pre-caramelizing the sugar, I did as David did in the video: Butter and sugar in a pan, stir a bit and arrange peeled apples on top, cook. As easy as he made it look in the video.

I used David’s dough recipe from here and it was the easiest dough I’ve ever worked with. No one tell my grandma.

As you can see from the photo above, it’s a bit shallow in the middle, so there’s room for improvement. But the apples were perfectly caramelized, the crust was wonderful and there was no gnashing of teeth or hurling of spoons.

It’s a great feeling to know I can whip these up for weekend desserts. Well, unless this one was all luck.

Carmine’s Caesar Dressing

Win! Big win.

I’ve been making fine-but-just-okay caesar salad dressing for years, and could kick myself for not going with the obvious – Carmine’s.

When I first moved to New York, a friend of mine invited me to dinner at Carmine’s. It’s a midtown Italian institution that I had written off as a tourist trap (which was funny since as a newbie, wasn’t I just one step removed from tourist?). The restaurant is huge, and so was the caesar salad they brought out as an appetizer. It was the best caesar salad I had eaten to date, and the dressing was thick, garlicky and flavorful. Not anything like the runny, milky white, mayo-based stuff that tries to pass for caesar dressing. BTW, there are few things in life I hate more than mayonnaise.

I had always intended to go back for more salad, but never did. In the years since, I’ve been testing many caesar dressings and though they were okay, none wowed. Then a few months ago, I was in a bookstore and saw a Carmine’s cookbook. Duh! Why hadn’t I thought to seek out Carmine’s recipe for caesar dressing? I leafed through the book hoping they included it, and was happy to see they did.

Of course I made it, loved it and couldn’t believe I hadn’t sought out the recipe sooner.

If I had to guess, I would credit the anchovies as the flavor makers. I was tempted to leave them out, but usually follow a recipe to the letter the first time I make it. Glad I kept them, because the flavor was so different from the other dressings I made. So garlic lovers and anchovy haters alike, give it a whirl!

Carmine’s Caesar Dressing

6 anchovy fillets
3 cloves of garlic (I used five because I loooove garlic)
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice of one small lemon
1 cup of olive oil
8 tablespoons of romano cheese (I’ve used parmesan a few times)
1 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, puree the 6 anchovy fillets. Add the garlic and blend until well mixed. Add the egg yolks and blend for about 2 minutes. Turn off the motor, add the vinegar and lemon juice, and pulse the mixture for 20 seconds. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until incorporated. Add the cheese, parsley and oregano, and pulse the mixture for ten seconds. Season with salt and pepper and chill for at least four hours. Chilling the dressing thickens it and helps it adhere to the lettuce.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

The annual baking of chocolate crinkle cookies marks the beginning of the holiday season and the end of 11 months of restraint.

See, I’m a big fan of these cookies, but resist baking them throughout the year to preserve the holiday magic that surrounds them.

They puff and crackle, and the secret is to go crazy with the confectioner’s sugar. Don’t be shy! Double coat those puppies and then some. No one can resist these crackly cookies with a hefty dusting of “snow.”

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, white sugar, and vegetable oil. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the cocoa mixture. Cover dough, and chill for at least 4 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into one inch balls.

Coat each ball in confectioners’ sugar before placing onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the cookie sheet for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool.

Got Lait?

Yeah. It just doesn’t have the same ring.

Nobody Bakes a Cake As Tasty As a TastyKake

I used to hum that song all the time when I was a kid. Remember it? If you don’t or were (gasp!) not yet born, watch this.

Ah, the jingle. Remember when companies just advertised what they sold? What’s the message in the Tastykake commercial? We sell cakes. They are tasty. They are so tasty, you will burst into smile and song.

They weren’t selling a lifestyle.
They weren’t trying to entice you into their cool tribe.
They didn’t employ a flash mob to parasail into Times Square and form a drum circle.

They were selling tasty cake.

Speaking of which, I made some last night. So why homemade if nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake? Emergency situation. Like, the-kids-were-sleeping-and-you-can’t-make-it-to-the-store kinda situation.

They’re easy, and pretty tasty for faux Tastykakes.

PEANUT BUTTER CANDY CAKES

1/3 cup oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
2 tsp butter, melted
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour
12 oz chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)
Peanut butter

Grease a large, cookie pan (with sides). Mix first seven ingredients and pour into cookie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes. Remove cake, spread with a thin layer of peanut butter. Refrigerate. When cool, melt 12 ounces of chocolate chips (or milk chocolate) and spread on top. Chill for a few minutes, and cut into serving sizes before chocolate cools completely.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Surprise Cookies

I probably should have cracked one of these open to show you the gooey peanut buttery center because it’s pretty darn great. As far as surprises go, sweet peanut butter tucked inside a chocolate cookie ranks pretty high.

You can find the recipe here.

I made these in the wee hours of the morning to take along to my husband’s family lake house to celebrate Labor Day Weekend.

I hope you all have a good one!

The Best French Onion Soup

Julia Child’s French onion soup, of course.

There was a (relatively) cool breeze coming through the windows this morning and I couldn’t get soup off the brain. So I embraced it.

I’ve made at least ten versions of French onion soup in the past, but I still go back to Julia’s. The key really is the slow caramelization of the onions.

Right now the house smells divine and my husband is grinning ear-to-ear.

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking

1 1/2 lbs or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions

3 Tbs butter

1 Tbs oil

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp sugar

3 Tbs flour

2 quarts brown/beef stock (boiling)

1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

3 Tbs Cognac

Rounds of hard-toasted french bread

1-2 cups grated swiss or parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and the oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes.

Uncover, raise the heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 20 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct the seasoning.

Just before serving, stir in the Cognac. Pour into soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of bread. Pass the cheese separately.

Note: I use smoked provolone and placed the bowls under a broiler for a few minutes to brown.

The Best French Butter

That I can find in the US, that is.

I’ve spent a long time, and a decent amount of cash trying to find a butter that’s as magically delicious as my favorite French butter. But nothing available here in the states comes close to the salty, crunchy, creamy heaven that is Grand Fermage Aux Cristaux de Sel de Mer. I usually bring back at least 12 or so every time we’re in Paris.

When we came back from our last trip in July, I made the grave mistake of dispensing too many to friends and family, leaving me with just a few until our return in the fall. What the hell was I thinking?

Unfortunately for my husband and kids, I guarded that butter with all I had. If I suspected someone was using too much, or worse, cooking with it (?!?), I all but pounced on them.

After a particularly scary moment during which I considered hiding it for myself (shame), I realized I had to find a decent substitute.

I was fairly close to ordering some butter online, but the outrageous price ($8 for something I spend a euro or two on in France) gave me pause. And then, on a routine trip to Whole Foods, I found what would turn out to be pretty darn good butter.

I’ve had Beurre D’Isigny before, but I never found any with the crunchy salt pieces I like. As soon as I saw this version had course rock salt in it, I snapped up two. I was optimistic, since I did like the flavor of this brand of butter, but have come to realize the large salt pieces are key.

So?

Biiiingo. Close. Very, very close. And for the “bargain” price of just $7 for 8 ounces, I can have killer butter here in the states. At least I don’t have to pay shipping.

PS. Why is butter so much more expensive here?

I Will Learn to Make Awesome Caramel This Summer

Maybe I should write that on a chalkboard 100 times. It’s that kind of sentence, no?

The caramel obsession has always been there, but it wasn’t until I tasted this store-bought caramel that kicked my homemade caramel’s butt that I realized there is room for improvement. I can’t be outdone by a grocery store – even a fancy French one.

Thanks to seductive packaging (I’m a sucker for glass jars) and a Grand Epicerie-induced suspension of price sensitivity, I bought a few jars of this rice pudding with salted caramel.

We ate these while sitting on the bed, which was fitting since seduced we were. I hate to think what the people on the street below thought of the sounds coming from our window. I am sure children’s ears were covered.

As I scraped the jar for any glossy remains, I initiated a google search for making deep, dark caramel. I’m not surprised that David Lebovitz’s tutorial topped the search results. He makes it sound easy, so I’m planning my first attempt tonight.

Does anyone have any pre-flight instructions or tips?

The Five Food Groups

Bread

Cheese

Fruit

Pastry

And another pastry

Carina’s Kick-ass Portuguese Sangria

My Portuguese friend Carina hooked us up with her family’s favorite Sangria recipe. I’ve had just a small taste so far, but I liked it so much I had to share. Refreshing, and smooth (which given the amount of alcohol could be dangerous!).

Carina’s Sangria

1/2 apple diced
1/2 orange diced
1 lime diced
1 1/4 cup of orange juice
1 1/2 cup Sprite
1 6 oz. can pineapple juice
1/3 cup triple sec
1/3 cup vodka
1/3 cup gin
2 tbls brandy
1/2 bottle white wine
2 tbsp sugar

Dice the fruit and add the liquids. Add sugar and adjust ingredients to taste. Chill and serve with ice. Enjoy!