Monday, August 24, 2009

Strawberry and Nectarine Rooibos Iced Tea

La Vogue is a summer celebration very typical of my region - not every French person knows about it. It's basically a very small carnival, with a merry-go-round, bumper cars and a few target shooting game held on a village's square. La Vogue travels from one small town to another and stays for about two weeks in the same location. Sounds kind of hick doesn't it? Well I do come from a very small village in France, so I won't disagree.

During these festivities, everyone turning 18 - les conscrits - in the village organizes a big outdoor dance on the village's square on Saturdays. There's lots of loud music, dancing, flirting and drinking.

I wish I could go back to France more often during the Summer to show Juan (and Noah!) this part of my culture that I grew up with. I have some fond memories of it as a kid, trying to follow my older brothers while thinking it was so cool to stay up until 10pm!

Today, La Vogue also means another party that my parents and a bunch of their friends throw every year. They gather in the backyard of a beautiful old house and feast for a whole weekend. More often than not, they serve a delicious suckling pig, along with lots of different summer salads. My Mom, always known for making a delicious flan caramel, is usually in charge of the dessert part. The party goes on for days, until late in the night, as they sing old songs in Patois (with the help of a few drinks of Chartreuse). Yep! That's how we party in my family, and I miss it a lot.

Speaking of partying, a few weeks ago we invited friends over for a pool party at our place - and it was Noah's first swim. Our friend Ceci made a fabulous strawberry and nectarine Rooibos iced tea. It was incredibly refreshing, and the sweet flavor of the fresh strawberry and nectarine pieces really added a lot of flavor. I couldn't help but think about La Vogue that was going on that same weekend and how much everyone would have enjoyed this tea (they would spike it with rum though).

I'm happy Ceci let me share her recipe with you all (and incidentally, Ceci is a wonderful photographer, so I also asked her to take the pictures for me).

Strawberry and Nectarine Rooibos Iced Tea (makes about 6 tall glasses)

1 quart Rooibos tea leaves

1 quart lemonade (fresh squeezed or bottles but preferably organic)

1 carton frozen strawberries

2 nectarines, diced

Brew the tea and add the lemonade. Strain the tea leaves.

Place half of the strawberries along with the nectarines into the tea/lemonade and refrigerate.

Freeze the other half of strawberries to use as ice when serving.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tarte Flambée

I was offered the opportunity to do a cooking demo for the launch party of the movie Julie and Julia earlier this week, at Cissi's Market.

In honor of Julia Child and Julie Powell, I chose to make a French specialty from the region of Alsace, called une tarte flambee. It's also known as une flammekueche, in Alsatian. I love it, it's basically a very thin tart with a cream and cheese base, covered with onions and bacon. So simple, you guys have to try it!

The ingredients are very simple, though I had to substitute a few because they're too hard to find in the US. The first one is cottage cheese, which replaces fromage blanc, a very soft cow cheese typically served with cream and sugar in France. The second one is sour cream, which replaces creme fraiche, a fatter and softer version of sour cream. Creme fraiche is great to use in sauces or on a tart, sweetened with sugar and vanilla for example.

The typical dough for a tarte flambee is a bread dough; but I have to be honest with you, I actually buy store-bought pizza dough for this recipe. Tarte flambee is a such a quick-fix meal, I sometimes don't want to have to make bread dough from scratch. The key, no matter which dough you use, is to roll it as thin as possible.

I love to serve my tarte flambee along with a simple green salad and eat it with a fork and a knife. However, the real way to enjoy it is to roll it and eat it with your hands.

My personal touch to this recipe is to let the onions marinate a little bit in white wine (preferably a white wine from Alsace like a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer). Once the tarte is baked, it gives a wonderful tangy bite and warmth. It's amazing!


1 bread dough or pizza dough, homemade or store-bought

1 medium yellow onion

½ cup of white wine (Riesling or Gewustraminer)

6 slices of bacon, ¼ inch thick

1 cup of 4 % fat cottage cheese, small curd

1/3 cup crème fraiche or sour cream

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp salt

freshly ground pepper

drizzle of vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F degrees.

Cut the onion in half, peel it and slice it as thinly as possible. In a bowl, combine it with the white wine and let is sit for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the bacon into matchstick size, working with 2 slices piled at a time. Set aside.

In the food processor, combine the creme fraiche (or sour cream), the cottage cheese, the nutmeg, salt and pepper, until smooth. Set aside.On a floured surface, roll the dough as thinly as possible, so it fits onto a greased large baking sheet (about 12” x 17”).

Using a spatula spread the cream and cottage cheese mixture onto the dough, leaving a ½ inch edge all around. Pat the onions dry onto paper towels and spread evenly all over the dough. Spread the bacon evenly all over. Drizzle the top with oil.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp. Serve right away out of the oven, along with a simple green salad. Pair with an Alsatian white wine (the one you used in the recipe).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Carbonade de Boeuf

I love motherhood! Noah just turned 1 month three days ago and already, I feel like he is getting used to a schedule. He absolutely loves the outdoors, despite this unbearable heat. I can't wait for cooler temperatures to take advantage of long walks with him - without feeling like you're living in an oven.

My parents flew over from France to meet him and come help us. My Mom treated us to some good old homestyle French cooking, which Juan and I took great pleasure in. There were MANY aperitifs and bottles of wine involved, along with introducing my Dad to Super Mario Kart on the Wii. That was fun!

As I seldom see my parents for either Mother's Day or Father's Day, I had planned to throw a nice dinner in honor of my Dad. When my parents arrived here, we got busy doing baby things and tried to use the stove as little as possible because of the heat and so I never got to making it - but Juan approves of it!

However, I still wanted to share the recipe of the dish I had selected with you. It's called Une carbonade de boeuf and it's a Belgian specialty. It's also very popular in the north of France. I thought it would be a wonderful choice for a Dad, as it involves beef and beer (and potatoes too!). How wrong can you get? It's a very simple and cheap stew, which I know you will all love at any time. It was my first time to make it and to me, it's a keeper!

Like any other stew, the dish gets better and better after a few days... I strongly advise to make it days ahead before serving!


2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 pounds of chuck roast, cut in big dices
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil (for onions)
2 big onions, sliced
2 cups of dark beer (preferably Belgian like Jenlain)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp of Cassonade or just simple sugar
2 slices of white bread
1 tbsp of good quality Dijon mustard
1 tsp of dried thyme
1 good handful of chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil. Pat dry the beef chunks, season with salt and pepper and toss in the flour. Brown the meat on each side over medium to high heat (work in 2 to 3 batches). Really allow it to get to a nice brown color, which will give wonderful flavor. Remove the meat and set aside on a plate.

Turn the heat down to low and heat 1 tbsp of oil. Add the onions and cook until brown and tender, about 15 minutes. Deglaze with 3 tbsp of beer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Transfer the meat back into the onions.

Add the rest of the beer, the vinegar, the sugar and thyme to the pan. Spread the mustard on the bread slices and add on top of the stew.

Cover and allow to simmer for about 2 hours, stirring often or it will stick at the bottom! You want the meat to be extra tender. You must be able to break it down with a fork. Remove the lid and allow to cook down to a thicker consistency (reduce to half).

Adjust seasoning to taste (you might need to add more sugar if it's too bitter). At the end, throw in the parsley. Allow to sit for at least a day and up to 3 days before serving. It goes wonderfully well with french fries, steamed potatoes or noodles. Serve with a nice cold Belgian beer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil and Mozzarella Salad

I was an au pair in the suburb of London - in Barnes to be exact - during the Summer of 1998. Barnes is a charming little community along the river - and I fell in love with it. There's a beautiful little park with a pond and weeping willows, quaint little shops and pubs, beautiful houses and wonderful people, to name just a few things.

That 1998 summer was the beginning of a long story between me and Barnes. I came back to it in 2002 and worked there as a barista in the now closed French coffee shop Tatie Danielle, while I finished my studies.

Back then, I worked for a family who had two young boys. They lived in a really lovely semi-attached home, with a very picturesque British garden. I loved it! The green lawn, the shrubs, the roses, the little shed in the back, and me lounging in the shade of the trees with my best friend Lucie.

The mother of that family prepared food in its most simple way. I realized recently, while remembering the good old times, how much this fragment of my life reinforced the way I see food today: keep it basic and always use quality ingredients.

As much as French home cooking is indeed quite simple, we tend to overcomplicate things sometimes and forget how to make an ingredient the star of a dish, without much addition of flavor but rather complement it.

I remember one Sunday afternoon, when I was served this roasted bell pepper salad. It was lukewarm, sweet and accompanied with fresh mozzarella, basil and the finest olive oil. The ingredients, absolutely fresh and top quality, melted in my mouth.

I recreated this recipe just before Noah was born, when our friends Ceci and Meredith came over for dinner. And it was just right. I suggest serving it with a fresh loaf of bread, like a pain de campagne.

Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil & Mozzarella Salad (serves 4 to 6)

3 bell peppers, the color of your choice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 ball of extra fresh Mozzarella
1 bunch of fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 500 F degrees. Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the seeds and the membranes. Place them in a bowl and coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the bell peppers to the bowl you priorly used, cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the bell peppers to steam.

With a small knife, or using your fingers, peel the skin off the bell peppers. Slice lengthwise - the longer the slices, the better, for visual effect. Place in a serving dish.

Right before serving, slice the basil thinly, tear the mozzarella cheese into small bits using your fingers and add to the roasted bell peppers.

Check the seasoning and add sea salt if you choose to. You may also drizzle some extra olive oil over the top. Serve right away, at room temperature. Do not place in the fridge.

Best if served the same day.