helloooo

due to lack of funding and lack of time, i will be on hiatus until my au pair job is over.  see you in july!

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Christmas in Metz

I know, I know, you missed me right?  Sorry about the absence… I have been really busy with the holidays and traveling and enjoying my 4 weeks off of work! 🙂  (If you want details on where I have been the last month, check out my Adventures of an Ex-Pat blog!)

Anyways, this year was the very first time I spent Christmas in France.  As many of you know, France is known for their food.  Why you may ask?  Because it is just so damn good.  In the past 6 months, I have eaten better than I ever have in my whole life.  (By better I don’t necessarily mean healthier, but who is paying attention anyways?)

The French celebrate Christmas by eating a large meal at night with family and/or friends on Christmas Eve; this is called Le Réveillon. This year, myself, my uncle and two of my cousins spent Christmas at my grandparents.  It is traditional that the meal consists of seafood and accompaniments; Let me tell you, the food was amazing…

The meal started out with appetizers and snacks, champagne and whiskey.

Next was a beautiful platter filled with a variety of seafood…

…followed by oysters….

…and then escargots!! mmmm…

…and finally for dessert, Poire Belle Hélène!

On Christmas Day, Noël, everyone regathers at noon for yet another meal!  (Gotta love France!)  The meal on Noël traditionally includes one of my favorite things: Foie Gras.  My god if heaven was put into a food it would be foie grasFoie gras (which translates to “fat liver”) is a goose liver pâté that puts all other types of pâtés to shame.  It is rich, creamy, fatty, delicious goodness.  While regular pâtés are usually spread on the toast, it is recommended to just place the slices of fois gras onto the toast and eat as is.  Just sitting here typing about it is making my mouth water…  Anyways, here is the meal from Noël:

Again the meal started out with appetizers, snacks, champagne, and whiskey…

… the meal was accompanied by a special wine from the region of Alsace called Gewurztraminer, traditionally served at Noël

la pièce de la resistance… the foie gras!!…


…foie gras and toast served with a cold green bean salad…

…followed by slow roasted chicken with Morel mushrooms in a cream sauce…

…served with fresh pasta…

My Papy, le grand chef.

For dessert we had the traditional French bûche de Noël, which I forgot to take a photo of… my bad.  All in all, I had a great first Christmas in France, and have never eaten so much in my life.  I can’t wait to do it again!  I hope everyone had a great holiday season and that all your New Year’s resolutions come true!  I will be back to cooking soon, so keep a look out, and thanks for reading 🙂

Bon Ap!

Julie.

Kitchen Cooking Essentials

Top 10 Cooking Must-Haves

A common misconception is that you need to be a genius or have gone to culinary school in order to be a great cook.  False.  Sure, you need to have some basic food knowledge and good multi-tasking skills but, like any kind of talent, it just takes some practice.  Naturally, all great chefs have a certain drive and creativity in order to create new recipes to be at the forefront of the culinary world.  At the same time, however, there are some basic ingredients and tools that ever chef and cook uses or needs.  Whether you are just a beginner or a world renown chef, certain ingredients reappear in nearly every recipe and without them food would fail.

I have compiled a list of my own personal Top 10 Cooking Must-Haves.  Some of them are obvious and some may be surprising, but all of them are, I believe, essential.  With these basic tools and ingredients, you will have a great start to any great meal.


THE TOP TEN


1.  Salt and Pepper I know this one may seem very, very obvious, but you would be surprised at the amount of times I have been asked to cook at someone’s place to find no salt or pepper.  Trying to cook without salt and pepper is like trying to play baseball without the ball.  Totally pointless, and not to mention completely bland.  Ask any beginning cook to a culinary genius; salt and pepper are the backbone of cooking.  If you don’t have these already in your kitchen, get some, fast.

2.  Garlic And no, I do not mean dried garlic powder or a jar of minced garlic, but actual garlic bulbs.  Fresh, delicious, ever-so-important garlic.  The fact of the matter is, with the exception of dessert (maybe), garlic goes with everything. Everything. It is almost as important as salt and pepper.  It is great minced or whole, roasted, toasted or pan fried and can amplify a dish’s flavor ten times over.  It is perfect for meats, vegetables, in bread, pastas, rice, and even eaten alone (oven roasted garlic, for example, is heavenly).  The other great thing about garlic is that it is very inexpensive and stores for a long time.  Make sure this is on your next grocery list.

3. Oils Olive, Extra Virgin, Corn, Vegetable, Sesame, etc etc etc GET SOME.  Ninety-nine percent of the time I cook I use oil.  It can be used in pan frying, deep frying, marinades, dressings, sauces and so on.  I would place oil as high up on the list as salt and pepper and garlic.  Even with just these three ingredients you already have a great cooking foundation.

4. Knives Now, I am not saying you need to go online and order the thousand dollar hand made kitchen knives from Japan (though if anyone wants to buy me them I would gladly except)  but you do need to have at least ONE good Chef’s knife and if you’d like, one decent Pairing knife.  I have two Chef’s knives, a small and a large, and one nice pairing knife.  A good knife for cutting meats, chopping vegetables, or handling small precise cuts will not only make your life easier but will save you time from struggling with a crappy knife.  You can find pretty decent Chef’s knives for 20 or 30 dollars, or if you feel like spending the big bucks upwards of 80 to in the several hundreds.  Get one of these and you will not regret it.  Also, make sure you have a cutting board to go with…

5. Butter Butter, like oil, is great for adding flavor, for pan frying, and a is staple in baking.  Butter is also inexpensive and keeps for a very long time.  Even if you aren’t a usual consumer of butter, you never know when you might need or want to bake, or even just put some melted butter on your pasta with some grated cheese (Mmmmm….)

6. Shallots I LOVE SHALLOTS.  In the whole onion family, shallots have the best taste hands down.  I use these in all my pasta and rice recipes, mixed in with cooked vegetables, or caramelized with fresh mushrooms to serve with a delicious steak or chicken breast.  Shallots have a sweet onion taste with a mild touch of garlic and really bring a special flavor to any dish.  For a really great pasta sauce, slowly caramelize 10 thinly sliced shallots in  2 tblsps. of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tblsps. of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped.  Toss with pasta and add salt and pepper to taste.  Simple, and divine.

7. Wine Not just for drinking (though that is great too) but also for cooking!!  Adding wine to to your dishes will compliment meats and vegetables with a flavor unlike any other.  For example, while caramelizing shallots or cooking a steak, when the heat is on high add anywhere from 1/2 cup to a cup of wine to deglaze the pan.  Continuing cooking until the wine all but evaporates completely.  The alcohol will cook out but the flavor will be soaked up by the meat or vegetables.  Once you taste wine cooked food, you will never want to be without!

8. Stock/Broth Obviously to make most soups you will need stock.  However it has many other uses, too.  For example, in combination with flour and melted butter (called a roux), stock is used in the base of many great sauces. You can also cook your pasta in it instead of just water, and can also add to the pan when cooking meats and vegetables.  Whether you make your own, use bouillon cubes, or buy stock at the store, each works just fine.

9. Assorted Spices and Herbs Ohhh spices and herbs.  There are so so many of you.  I am not saying you need to own every spice known to man, but having a small assortment is very useful.  If you can, getting whole spices and fresh herbs is best, but these do tend to cost a little more, and fresh herbs need to be bought regularly.  It is worth it though, because the flavor is uncanny.  Here are a few I would suggest to have on hand, as they are some I use fairly often:  parsley (fresh), herbs de provence, rosmary, paprika, ginger, basil, thyme, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes.  Of course these are not the only spices but these are a few I use on a regular basis and are just nice to have around.

10. Wooden Spoons I can’t say this enough.  Wooden spoons are still one of the best cooking utensils.  I think I own about 10, no joke.  A close second would be the spatula (that would have been #11 I think…).  Wooden spoons are great for both baking and pan frying, are sturdy yet inexpensive.  They may be old school, but I would never go without!

I promise with these simple ingredients and tools, you can improve your cooking with a little practice.  Don’t be afraid to take the plunge!  Good luck!!

*Also, if anyone has any suggestions on favorite ingredients I didn’t list, please feel free to share!*  😀

Bon Ap!

Julie

Chocolate Almond Crème Fraîche Cake

“Forget love, I’d rather fall in chocolate”

Ohhh chocolate.  We have had a long, long love affair haven’t we?  Confession: I am a  chocoholic.  Not suprised?  Neither am I.

Fact : Chocolate causes certain endocrine glands to secrete hormones that affect your feelings and behavior by making you happy. Therefore, it counteracts depression, in turn reducing the stress of depression. Your stress-free life helps you maintain a youthful disposition, both physically and mentally. (Ok so maybe it isn’t iron clad science, but would I really take my chances?)  Chocolate is cheaper than therapy and while other things are just food, chocolate is chocolate.  I think you get the picture now…

This might be my second  favorite chocolate recipe thus far (1st place still holding strong goes to my Dark Chocolate Truffle Tart :))  During my daily food blog and recipe browsing, I came across a recipe for “Deep Chocolate Sour Cream Cake”.  I immediately clicked the link, already drooling before I even read the post.  “Yea this is a winner” I told myself.  I logged the recipe into my archives as usual and continued browsing.  Yesterday I revisited the recipe and tried to figure out how I could modify it, and hopefully improve it 🙂  I mean, if I am in the culinary capital of the world, I am going to relish in the fact that I can find quality ingredients everywhere!

I decided to instead use a crème fraîche, substituted some of the flour for almond flour and made a few other modifications.  Almond flour is just almonds that have been ground to the point where it slightly resembles sand.  It is commonly used when making Financiers, for example.  If you cant find this at a local store, you can by whole almonds (without the skin) and put the in a food processor or blender until ground as fine as possible.  Plus, almonds and chocolate go great together.

This recipe is definitely one for chocolate lovers and will bring out the gourmande in anybody.  Enjoy!  (Like I need to say that…)

Chocolate Almond Crème Fraîche Cake

Ingredients:

1.5 cups of flour

1/2 cup of almond flour

1 cup of Dutch processed cocoa powder

2 tsp. of baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups of butter (3 sticks or 340g)

2 cups of granulated sugar

1/2 cup of brown sugar

4 large eggs

2 tsp. of vanilla extract

1 cup of crème fraîche

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease the inside of a cake pan  (10″ round or a small square/rectangle pan).

In a large bowl combine flour, almond powder, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl beat butter until creamy with an electric mixer.  Gradually add sugars and beat until well blended.  At medium speed, beat in eggs one at a time until all well blended.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides!

In a small bowl, combine vanilla and crème fraîche.  Add to butter mixture until well combined.

Add flour mixture in batches to butter mixture at low speed until just combined.

Bake for 1 hour and 10 – 15 minutes.  Let cake cool in pan 15-20 minutes. Remove from pan and serve warm or let cool completely. (I can never wait!)

Cut into slices and serve dusted with cocoa powder.  (You could also serve with vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise, whipped cream, or whatever you desire!  Make up your own :))

Bon Ap!

Julie.

Steak Roulades

Mmmm steak.  Just the thought of it can make your mouth water.  With winter upon us, nothing fills you up like a nice, juicy, flavorful steak.  As I was cooking these, the whole house filled with the aroma of garlic, wine, and steak.  Even as I am writing this I can smell it if I close my eyes 🙂   While this looks complicated, trust me you will be surprised at how easy it is!

I made this meal for my au pair family and it was a big hit.  I mean, how can  you go wrong with steak filled with delicious accompaniments?  😀

Steak Roulades

Ingredients:

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of steak escalope (these are long, thin slices of steak made easy for rolling)

2 shallots, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cup of thick cut bacon pieces

1 cup of mushrooms, chopped

1/2 cup of shredded emmental cheese

1/4 cup of beef or vegetable stock

3 tsp. dijon mustard

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup of red wine

salt and pepper

toothpicks

Directions:

In large pan, sauté shallots, bacon, and mushrooms until mostly cooked.   Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cheese, parsely, and mustard.  Lightly salt and pepper.

Lay out each slice of beef flat.   Salt and pepper each side.  Spread a layer of the filling onto each slice.

Then gently roll shut and secure with toothpicks.  Repeat until all steaks are used.  Set any remaining filling aside (do not throw out!).

In a large pan, heat oil on medium/high – high heat.   Place roulades into pan and brown for about 2 minutes.  Flip steaks to brown other side for 2 minutes.  Add red wine and let cook for 5 minutes.  Set heat to medium/low and pour any remaining filling into the pan.  Add the beef or vegetable stock.  Cover and let simmer for 2 hours.  Half way through, flip roulades over.

Remove from heat and serve with roasted potatoes, pasta, rice or whatever you choose!  These are great with a glass a nice red wine as well 😉

Bon Ap!

Julie

Thanksgiving Meets France

Fact: Thanksgiving is awesome.  It is hard enough to be away from family during holidays, and another thing when certain ones aren’t even celebrated.  I wanted to share a part of my American culture with my French family and friends and cook them a traditional Thanksgiving (the best that I could with French ingredients).   On the list was turkey, mashed potatoes, my grandma’s stuffing recipe, green bean casserole, corn, salad, two pumpkin pies, gravy, cranberries, and lots of wine.

I spent basically the entire day in the kitchen working my butt off to pull this meal together.  And, I have to say, I impressed myself.  The turkey was juicy and tender, the potatoes creamy and filled with garlic, the stuffing tasting as close to grandma’s as I could have made it, and the pies delicious.

The recipe I am going to share with you today is my favorite dish of Thanksgiving:  My grandma’s stuffing.  Every year since I can remember, my grandma makes the most amazing stuffing ever.  This year I sent her an email explaining how I was making a Thanksgiving meal for my French family and friends, asking if she could send me her recipe.  While, no it didn’t taste exactly like grandma’s (but then again, what does really?)  it came it absolutely incredible.  This recipe is another one that is close to my heart, a good old fashioned, home grown family recipe.  Thanks for sharing Grandma! I love you!

Grandma Flo’s Stuffing

Ingredients:

4-5 loaves of sliced bread, cubed and dried out (my grandma said sometimes she mixes wheat and white)

chicken broth

6-7 celery stalks, finely diced

1 medium onion, diced

2-3 garlic cloves, diced

1 – 1.5  lbs ground beef

4-5 eggs

1 cup parsley, chopped

1 cup grated cheese

poultry seasoning (a few shakes)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.

Place dried bread cubes in a large bowl.  Slowly stir and combine bread with chicken broth until pieces are coated and rehydrated (make sure they are well covered, though be sure not to put too much or else it will become soupy).  Set aside.

Saute the celery, onion, and garlic in oil until slightly browned.  Pour over bread and stir.

Brown beef in a pan and drain juices.  Pour over bread and stir.

Add eggs, parsley, cheese, poultry seasoning and pepper and stir.  My grandma said she tastes the mixture and then decides how much salt to add since the broth is already salted.  Add as desired and stir.

Pour stuffing mixture into a large baking pan and spread evenly.  Bake covered for 1 hour, then 10-15 minutes uncovered.

Serve with a delicious gravy! 🙂

You will not be disappointed with this recipe, trust me!

Bon Ap!

Julie

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

IMG_3715

One of the things I love about fall is that one of my favorite fruits to cook with comes into season: pumpkin 🙂

Every fall I eat as many things as I can made with pumpkin, including (but of course not limited to) all of the following: pie, cupcakes, bread, ice cream, chili, soup, doughnuts, and so forth.

The other day I went to a pâtisserie in Metz to buy some macaroons (guilty) and saw the french version of what kind of looked like a cinnamon roll.  I of course then started to think about how it had been such a long time since I had a cinnamon roll and how amazing they tasted when warm.  Later that night when I went home, I wandered into the pantry to decide what I was going to make for dinner and saw the can of pumpkin puree that the mother of the au pair family I am living with brought me when she went to the US a few weeks ago.  I suddenly thought, you know, I have never eaten a pumpkin cinnamon roll before…

This thought then brought me to searching through countless cinnamon roll recipes trying to find how I could work in the pumpkin puree and finally figured out a recipe I thought would work.  And, I have to say, these are sooo good 🙂  Especially when topped with a simple powdered sugar glaze (recipe also included).

Happy Fall 🙂

*Note*  (measurements are in the metric system because this is what is used in France.  Don’t panic, you can easily get a container measuring milliliters and a cheap scale for the grams)

Pumpkin Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

100 ml of milk

6 tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

800 g. flour

400 g. canned pumpkin puree

4 egg yolks

100 g butter melted + 40 g butter melted

200 g brown sugar + 2 tsp. cinnamon (combined and set aside)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. cloves

1/4 – 1/2 cups of walnuts, chopped (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl combine pumpkin, 6 tblsp. of sugar, 100 g of melted butter, milk, vanilla and egg yolks.

In another bowl, combine baking powder and flour.  Slowly add flour to pumpkin mixture.  Once dough starts to become stiff, mix with hands.  Knead until mostly combined.

Separate dough in half (easier to work with).  Lightly flour a flat surface and roll dough into a rectangle.  Brush with half of the remaining 40g of butter and sprinkle with half the cinnamon and sugar mixture.  On the longer end of the rectangle, start to roll dough until you reach the other end.  Lightly pinch seam to seal.  Cut pieces into 1″ chunks.  Place each piece cut side up into a large baking pan.  If desired sprinkle walnuts over the top and lightly press into rolls.

IMG_3709

Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove and let cool 5 minutes.  Serve with powdered sugar glaze. (see below)

Powdered Sugar Glaze

Ingredients:

2 cups of powdered sugar

4 tblsp. milk

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

Combine all ingredients.  Add more milk or sugar if necessary.  Glaze should be think but should drip from the spoon.

IMG_3713

Bon Ap!

Julie