Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Beet and Cheese Elegant Duo--Betteraves à la Française

There was one thing that as a Polish national I could not not notice in Paris during my recent visit. It was not present there when years ago I lived in Geneva and did my weekly food shopping just a few miles on the other side of the border in the neighboring France. I mean the popularity of beets in the French cuisine.

I was able to buy beets in Geneva or France but now you could buy them in every vegetable market in Paris and even such snobbish food stores as la Grande Epicerie de Paris, and I was shocked to see the beets having such a prominent place at the shelves among salads, asparagus, and the so-popular-in-France zucchini. Moreover, in the fresh food sections of any market a beet salad was one of the three typical ready made salads next to the traditional celery root and carrot remoulade.

I guess although beets are not very characteristic for the French cuisine, French consumers, being sensitive to a tasty and healthy food, recognized the value of the beets. That makes me very proud, as I consider them Polish speciality.

Not only did I see people eating beets in salads for lunch, but one of the best restaurants in a five star Champs Elysées Plaza hotel, its chef Vincent Boucher serves a sophisticated starter made from beets, blackberries, and fresh white cheese (fromage frais aka as fromage blanc) and ricotta. I was so impressed with this combination that I decided to reproduce this dish. Unfortunately, the original "fromage blanc" is not available in the US. You can achieve something similar by straining plain yogurt over night on a cheese cloth. I made it using Greek yogurt (without straining it), because it has similar sourness and consistency as "fromage blanc". I also added lemon juice and made some changes, as a beet specialist by birth.

Here is my version of this old Polish vegetable prepared the French way.

Beet and Cheese Duo
(Serves six)

12 blackberries,
6 medium beets, plus extra one small for decoration,
4 tbsp cream cheese, preferably fresh, or whipped,
2 garlic cloves, minced,
6 tbsp fromage blanc or Greek yogurt,
half a box of chopped chives,
1 tbsp lemon juice,
1/2 tsp.cumin,
salt and pepper,

1. Peel beets, cut into small cubes and cook in salted water for 6-8 minutes. Drain and cool completely.
2. Place beets in a food processor and puree them coarsely, but stop before they turn completely mushy.
3. Transfer the beets to a medium bowl, add salt and pepper, season with cumin and lemon. Add two tbsp of fromage blanc or Greek yogurt and mix well.
4. Chop blueberries and fold into the beets.
5. Prepare 6 small glass dishes. Divide equally the beet mixture among glasses and chill them in a fridge for 1/2 hour.
6. In small bowl combine cream cheese, fromage blanc (or Greek yogurt), garlic, salt, pepper, and chives.
7. Take out the containers with beets and top each portion with a layer of the cheese mixture. Chill again for a minimum of 2 hours.
8. Cut the remaining small beet julienne and put on top of each glass.
9. Serve beet duos with fresh baguette.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

From Paris--the City of Food

I have always wondered why my blog is read all over the world, sometimes even in the smallest and most distant countries, but its French visitors are not among the top-five nations, especially with the French being so famous for their love of food. I think, while visiting Paris last week, I found an answer to this question.

Among many things, life in Paris is prominently about food and if I lived there I probably would not cook much and certainly had no time to read food blogs. All the streets are lined up with cafés, restaurants, bars, and other places to eat in. Much of the social life in Paris happens out on the streets where restaurant tables are placed, day and night. The long drawn-out evenings are about food, wine, conversation, and watching the passers-by as well. It was extremely difficult to take pictures and being unnoticed by the people who not only eat but also enjoy the view on the street.

By having many French friends I know that they also cook often at home and many of them prepare daily what would be called a fancy meal here. I must say however that cooking in France is not difficult at all. Amazing food products and ingredients, which are considered delicacies in the US, you can buy all over Paris in big stores and small speciality shops, including many exotic ones, ...

or at one of the many street market, like that in Marais where chanterelles (from Macedonia) are already available.

Even a tiny supermarkets squeezed among restaurants and cafés in my Paris neighborhood reminded me more of the high-end Balducci or Dean & Deluca stores than of my local Giant. Surprisingly, the food sold there was very tasty with a large line of organic products.

It was hard to take pictures, as not all people liked them. When I got to the most impressive Grande Épicerie de Paris, I finally was able to document some of the Parisian food assortment, but soon after going through the stands with my camera I was told that pictures were "interdit", so here is just a small sample of what I had the pleasure to see with my own eyes.

Just salt and mustard.

Breads, which you can buy warm all day long are fantastic and if I lived in Paris I would never try to bake my own.

They are especially good with the paper-thin smoked ham, like the Spanish Serrano,


or an endless array of "aromatic" cheese.

Yogurts are creamy and often sold in glass or colorful pottery containers.

The ready-to-eat crème brulée, mousse au chocolat, or tiramisu are better than most home-made versions I have ever tried.

Having that choice of chocolate on a daily basis, I am not sure I would keep my size 2 for very long.

My kids enjoyed very much the fresh and original pastas and raviolis filled with eggplants or artichokes.

All that inspired me so much that I have been cooking a lot since my return home and just cannot decide what to share first. How about another beets recipe, this time from a French chef?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From Paris--the City of...

Pots and Frills has been kind of slow lately, but not because I have run out of recipes or have lost my passion for cooking - absolutely not! First, like every parent, I have been very busy during this end-of-school period. But also, I have not been much around lately, because I spent the entire last week in Paris.

Some time this month, my blog has turned one-year old and there was no better place to celebrate this than in Paris with French food, champagne, and much much more, soldes including.

Paris has been given so many flattering nicknames and I suppose it deserves all of them. To me it was...

...the city of art,

...the city of love,

...the city of fashion,

...the city of chic,

...the city of fun,

...the city of style,

...the city of pretty girls (smoking cigarettes),

...the city of famous cafés,

...the city of beautiful people,

...and, most of all, the city of the best food in the world (to be continued).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Frisée and Star Fruit Salad--Fusion of Two Salads

I like the look of the star fruits so much that I buy them sometimes just for their beauty. I use them to decorate some of my desserts or glasses with drinks but I must admit that often I am at a loss as to what to do with the rest of that unused fruit which unfortunately quickly turns brown and ends in trash. I have been looking for a recipe on how to use them better but I could not find anything else than a fruit salad with coconut milk.

Star fruit, also called carambola, is often used just to extract its juice. It is rich in antioxidants but one has to be careful drinking eat at any time because, similarly to a grapefruit juice, if consumed in large amount it may enter into interaction with some medications.

Last week, I could not resist buying a beautiful star fruit again. The fruit itself has a delicate, hard to describe taste, somewhat reminiscent of a pear. Following this association, I decided to make a salad with star fruits as I make it with pears. In the fall I often make a salad with Belgian endives, pears, blue cheese, and roasted walnuts and dress it with walnut oil. As I discovered recently this simple idea is still quite unknown outside France. In Switzerland I learned a recipe for a frisée lettuce salad with good quality blue cheese and honey dressing. Inspired by both of these salads, I made my frisée and star fruit salad for the first time. It is more seasonal than the one using endives; frisée is more summery, while Belgian endives taste better in fall or winter.

This salad not only had a new taste but it also looked very picturesque. Dressing should be poured over it at the last moment as it will soften the star fruit and make it lose its fresh perfect look.

Frisée and Star Fruit Salad

1 star fruit,
1/2 lb (a medium-sized head) frisée salad,
1/3 cup roasted walnuts,
4 oz hard blue cheese, such as Stilton or Bleu d'Auvergne.

juice from half a lemon,
1/2 tbsp running honey,
2 tbsp rice bran oil,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut frisée in smaller pieces and arrange on the plate.
2. Mix all the dressing ingredients and pour over the lettuce.
3. Cut a star fruit into very thin slices and arrange on top of the frisée.
4. Sprinkle with roasted walnuts and crumbled blue cheese.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Blueberry Tart--from My Tart Collection

If the name "Tartelette" was still available I think that would be a great name for my blog. Unfortunately, it is already taken and by a well known and established blog. Tarts are one of my favorite pastry and I make them very often--either savory or sweet. I made sweet tarts with almost all fruits and nuts. I like fruit tarts especially in the summer and fall when I can use fresh seasonal fruits to make them.

For last few weeks, the locally growing blueberries have been arriving massively to the food stores in my area. Today everyone is aware of their high antioxidant content and they are almost in everyone's shopping cart.

I love to eat them fresh straight from the box, put them in my kids' lunch boxes, or put them in fruit salads. Sometimes, I also make tarts with blueberries, especially when they are in their peak--large and sweet. For the crust I typically use my classic short cake recipe, but this time to make it different, I added ground almonds to the crust. I spread the crust over the tart pan, baked it for 10-15 minutes and only then I added fruits and baked it altogether for another 15-20 minutes and voilà my dessert was ready in half an hour. To me it tastes always best when it is still slightly warm.

Blueberry Tart
(For a 10-inch tart tin)

Ingredients for the crust:
1 and 1/2 cup flour,
2 sticks (about 230 g) cold, unsalted butter, cut into thick slices
1/2 cup icing sugar,
1/2 cup ground almonds,
a pinch of salt,

Ingredients for the filling:
3 six oz boxes of blueberries,
1/4 cup sugar,
2 whole eggs,
1 cup table cream.

1. Place flour, sugar, ground almonds, and salt in a large bowl. Mix all the ingredients.
2. Add butter to the flour mixture and working with hands break butter and rub it in the flour to form coarse crumbs.
3. Place the crust in a plastic bag and chill for at least 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 375F.
5. Butter slightly the baking tin and spread the crust over it. Press gently with fingers make sure to cover the bottom and the side walls.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is gold.
7. Whip quickly sugar, eggs and cream to make a kind of custard mix. Spread blueberries on top of the crust, cover with the custard mix, and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the topping is set.

Tip: the crust can be made ahead and stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Swiss Chard Pasta--Peppery Feast

Whenever I have no idea what to cook for dinner, pasta always comes to my rescue. Especially on a busy day, pasta seems the best idea for an easy and light dinner. Vegetable-based pasta meals are my favorites as they can be made from practically any vegetables.

It is almost impossible to come up with an idea for a pasta that the Italians have not yet come up with, but recently I heard about pasta with Swiss chard. I ate Swiss chard a coupe of times, also in Indian dishes, but never with pasta. The idea seemed tempting, as Swiss chard is inexpensive, available most of the year, in particular in the Asian food stores, and healthy as a source of vitamins K, A, and C, and thirteen antioxidants. All in all pasta with Swiss chard seemed like a desirable addition to my pasta menu.

I noticed that Swiss chard has been very popular recently and, especially on many food blogs, people are trying to come up with new ideas on how to use that healthy vegetable.

So when I saw beautiful bunches of colorful Swiss chard in a grocery store I visit weekly, I bought one of them. For the first time I cooked Swiss chard myself and for the first time I made pasta with chard, inspired by a recipe from Metropolitan Home. The recipe called for adding a tbsp of Aleppo, Maras, or Urfa pepper, or pimento de la Vera, but I omitted that step as pasta with such spices could be to strong for kids, but it is said that those peppers will add a lot of flavor to this already well-defined, peppery tasting dish.

Swiss Chard and Olives Pasta
Serves 4-6

1 bunch of Swiss chard,
1 lb (one box) Ziti pasta,
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced,
5 garlic cloves, sliced,
10 to 15 black olives, cured in brine, sliced,
3 tomatoes chopped,
1/2 cup basil or flat leaved parsley, chopped,
1/3 cup olive oil,
1/4 cup toested pine nuts,
salt and pepper,
grated Parmesan,
1 tbsp Aleppo, Maras, or Urfa pepper, or pimento de la Vera.

1. Cut out leaves from the stalks and blanch them for about 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Drain, chop, and set aside.
2. Cook pasta in a pot of 4 quarters of water with a tbsp salt, until al dente.
3. Meanwhile. heat the oil, garlic, and onion over medium heat in a large saute pan stirring constantly for 5 to 7 minutes, until slightly brown.
4. Add to the pan blanched chard, olives, tomatoes, basil or parsley, pine nuts, salt, pepper and Aleppo paper if used.Cook stirring until mixture is just bubbling,about 3 to 4 minutes.

5. Drain the pasta, add to the pan with chard mixture and stir to combine.
6. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve at once.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Salad Dressings--And the Benefits of Rice Bran Oil

When I was a child, ready-made salad dressings were simply unavailable in Polish stores. Later, I have learned from French and Italians cookbooks, that dressings are one of those culinary condiments that you can always make at home and they taste best made that way.

I am sure anyone has his favorite dressing recipe. And although I will share some of mine, the true reason for this post is not to post dressing recipes, but to introduce a rice bran oil, which I have just discovered.

We all have heard about the benefits of the extra virgin olive oil, especially the cold pressed variety, which is claimed to be the main reason for the good health and longevity of the Mediterranean people who have been using it for ages. Since extra virgin olive oil is already widely used there is no point in my trying to popularize it.

But recently, when I bought a bottle of rice bran oil, I started to read about its amazing health benefits. The more I have read about it the more I have been adding it to different dishes and now, I add it almost daily to my green salads.

Rice bran oil is easily available and inexpensive. You can buy it at Whole Foods, or at Asian food markets where you can get a quart of it for just $6. It has been long appreciated in the Asian cuisine. Japanese women use it as a beauty product to cleanse and purify their skin. Japanese also claim that it has many medical benefits, among others it helps regulate hormonal imbalance, lowers cholesterol, heals stomach ulcers and upset stomach, and benefits the nervous system. All that thanks to the vitamins K, A, and C, but most of all due to a high content of gamma oryzanol, a powerful antioxidant.

Rice bran oil has also a very high smoke point which makes it excellent for deep frying. Recently, I have been using it for all frying.

Here are the simplest dressings that I make daily, using this so called "world's healthiest oil".

Lemon Garlic Dressing for Boston Lettuce

1 head Boston lettuce,
juice from half a lemon,
1 garlic clove,minced
1 tsp sugar,
1/4 cup Rice Bran Oil,
sea salt and fresh coarsely ground pepper to taste

Mix sugar with lemon juice,until sugar dissolves. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and oil. Using a small whisker mix all the ingredients and pour over salad.

Mustard and Vinegar Dressing for Mixed Salads

4 cups of mixed lettuce leaves,
1 tbsp yellow mustard,
1 tsp sugar,
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar,preferably di Modena,
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
2 tbsp bran rice oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Pour mustard in a small bowl. Add sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper, and whisk until it makes a sauce. Add both oils, mix again and pour over salad.

Both dressings can be made in double amounts and stored in a refrigerator--one with lemon can be stored for up to two weeks and the one with vinegar for up to one month.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rose Water Kulfi--Kulfi Again

I have a very special relation with kulfi.

Years ago in Oxford I was invited by an Australian friend (who today is one of the best Australian lawyers) to an Indian restaurant. I do not remember much from that dinner, except the wonderful company and a dessert that I ate that evening. The list of desserts was not very long and I was recommended to try kulfi--an Indian ice cream. That was my first and the only kulfi I have ever had.

A very frozen conical dessert was put before us, but the waiter did not leave. He was standing at our table with amusement on his face waiting to see our attempts to eat our kulfis with the spoons. It was an impossible task. Kulfis were extremely hard and the cones were jumping from the plates on the table each time we tried to take a scoop. The waiter enjoyed watching our fight for a long moment before he offered to bring forks. The whole incident frustrated me so much that, when I finally managed to taste my kulfi, I was not able enjoy it.

When thermometers hit 100 F last week and the only dessert I could think of was ice cream, I decided to face the challenge again and make kulfi by myself. Another reason for trying them was a big bottle of rose water that I bought once for a dessert and a year later it was still in my kitchen cabinet, probably already evaporating. My recipe, which I found in some British magazine soon after I had kulfi at that Indian restaurant, calls for rose water.

When I was preparing them I finally understood why kulfi is so hard when frozen. This is because it is made just from milk rather than cream and eggs, and therefore it has much lower fat content than regular ice cream. The whole process involves two steps--boiling milk slowly until it is reduced by half and later freezing it.

I was very impatient to try the final product again so, as some recipes advise, instead of reducing milk for hours I used evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is richer in fat than regular milk so my kulfi was not as hard and melted faster than that made the traditional way. I also did not have kulfi forms and used disposable 3 oz cups for that purpose. It worked well.

Rose Water Kulfi
Makes twelve 3 oz portions

1 12 oz cups evaporated milk,
1 cup whole milk,
6 cardamon pods,
3/4 cup granulated sugar,
1/4 cup ground almonds,
2 tbsp pistachios plus extra for decoration,
1 tsp rose water,
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Pour evaporated and whole milk in a saucepan. Add cardamon and bring to boil. Boil for a minute and set aside. Remove cardamon pods.
2. Stir in sugar and mix until dissolved, add almonds, and let it cool.
3. Cover pistachios with hot water and leave for about 2 minutes. Strain pistachios, remove all the loose skins and chop. Add to the milk.
4. Lightly whip the cream and fold into the milk and nuts mixture. Add rose water.
5. Transfer the mixture into a shallow freeze prof dish and put it in a freezer for about 4 hours. Take out beat with a fork to break ice and freeze again for an hour. Take out and transfer to individual small containers or 3 oz plastic cups.

6. Cover with plastic foil each container and freeze until firm, preferably overnight.

Serve decorated with shredded pistachios.