Spring a Leek!

By George, I’ve sprung a leek! Excuse the unforgivable pun; at least it’s a tad bit more sophisticated than ‘taking a leek’.  Eh? Eh?  Whenever I speak to my parents about one of the lesser-known members of the onion family, it’s the first thing out of their mouths.  Hence, proving my point that Americans are sadly unfamiliar with the said vegetable!  However, it is one of the first things I noticed  in French markets and menus: braised leeks, a light potato and leek potage, and the principle cure of obesity in Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat.  The secret to not plumping up in these conditions is a magical leek soup which allows the occasional taste of wine and cheese with the promise of looking as svelte as one of Godard’s gals.  So I encourage you to take a liking to leeks, too!

When the tough, green leaves are cut off of the leeks, they can be subtle addition to soups, stews, and even salads.  However, I learned the following recipe from an Italian transplant in Paris, which explains the parmesan cheese.  However, you could replace the parmesan with emmental or swiss or simply omit it.  Either way, the leek is the star here !  So enjoy as a light lunch with a green salad.  And according to Mlle Guilano, because you are eating leeks, you are permitted to a little wine and cheese, too.

TARTE AUX POIREAUX Leek Tarte

Any kind of savory pie crust will work here, but homemade is always better.  The egg yolk in the dough makes it both tender and cracker-like.

Pastry :

1 1/4 Cups Flour

4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into ½’’ pieces

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg yolk, beaten

2-4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed

Filling :

2 large leeks, green tops cut off, white portion cut into 1/4’’ rounds

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup creme fraiche or sour cream

¼ cup milk

4 eggs

¼ cup parmesan, emmental, or any flavorful cheese

1 tablespoon chopped chives

salt & pepper to taste

1.)  Mix flour, salt, and chilled butter.  Using a pastry cutter, two small knives, your hands, or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour until the butter resembles small, pea-sized pieces.  Add the egg yolk.  Add ice water one tablespoon at a time until a soft dough forms, being careful not to overmix.

2.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and kneed several times until the dough is smooth.

3.) Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

4.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4.) In a saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté leeks in olive oil until soft and caramelized, about 7 minutes.  Let cool slightly.

5.) In a bowl, mix the eggs, crème fraiche, eggs, salt and pepper.

6.)  Roll out the pastry dough to 1/8’’ and spread carefully in a pie pan.  Add the prepared leeks.  Pour in the egg mixture.  Sprinkle on the cheese, it will nice caramelize in the oven.

7.)  Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top.  Enjoy!

Even thought the winters in Paris are a moderate step up from the brutal winters I have known in Chicago and New York, there is still nothing more comforting than a hearty bowl of soup.  This is one of the things my mom always whipped up on weeknights when I was a kid.  A leftover chicken would make a rich tortilla soup.  Or a few pantry basics would inspire an avgolemono. Even if the soups were quick, she would always steal a few moments to make her famous cheese muffins.  Turns out the trusty recipe was found in the recipe booklet of our avocado green blender.  Or we would quickly whip up some baking powder biscuits together.  My American friend Catherine just returned from the States gifting me with a jar of apple butter.  This brought me back to the Midwestern winters of my childhood.  With no further haste or nostalgia, I had to make biscuits and an accompanying soup.

C is convinced that soup is strictly an appetizer.  But if I dress it up with some homemade quick bread, he doesn’t complain.  I can see why he feels this way though; I’ve noticed that soup in France is usually pureed.  We don’t have a blender, one of the wedding gifts that never transpired.  So I have to dig back into my mental archives for other ideas.  I never ate much lentils growing up.  But when slowly stewed with leeks, celery, and garlic, they could have easily been in my mom’s soup repertoire.   Recipe to come… Bisou!

C has tapped the secret of scrambled eggs.  Not even just the secret of making them, but the secret revelation of what they can be.   I have never had the best pastime of scrambled eggs.  They have always been a bit lost.  Somehow the rich sensuousness of the yolk is lost in the technique.  The dowdy other-half to bacon.  More of a showcase of salt and pepper.  I have become arrogant in my omelet abilities and have always attempted scrambled eggs with the same high-heat, pan-moving treatment.  However, they are always too dry and half of the final product gets lost to the pan.  I love the instant gratification of eggs, but sometimes a little added technique and patience can reintroduce something so simple and satisfying!

Low and slow is the way to go!  Turn on the stovetop to its lowest setting.  Beat best-quality eggs with a splash of milk, a small drizzle of water, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Throw a hearty nob of butter into the pan, about one teaspoon per egg, pour in the eggs, and be prepared to stir!  Much like a risotto, these eggs need both affection and attention.  Keep stirring

Cooking the eggs at the lowest temperature creates smaller, silkier curds and a creamier, velvety final product. Once you can draw a smiley face on the bottom of the pan, BRAVO!  You are almost there.

Depending on the temperature of your stove, it can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.  Keep stirring until they are just barely set.  When done right, they will have a a custard-like texture.  Serve with chopped chives and crème fraiche, or with a tranche of smoked salmon.  Serve them however you would normally serve scrambled eggs.  However, they do not need much more than a sprinkle of sel de fleur and a piece or two of toast to sop up all the delicious creaminess.  Or reunite these made-over scrambled eggs with their other-half, bacon.

Happy 2012! I apologize for being a bit absent.  Since I last wrote, there was a wedding, a trip to New York, a honeymoon holiday in Nice, and many trips to the Prefacture de Police.  As of today, I have my residence permit, which means I will be bureaucracy-free for the next 9 months!  (Unless I decide to apply for a bank account, a library card, a masters program, leave my apartment.  Wait a minute…)  I wish I could celebrate by torching the rainforest of paperwork I have accumulated the last few months while singing ‘J’ai Deux Amours’ at the top of my lungs.  But alas, from now on I need to adopt the ‘French touch’ of maintaining a color coordinated bureaucracy binder.

Paris is cooling down.  Although my style integrates fairly well, I’m inevitably challenged to layer gracefully.  I’ve noticed on the streets, many women deal with either a ‘doudoune’, a duvet of a jacket or carefully calculated cashmere layers.  Me, I have a few chunky long, wool sweaters that I wear under either a camel jacket or my wool vintage herringbone blazer.  However, this recently backfired.  Case in point, on a quick trip to the local health insurance office, after I taking a number, I was quickly ushered by the hostess to a chair because I was mistaken as being ‘enceinte’ or with child.  Bundling up should not be mistaken for a bundle of joy.  “EXCUSEZ-MOI!!!” I gasped.  “JE SUIS PAS ENCEINTE!!!” The hostess was just as mortified as I was.  (Take that, bitch!)  Half-hearted apology unaccepted, I walked out of there forever mortified.  Maybe it is time to swear off my dear chunky knits.  Maybe it is time to lay off the fromage.  And maybe an Hermes Kelly Bag would certainly solve all of my problems…

Carottes Râpées

Photo by Jessie Kanelos

Oh, carottes râpées!  One of the few ways to eat raw vegetables in this crazy town.  Other than an obligatory green salad, the French prefer their vegetables cooked to death.   But when I need to eat something on the lighter side (meaning I have less than 2 weeks to slim down to the size of my vegan NYC days in which I bought my wedding gown.  Lay off the fromage, Jessie!), this quick recipe is as satisfying as it is simple.  I love carrots, but chewing them can be a bit tedious sometimes.  So this is a happy medium between carrot sticks and carrot juice.  Just grate fresh carrots on a box grater.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Easy.  I have tried dressing this up with glug of white wine vinegar, lemon juice, chopped garlic, or even maple syrup.  But at the end of the day, if the carrots are fresh, there really is no need to dress them with anything.  Maybe just a little bit of olive oil for some added sheen.  Hmmm, this might not be a far-off plot to slim down like a French woman….

Tricheur’s Apple Tarte

One of the joys of living in the food-obsessed culture of France, is learning all the cheater’s secrets.  For one, I’ve learned the French are guilty of takeout and the prepared foods isle of the supermarche.  Have a handful of friends stopping by for an aperitif?  Why not swing over to the local Picard (the sterile neighborhood frozen foods shop) for a handful of delicacies (shrimp toasts, savory cakes, molten chocolate cakes) to pull out of the oven when guests arrive?  Or why not run to the local Italian traiteur to create a spread of  beautiful cheeses, preserved tomatoes, and Italian charcuterie.  Secondly, there are plenty of ready-made products in the grocery store.  Who has time to cook, when quinoa, lentils, and rice are ready to be zapped onto the table?  Another supermarket favorite of mine is the ready-made puff pastry and pie crusts which make quiches and tartes a cinch to whip up.  The little girl I babysit for explained the simplest and easiest apple tarte she makes with her father.  A thin layer of apple sauce is spread onto a prepared pie crust.  Sliced apples are fanned on top to give it the touch of the boulanger.   Voila.  To my chagrin, it happened to be vegan and perfectly timed for a luncheon for some vegan friends from Brooklyn who were in town!  Enjoy.

Illustration by Jessie Kanelos

Fig season has arrived in France!  The daintier, sweeter variety indigenous to France are at their peak although the larger imports from Greece and Turkey are not a bad snack either.  I’ve been waiting months to test out a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef for months now.  ‘Tis the season!  It’s a sensually simple salad of figs, buffalo mozzarella, and prosciutto di parma.  I slit an x on the top of the figs and gently squeezed them to reveal their velvety flesh.  Arrange on a platter with sliced buffalo mozzarella.  Next, a few ribbons of jambon du parma were weaved organically between the figs.  A nice handful of basil thrown on top, a drizzle of best quality extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.  And there you have a sensationally seasonal first course.

Waiting for Anton Part 2


So the 48 hours after my last posting were a continuous panic attack.  What could I possibly scrounge up for a 3-star Masterchef to eat?  Sure this would be a great story to tell, but at the moment it was far from funny.  Although it was the first thing C had to share with everyone we crossed paths with last week.  And everyone sure thought is was hilarious!  And an unlimited budget and creative freedom only made the scenario a bit more daunting.

Although it has been over a month since I have been back in France, I am still relearning my tools of moderation.  My day usually revolves around my daily treat, which usually is product of a trip to the boulangerie, or I happen to be in the neighborhood of Laduree, or a something else that involves a helpless pastry.  Needless to say, because I’m surrounded by decadent, comforting foods, I am starting to crave things spicy and fragrant things that remind my life out West (meaning NYC and the 31 flavors of takeout).  Speaking of which, I’ve been on a bit of a curry kick the past few weeks.  And I was confident enough in my technique to pull it off elegantly for the big dinner.

I made a special trip to Passage Brady in the 10eme for some authentic spices at sensational prices.  I fried up some onions and ginger with my spices (fenugreek, tumeric, mustard seeds, and divinely aromatic curry leaves) and added the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.  I hit it with some coconut milk for some richness.  I carefully threw my curry sauce through a sieve to give it a touch of refinement for French tastes.  And from there, I used the sauce to slowly poach a few chicken breasts.  Paired with basmati rice with lemon zest and curry leaves, it was a simple, but special dinner for a very special guest.

The real star was my first course: empanadas of espinacas catalan.  I did a quick sautee of garlic, baby spinach, chickpeas, pinenuts, and golden raisins.  I hit it generously with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and wrapped it all up in puff pastry.  A tasty first course full of surprises.

Following the dinner party, I got a text from the host exclaiming it was a hit and the food was ‘supergood’.  Bon!  Success!  Does this mean that I, Jessie Kanelos from the Midwest USA, might have a chance at becoming a French Masterchef via reality tv simply by cooking a humble chicken curry for the big judge?  Sure enough, the guest star of the evening was caught up at work and did not attend.  Here I am, feeling played like Stanley Tucci in a Big Night that I did not even attend.  Although Frederic Anton could not enjoy my empanadas, maybe you will!…

Espinacas Catalan Empanadas makes 4

1 sheet puff pastry

6 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup pinenuts, gently toasted

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 egg white

zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt & pepper

1.) Preheat oven to 400 f.

2.) Heat olive oil over low heat and cook garlic for several minutes until fragrant, but not brown.  Add golden raisins.  Start adding spinach one handful at a time.  When it has wilted, add more until all cooked.  Add chickpeas.  Place mixture in bowl and let cool.

3.) Roll out pastry dough and cut into 4 parts.  Add a handful of the spinach mixture on one side of the parts and fold over.  Crimp edges to close the triangle.  Poke a few holes on top of the empanada.  Brush with egg white for a pretty sheen.

4.) Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Serve as light lunch with a green salad.  Or as a first course at a very important dinner party…

Waiting for Anton…

So, I’m in Paris.  I have a humble babysitting job to make ends meet while waiting on my working papers.  I search for the kids after school, buy groceries, cook dinner, and encourage the completion of homework.  Yesterday afternoon, the children’s mother informed me that I would be cooking for 8 on Friday night.  Nothing a roast chicken couldn’t handle, right?  Sure enough, this afternoon she informed me of one other important detail.  And guess who is coming to dinner!  It’s family friend Frédéric Anton, three-star chef and judge on Masterchef France.  (SHIT!  SHIT!  SHIT!)  There really is no American equivalent to this.  But I’ll shallowly compare Frédéric Anton to Tom Colicchio since they are both tv personalities with culinary street cred and members of the bald brotherhood.

So, what does one cook for a famous 3-star chef?  One thing is for sure, even though I can crank out a decent boeuf bourguignon, there is no way I’m touching French food.  Just like I would never sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in the presence of Aretha Franklin. Luckily, I have been a devoted pupil of Masterchef since its conception.  And Frédéric Anton preaches to his puppy-eyed aspiring chefs to keep it simple and respect the integrity of the ingredients.  Part of me feels like I should really do something American; there’s always something to be said about the complimentary coupling of peanut butter and jelly.  At the end of the day, I need to make something I know.  Needless to say, HELP!