I have always wanted to make a Galette des Rois for the Epiphany and finally plucked up the courage today. In France, it is a cake which is traditionally eaten on 6 January, although some shops and bakeries make the most of this event by selling them up to a few months before the big date. But like any seasonal treat, such as the Yule Log or Hot Cross Buns, the window for making a Galette des Rois is brief and I’m glad to have finally tried my hand at making one. Here is Rachel Khoo’s version from My Little French Kitchen.
I am rather surprised that it has taken me this long to try this popular recipe from Rachel Khoo. In my defence, I already had a madeleine recipe to which I have been faithful to for many years, plus I felt that Rachel’s recipe was a bit fiddly for me. And with a tiny tot distracting me whenever I am in the kitchen, I didn’t think I was safe around multi-step recipes.
The constant deluge of rain this summer has led to flooding in many parts of Switzerland, including our own balcony. The window boxes which comprise my little kitchen garden have been flooded from the non-stop rain and most of my plants look somewhat miserable from having their feet wet for far too long. Perhaps the only solace in having a wet summer is being able to use the oven like I would in winter.
Like quite some many Vietnamese immigrants in Australia, my parents ran a busy bakery which sold everything from the likes of crusty Vietnamese baguettes to sourdough breads, meat pies and sausage rolls, and a wide selection of cakes and pastries from the humble Australian lamington to French classics such as the éclair and tarte au citron. If I wasn’t eating toast with Vegemite for breakfast, I was eating a hot croissant, straight from the baker’s oven. Any croissants leftover at the end of the day were often re-fashioned into sandwiches to be sold the next day, filled with ham, cheese and salad. My other favourite was the apple turnover; when they weren’t sold warm from the oven, my mother would split them open and pipe freshly whipped cream inside for a more luxurious treat. I doubt this is how the French would eat their croissants or chaussons aux pommes, but that’s how we did it in Australia and I loved it.
As a child, I always felt spoilt by the endless selection of delightful sweet treats in our family bakery. Now, as an adult, I feel equally spoilt by the cakes and pastries on offer in Europe, especially whenever we find ourselves in Paris. With Paris only a 4 hour train journey from Zurich, we find ourselves in the City of Light quite frequently, often as a stopover on the way to visit our families on the far-flung coastlines of France. Such stopovers are often necessary for me to mentally prepare myself for the family gathering ahead. At other times, our Parisian stopover takes place on the way back to Zurich, something which my husband describes as a reward (for me) for having survived another bout with my in-laws. Perhaps because Paris has always been a treat of some sort that each and every visit has always been savoured and enjoyed to the fullest.
I think Rachel Khoo has a thing for prunes, and I’m not complaining. As someone who has a general aversion to dried fruit in baking, I make an exception for prunes. Some recipes which I have recently attempted with much success from her latest cookbook, My Little French Kitchen, include the Kugelhopf with Prunes & Armagnac and Prune & Custard Tartlets. And now I have these Semolina Burnt Creams with Prunes to add to the list.
You may or may not have noticed from my photos on Facebook and Instagram that I have a weakness for éclairs. Being able to indulge in éclairs from the wonderful pâtisseries in Zurich, it never occurred to me that I should make my own éclairs at home. But when I was recently asked to have a look at Ruth Clemens’ new book, Creative Éclairs, I was instantly inspired to create a batch of my own. After all, I’m no stranger to choux pastry; I often make profiteroles and chouquettes at home, and éclairs can generally be described as profiteroles in a different shape.
A big, big thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway to win a copy of Rachel Khoo’s latest cookbook, My Little French Kitchen. The response was fantastic and I loved reading everyone’s entries on their favourite French food. The entries made me realise how far-reaching and popular French food really is; from the simple baguette loaf and famous croissant to the more exotic Duck à l’Orange, the entries highlighted how wonderful and delicious French food is, and how difficult it is to name just one favourite! The lucky winner will be notified by email shortly.
But my adventures in cooking from My Little French Kitchen are far from over and, this week, Rachel Khoo’s spin on the classic Far Breton has made my afternoon tea breaks that little bit more indulgent.
If you have ever travelled to France, you may have come across these little specialty cakes called cannelés. Unlike their more successfully exported cousins, the madeleines and macarons, cannelés are not so well known outside of France. Yet within France, they are a delicacy.
Confit de Canard is a classic dish found in many Parisian bistros, and it is a dish which my mother-in-law likes to serve whenever we visit. After one of our trips to France late last year, I felt compelled to recreate this dish at home, primarily because I didn’t want to wait so long before eating it again.
My mother is someone who can effortlessly create a delicious three-course meal from a simple fridge raid, with an uncanny ability to never let anything go to waste. Sadly, I didn’t inherit this talent, nor did I inherit the palate to eat leftovers. There have been periods of frugality where I would re-serve and reinvent leftovers, but these moments have often been brief, especially once I would inevitably arrive at a point where each meal was always incorporating something leftover and I was forever feeling burdened by any excess food.
As someone who squirms at the thought of eating livers or offal of any kind, I happen to love pâté. Perhaps because it is a crucial component of a Vietnamese Banh Mi, a staple in my childhood diet, that I have long-acquired a taste for this velvety spread.
A Vietnamese pâté is one of many culinary inheritances from the French colonial occupation, and the Vietnamese like theirs with a bit of texture and spice. It is often made with a mixture of chicken and pork livers and can even include a variety of other meats and offal to add texture and flavour. Smeared onto the soft interior of a crisp baguette, layered with some garlic mayonnaise, slices of pork belly and a generous touch of picked carrots with fresh coriander and chillies, and you have yourself a lip-smacking Banh Mi.
With summer in full swing in Europe at the moment, a chilled dessert is the ideal way to end a nice meal. That or a big bowl of ice-cream. And one can hardly go past the quintessential French classic, a mousse au chocolat.
My husband’s grandmother is well-known for her chocolate mousse, a treat which she often served up when my husband was a wee little boy and well into his adulthood. Alas, given her advancing age, she retired from the kitchen some time ago but I was ever thankful when she shared her “secret” recipe with me and my sister-in-law. I was bemused, but not overly surprised, to discover that her secret ingredient was the humble bar of milk chocolate, something which gave the mousse a nursery sweetness and which made it just right for the palates of little (and big) babes.
I’m conscious that I have quite a few recipes for chocolate cake on this blog, but I suppose one more can’t hurt …
This recipe was given to me by my French mother-in-law after some pleading on my part. One afternoon, after she had served a procession of five courses at lunch, she brought out this beauty for dessert, a plain chocolate cake which tasted anything but.
It has been roughly seven years since I made the bold decision to quit my job in Australia, electing to become unemployed and to take a chance at life on the other side of the world. At the time, it was one of the toughest decisions I had to make, not least because I couldn’t imagine how I could move for all of the personal possessions my twenty-something self had acquired.
I have never been one to travel lightly, so the idea of packing my life into one suitcase with a limit of 20 kg was going to be unlikely. I made my move from the land Down Under to the land of milk and honey with a half container full of cookbooks and treasured kitchen paraphernalia, all amassed during my years as a poor student and, later, a poor graduate with a ridiculously high student loan. What little spare income I had was inevitably spent at Wheel & Barrow on high-priced tableware, The Essential Ingredient for French-imported pots and pans, or even Country Road for their classy teatowels. I couldn’t imagine a future without my kitchenalia and I was prepared to pay whatever the cost to have them accompany me to my new homeland.
As an Australian married to a Frenchman, could there be a more perfect cake to represent the union of our two cultures than the madelamington, a French madeleine dressed up as an Australian lamington? No, I didn’t come up with this name, but I am rather disappointed that I didn’t coin this term myself. In fact, as a frequent baker and consumer of madeleines and lamingtons, I wonder how the idea of marrying these two cakes had never occurred to me.
It was precisely this recipe in Rachel Allen’s new book, Cake, which prompted me to buy the book. Not that I really needed a recipe – I could have used my go-to madeleine recipe and the chocolate icing from my lamington recipe. But the idea of the madelamington itself was so cute that I was sold on the book.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I had a love affair with The Little Paris Kitchen in 2012. I loved the TV show, the recipes, Rachel Khoo. Despite having been a consumer of French food since I was a child, I was never as inspired to cook it until Rachel Khoo hit our screens with her fresh take on the old French classics.
Though, that’s not to say that every recipe I have tried has been a success … I had set out to blog about quite a few recipes from her book, only to find that some of them did not turn out so well. But in the hope that my findings might help others, here are a few reviews (please excuse the photos … most were taken just seconds before eating!).
A little while back, I had posted quite a few reviews on recipes from Rachel Khoo’s delightful French cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen. For a short time, it looked like I was cooking my way through the book, and indeed I was – just a lot of the recipes haven’t made it to my blog for various reasons. Having been distracted by some events in recent months, I’m hoping to do a little catch-up here on the blog, starting with this post on Rachel Khoo’s Chicken Dumpling Soup, to be followed shortly by an in-depth review of a few other recipes from The Little Paris Kitchen.
For me, The Little Paris Kitchen has been a choice cookbook purchase this year. It’s rather rare that I am inspired to cook so much from one cookbook, even when a recipe hasn’t worked out or if I find the instructions to be a little confusing, or even when a recipe doesn’t even excite me in the first place!
When I first saw the segment on Rachel Khoo’s cooking show for her Chicken Dumpling Soup, I marvelled at how simple it looked, but I never thought I would actually try to make it; when I think of a chicken dumpling soup, I think of my mother’s version which is heady with coriander (cilantro), spring onions, pepper, chillies and lime. Now that is a soup which can comfort and chase the blues away.
But in the spirit of trying new recipes, I gave Rachel Khoo’s version a try.
While working in the outer suburbs of Chicago in the last few years, I often found myself at a Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstore during lunch, not only because I have a fondness for bookshops but mostly because I discovered that living and working in Switzerland had had a big influence on my lunch-time eating habits.
Unlike the Australians and Americans who often grab a quick sandwich or heat up leftovers to eat at their desk, the Swiss tend towards a leisurely a 2-3 course hot lunch, followed by a customary coffee before heading back to their desks once their lunch hour (or two) is up. This is not to say that the Swiss are dwindling away their time during office hours; lunch breaks are mandatory by law and most people often use their hour for business chit-chat or networking, and enjoy a good meal in the process. It is also commonplace to lunch with your colleagues at the work canteen, so it is a culture which fosters social interaction amongst employees, even if you might only end up talking about work or engaging in polite chatter over your meal. I have to admit that I enjoy the Swiss approach to lunching and one often feels that the lunch break was in fact a break.
But as a visitor to the offices in the US, lunch was often a lonely experience for me. Several colleagues often went out of their way to lunch with me now and then, but I got the feeling early on that most tended to work through their lunch hours, that anything more than 15 minutes was only reserved for the odd occasion, like when a visiting colleague was in town. But as I often worked in the US for about a month at a time, I couldn’t expect a leisurely lunch everyday. Yet it didn’t feel right to sit in front of my computer with a styrofoam cup of soup and a plastic spoon when I was so used to sitting down to a proper meal with proper cutlery (or, as they say in the US, silverware). So on those days when I found myself alone at lunch, I would hop into the car and drive to one of the many malls nearby for some amusement. I didn’t mind so much hanging out on my own as it was rather an adventure to explore the mid-west while working there. And so I often found myself at a bookshop where I would grab a quick snack at their in-store coffee shop, and flick through books which I would never find back in Zurich, like the complete Paula Deen collection. Or the rather unusual semi-homemade offers by Sandra Lee. I must confess to having a soft spot for American cooking.
It was never really my intention to cook my way through Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen, but so rarely has a cookbook resonated with me so much that I have found myself trying a new recipe from this book every few days since I first purchased it. If only I had this level of enthusiasm for all of my cookbooks!
With the weather warming up recently in Zurich, I was curious to try the Coq au Vin Skewers so that we would have an excuse to fire up the barbeque for the first time this year. But unlike most casual barbeque recipes, and as with most of Rachel Khoo’s recipes so far, this dish required quite a bit of advance preparation. Though, this is perhaps more a feature of French cooking than Rachel Khoo’s cooking style in itself.
Long before cooking became a passionate hobby and was more of a matter of survival for me, I heavily relied on cookbooks to put together really basic and simple meals like … vegetable soups. Yes, for something which merely required a few ingredients to be cooked together with some stock and then thrown in the blender, I needed careful instruction on how to do exactly that. And who else to turn to for motherly advice in the kitchen, when my own mother was absent, than Elizabeth David.
If you love beef stews, you will love this French classic, boeuf bourguignon. With the weather in Zurich being its typical and formidable grey in April, beef stew has been on the menu a few times in recent weeks, but having cooked my way partly through Rachel Khoo’s wonderful new cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen, I was drawn to her recipe for boeuf bourguignon because of her pairing with baguette dumplings. I instantly loved the sound of these dumplings and was curious to see if they could provide a fresh change to this classic dish which is so often served just with boiled or mashed potatoes.
Here is another fabulous recipe from Rachel Khoo with her take on the French classic, a Croque Madame. Most people would be familiar with a Croque Monsieur which is a toasted cheese and ham sandwich, commonly served in most French bistros for lunch or as a light snack. For a more decadent treat, the Croque Monsieur is also sometimes coated with a béchamel sauce and baked in the oven until the sauce is golden and bubbling.
A Croque Madame, on the other hand, has the addition of an egg.
Rachel Khoo’s version is to make them in a muffin tin, producing gorgeous little snack-sized savoury treats which would be perfect at breakfast, brunch or lunch.
I have been cooking quite a bit lately from Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen and am loving everything I have tried so far. This is a bit of a revelation for me considering that I am quite familiar with French food, having grown up eating this cuisine as a child and now married to a French husband. Sure, I have always enjoyed eating French food but, for so long, everything I had eaten had been prepared in faithful reproduction of the classic, such that a coq au vin in one bistro was very likely to taste the same at another. As much as I love French food, my feeling was that it was a bit monotonous at times.
Rachel Khoo brings a lovely, fresh twist to French cooking which has struck a note with me. Quite often, the Vietnamese like to take French classics and give them a fragrant tweak, often involving punchy spices like star anise and gutsy herbs like lemongrass and coriander, but Rachel Khoo’s influence comes from her British upbringing and her Austrian-Malay-Chinese background, a combination which is sure to turn heads in the kitchen.
Pot-au-feu literally translates into English as “pot on the fire”. It is a classic French beef stew, a peasant dish at heart. Traditionally made from beef bones and stewing beef, the broth is typically served as a clear soup, preceding the main dish of sliced beef with vegetables which have been cooked in the broth. It is honest and hearty French fare. Although the dish may take several hours to cook, you are not required to do much during this time, other than to skim the surface of the soup and to check that the meat is continually submerged. This makes it an ideal dish to make when you have time to potter about the kitchen and can look forward to a simple, yet satisfying, supper.
Recipes abound for pot-au-feu and they are all variations of the same blue-print. The beef bones are necessary to add richness and depth to the soup, and oxtails are perfect for this type of cooking, in part because you can also eat the tender and sweet meat later. But the stewing beef is what is traditionally served at the table, so you should find a cut which needs a few hours of cooking time, such as beef brisket or beef shank. In Switzerland, the beef is often labelled “Pot-au-feu”, making it clear what the cut is intended for. But “Bouilli de boeuf maigre” is also a good choice. In Australia, I recall buying cuts of meat simply labelled “soup beef” which would be perfect here. You could also use beef cheeks, which are wonderfully tender and flavoursome upon cooking, though they take longer to cook and you might need to order these from your butcher.
Faced with some bits and pieces of cheese in the fridge, I thought I would try my hand at a savoury waffle for lunch today, and these waffles with Gruyère and fresh thyme were absolutely scrumptious! The cheese adds lovely savouriness to the waffles and pairs wonderfully with a simple green salad on the side, dressed lightly with a mustard vinaigrette.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you have all had a good start to 2012 with lots of fine celebrations, good food and good company.
Christmas for us is usually spent with our family in Brittany, a cold and windy region in the north-west of France. Except, this year, it was thankfully not so cold and windy, which meant that my Ugg boots which I had lugged with me on the 9 hour train journey from Zurich didn’t even make an appearance this winter. There were even moments when the sun shone for more than a few hours, allowing us (and every other family it seemed) to take a lovely stroll along the magnificent beaches, something which one would normally only want to brave in summer.
The holiday season is often synonymous with an abundance of food, which is necessarily coupled with bouts of inactivity (preferably on the sofa) where one is unable to move for all of the food which has just been consumed. I have still yet to work out if it is a norm for my in-laws or a custom which they adopt only when I am visiting, but each meal that we sit down to comprises of an alarming 6 courses, and once you add up the time taken to get through each course, you will find that you’ve been eating for a good 3 hours before coming to the sudden realisation that the next 6 course meal is only a few hours away. Do this a few times a day for a week and you would hardly need encouragement to ensure that your New Year’s resolution will include some form of dieting.
I adore artichokes. As a child, my mother would boil a whole artichoke for my dinner on those nights when she was preoccupied with other things or, more likely, fed up with cooking and needed to give me a no-fuss dinner. Hard task given that I was a fussy eater for most of my life.
But I always enjoyed my solitary meal of boiled artichokes which I would ceremoniously sit down to in front of the telly, picking off the leaves one-by-one and sucking off what scant flesh there was on the edge of each leaf. Once I was done making my way through all of the leaves (which usually took this fussy eater quite a while), my mum would then cut through the remains to reveal the heart. Though normally by this stage, I would have lost interest and demanded toast.
I have a real soft spot for madeleines. It could be because I have very early memories of eating these dainty little cakes, their light sponginess making them the perfect snack for little hands. The madeleines of my childhood were always plain or lemon flavoured. These days, recipes abound with countless variations of flavours for these little cakes, both sweet and savoury. And I love them all!
One particular variation which I make perhaps a bit too often is with Nutella, another great love of mine from my childhood. Growing up, I was made to believe that Nutella was unhealthy and, anyway, none of my school friends ate Nutella. You see, the “good kids” ate Vegemite so I was usually only given a little sachet of Nutella once in a blue moon as a treat.
A Kugelhopf is an iconic cake of the Alsace. If you ever travel to this part of France, especially for the famous Christmas markets in the picturesque village of Strasbourg, you will find stores overflowing with the traditional and colourfully decorated Kugelhopf moulds. It’s tempting to purchase a few, either as a decorative souvenir or indeed as intended for use in the kitchen, but they are rather heavy and make juggling cups of Glühwein (mulled wine) amongst the crowd a bit difficult, especially if one hand is also holding onto a thick slice of Lebkuchen (gingerbread). I had a brief moment with the Kugelhopf moulds before sighing with resignation to join the rest of my friends who I understood had not travelled to Strasbourg to pay homage to a piece of kitchen equipment. Next time, there is a blue enamelled Kugelhopf mould with my name on it …
I first tried a Kugelhopf when I was at Sprüngli one day for their popular brunch. Sprüngli is a famous, long-standing confiserie in Zurich which, once upon a time, was part of Lindt & Sprüngli, the famous Swiss chocolate company. Their flagship store is at Paradeplatz, a busy tram interchange in the middle of Zurich city where most of the big Swiss banks are headquartered and where luxury stores like Louis Vuitton and Prada line the streets. On Sundays, they offer a lovely continental brunch buffet filled with their famous breads and cakes, a selection of seasonal bircher muesli, cold cuts, a variety of cheeses and – my staple – soft-boiled eggs.
If I had to name one dessert as my “desert island dessert”, it would probably have to be profiteroles. It seems most people are abuzz with French macaroons these days (which I also adore) but, to me, the profiterole is what encapsulates a typically French dessert. There is something about the sweet custard encased in a soft choux pastry and then covered with a decadent chocolate sauce. Whenever I see it on a dessert menu, I often find it hard to resist, even if there might be many other more exotic desserts on offer.
Growing up in Brisbane, I remember eating profiteroles only on rare occasions when my French class and I would visit one of the few French restaurants in the area in an attempt to practice our clumsy French with the poor chef and waiter who probably had to put up with the same lame dialogue on a frequent basis. I often wondered if the Alliance Française or even the French Embassy collaborated with these few French restaurants to somehow facilitate unusually slow, clear and polite French with their customers.
When hubby is on his own, he tends to cook really simple food like pasta. Just pasta. Oh and maybe a grating of parmesan cheese if there happens to be some in the fridge. Or he might just boil potatoes. Or he goes all out and raids my cookbook collection to produce something really elaborate and exquisite, and will then cheekily send me a photo to show me what I’m missing out on.
After a recent brief spell on his own, I came home to find a 2kg bag of potatoes in the kitchen. They had been sitting there for a bit and I felt I had to do something with them tonight or else they were destined for the compost.
I am proud to present to you a specialty of my husband, made by my husband.
Dear hubby happens to like cooking but unfortunately has few opportunities in the kitchen, mainly because I’m always hogging the kitchen space. But on those occasions when I’m absolutely exhausted from work or just sheer lazy, hubby will venture into the kitchen, probably secretly excited at the prospect of (finally) cooking and being able to choose the menu.
Hubby and I have totally different cooking styles. I like to have someone in the kitchen to keep me company and to chat with, and perhaps also to help out while I’m chopping or stirring something. I also like to clean as I go in order to avoid a massive clean-up after dinner.