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Kreativ_Blogger_Award[4]

It was my honor yesterday to receive this little award from one of my favorite bloggers, Deborah from Love and a Licked Spoon. If you haven’t checked out her site, hurry over there right now. Deborah is a food writer and editor who writes beautifully and always comes up with something scrumptious to share with her readers. Her passion for food and life is infectious. Deborah started her food blog at around the same time that I started mine. She has always been very encouraging, commenting on all of my posts along the way. When you are just starting out in the blogging world, it is heart-warming to know that there are people out there that like what you’re doing, that come visit your site more than once, and take the time to make kind comments. It gives one the fortitude to keep going on days you wonder what the hell you’re doing this for.

When you receive the Kreativ Blogger Award, you are to nominate seven bloggers that you admire and pass the award on. Mine are:

Rachael at La Fuji Mama for her energy and enthusiasm in the kitchen. She is a busy mom to two beautiful little girls but still finds the time to blog on an almost daily basis and cook the most amazing, complicated feasts. I mean, this woman makes her own tofu!

Shari at Whisk: A Food Blog  is an inspiration with her blog. She has put an astounding amount of energy into it, compiling an online cooking companion to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Shari is cooking her way through the Cordon Bleu curriculum. Her recipes and photos are both delicious.

Hélène at La Cuisine d’Hélène for her beautiful photography and exquisite taste. Every time I read her blog I want to run to the kitchen and try my hand at whatever she has posted.

Julia at Mélanger because she is so inspiring with her baking. The sun came pouring out of the heavens on the day I discovered her blog. The photography on her blog is stunning.

Julie at Dinner with Julie because she continually amazes me. She works, manages a family, writes books, cooks up a storm, and blogs pretty much on a daily basis. I don’t know where she finds all that energy. Lucky for us.

Adrienne at Gastroanthroplogy for all her interesting posts from her travels. She is a pastry chef who is currently working on her Master’s in Food Policy. She knows everything there is to know about food and always posts the most delicious recipes.

Kamran at The Sophisticated Gourmet is an inspiration with his beautiful blog and wonderful photography, which are made all the more amazing because this guy is only seventeen! That in no way is meant to sound condescending. I think I’m doing fairly okay but I was the biggest twit when I was seventeen. We can only imagine what great things are in store for Kamran.

Once we have nominated whom we want to pass the award on to, we have to come up with seven interesting facts about ourselves:

1) I am a fiction writer. I started writing about food only a few months ago but I have been writing fiction all my life. I have a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and have been working on the Great Canadian Novel for longer than I want to admit. One day I will finish it. I have written poetry, scripts and memoir as well.

2) My family is from the former Yugoslavia and I have visited there thirteen times. We were there when the war between Serbia and Croatia was breaking out and had to make our escape. Most of my fiction is based on my upbringing and the people and experiences there.

3) I studied Art History in Florence. In Italian. I spent a summer semester immersing myself in Italian language and culture; it still stands out as the best experience of my life. I was not able to keep up the Italian. I can barely speak a lick of it now, although at one time I actually knew it quite well.

4) I’m a book-a-holic. Sometimes I read one book a day. I always read at least a couple every week. I have gotten rid of thousands of books in my life but my shelves, furniture–even my floors–overflow with books. It seems like I never have enough time to do all the things I’m supposed to do, but I always have time to read.

5) My two worst fears are heights and enclosed spaces, made all the worse by being stuck in an elevator on the top floor of the Eiffel Tower for twenty minutes. The Eiffel Tower! Who gets stuck in the Eiffel Tower? Me, that’s who. Yeah, that was a bad day.

6) My dream is to visit Egypt. I have had deep fascination for Egyptian history and architecture for as long as I can remember. I once promised myself to visit there by the time I was forty, but forty is fast approaching … maybe one day.

7) I’m not a big TV watcher but I have a habit of getting addicted to certain shows long after the fact. I missed the whole Twin Peaks craze only to become obsessed later. I am currently trying to catch up on all episodes of Lost before the final sixth season. The excitement of it all makes my heart pitter patter.

 

Thank you to everyone who has been reading my blog over the last few months, especially those of you who have taken the time to make comments. If you have received this award and would like to participate, please pass it on to seven other bloggers whose sites you love.

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Today is an important day of sorts. A day that I–as well as thousands of foodies and food bloggers–have been awaiting anxiously for weeks now; the release of Julie & Julia featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

JuliaAndJulia

It also marks the last day in a series of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking that I have been attempting over the course of the last little while. Until Hélène from La Cuisine d’Hélène suggested a MtAoFC challenge a couple of weeks ago, my copy of Julia Child’s magnum opus sat largely unused on my bookshelf. But later is always better than never, and I’m so glad that I got the nudge to cook from this classic cookbook. I’ve always been the type of person who uses cookbooks as a starting point. I rarely cook a recipe all the way through as printed. With Mastering, however, I decided that it would only be fair to Julia and the challenge to cook the dishes exactly as described.

I’m so glad I did. Everything I’ve made has come out much better than expected. I have started out with the simpler dishes but liked them so much that I’ve made some of them twice. Although this is my last MtAoFC challenge, it’s surely not the last time I’m going to cook from Julia Child’s wonderful book.

Soupe à L’oignon Gratinée – French Onion Soup

The key to French Onion soup is the slow cooking of the onions in butter and oil, followed by a long, slow simmering in stock. This helps them to develop the rich flavor this soup is known for.

6-8 servings

Ingredients:

5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

3 tablespoons flour

2 quarts beef stock, boiling

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons cognac

4-6 rounds of hard-toasted French bread

1-2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese

fronion

Directions:

1) Cook the onions slowly in the butter and oil in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to medium and stir in the salt and sugar. The sugar will help the onions to brown. Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions have turned a deep golden brown.

2) Sprinkle in the flour and stir over heat for 3 minutes. Off heat, blend in the stock. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for another 30-40 minutes or more, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings.

3) Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Place rounds of bread in soup bowls or a tureen and pour soup on top. Sprinkle with grated cheese and brown under a hot broiler until golden and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Quiche Lorraine – Cream & Bacon Quiche

quichelor

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

3-4 ounces lean bacon

8-inch partially cooked pastry shell

3 eggs

1 1/2 – 2 cups cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

pinch of pepper

pinch of nutmeg

1-2 tablespoons butter cut into pea-sized dots

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Brown  bacon in a skillet. Drain on paper towels and press pieces into bottom of pastry shell.

2) Beat the eggs, cream, and seasonings in a mixing bowl until blended. Check seasonings. Pour into pastry shell and distribute butter pieces on top.

3) Set in upper third of preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the quiche has puffed and browned. Slide quiche on a hot platter and serve.

For more Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipes, take a look at La Fuji Mama, La Cuisine d’Hélène, or Whisk.

dinnerwjulia

Those of you who have been reading my blog for the last week know that I am cooking with Julia these days and that all of my posts will be focused on recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking–at least until the release of the long-anticipated movie Julie & Julia.

Now I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I own more cookbooks than I would want to count, have stacks and stacks of back issues of cooking magazines like Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and binders overflowing with recipes that I have printed off the Internet, MTAOFC was not a part of my library until a couple of months ago. I have other cookbooks by Julia, other books on French cooking. So why was I missing a classic that started a revolution in home cooking when it first came out in 1961?

I have no real answer except that it was always a book that seemed intimidating to me. Until my first trip to Paris, I had focused on Italian cooking, not French. I am also most attracted to cookbooks with glossy, mouth-watering pictures; Julia’s book with its illustrations and strange recipe layout would just make things more complicated than they needed to be, I reasoned. And wasn’t French cooking already too complicated? Who has the time to spent the whole day making puff pastry and wrapping it around a duck?

Which brings me back to Julie & Julia. Before it became a movie, it was a book; a memoir written by Julie Powell, who cooked her way through all 524 recipes in MTAOFC within the space of a year. There has been widespread criticism of Julie Powell in foodie circles for some of her opinions, her writing style and penchant for cursing, which is really too bad. Because when you come right down to it, what she did was an astonishing feat.

Many of the recipes in MTAOFC are complicated. They do take time. Very few people have the time or inclination to cook this way anymore. Putting together a dinner party from this cookbook can take a good couple of days from your life. Julie Powell did this on a daily basis–after coming home from a dead-end secretarial job.

Now this is not to say that every recipe is difficult. Once I started cooking from this book, I realized how accessible a lot of the recipes are. Julia Child walks you through everything in such detail that you cannot fail as long as you follow her instructions. Although I have not yet attempted an aspic or a Canard en Croûte, there are many recipes that don’t take a lot of time. In fact, I put a little dinner together for myself the other night that took no more than half an hour to make: Steak au Poivre, mushrooms in Medeira sauce, and Tomates à la Provençale. It was all so delicious that I wondered why I had waited so long to get this culinary masterpiece.

 

Julia Child’s Steak au Poivre

steak 

Pepper Steak with Brandy Sauce

Serves 4-6 people

Ingredients:

2 tablespons mixed or white peppercorns

2 to 2 1/2 lbs. steak

salt

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons shallots or green onions

1/2 cup stock

1/3 cup cognac

3-4 tablespoons softened butter

Directions:

1) Place the peppercorms in a mixing bowl and crush them roughly with a pestle or the bottom of a bottle.

2) Dry the steaks on paper towels. Rub and press the crushed peppercorns into both sides of the meat. Cover with waxed paper. Let stand for at least half an hour; 2 or 3 hours are even better, so the flavor of the pepper will penetrate the meat.

3) Sauté the steak in hot oil and butter 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove to a hot platter and season with salt.

4) For the sauce: pour the fat out of the skillet. Add the butter and shallots and cook slowly for a minute. Pour in the stock and boil down rapidly over high heat while scraping up the coagulated cooking juices. Then add the cognac and boil rapidly for a minute or two to evaporate its alcohol. Off heat, swirl in the butter a half-tablespoon at a time.

Japtart

I have many memories of my trip to Paris. Taking a boat ride along the Seine river, touring the cobblestone streets of the Marais, sitting in the pew of the Sacre Coeur on Easter. I’m not much of a diarist but during my trip to Paris I recorded every detail so as not to forget all those moments that seemed so significant at the time but are already fading like the edges of an old piece of vellum. You can’t choose what you want to remember; as my first glimpse at the Mona Lisa slowly recedes from my mind, the memories of what I ate in Paris will remain. To my mind, food and memory are inextricably linked. Strange to some people, perhaps, but I think it makes perfect sense. If you are to truly experience a culture, you must experience its food. A nation’s cuisine is a confluence of centuries–sometimes even millennia–of tradition and history. It bears witness to whether a nation lives in wealth or poverty, whether it has been well endowed by nature. Culinary traditions teach us about a nation’s cultural level, about how people cultivated their fields and grazed their livestock, and about whether the land was crossed by main trade routes bringing in other nationalities, customs, foods, and spices. In other words, to eat a country’s food is to glimpse into its past.

Although food historians surmise that the precursor to modern pastry was the Mediterranean paper-thin phyllo brought to medieval Europe by way of the crusaders, it was the Renaissance chefs who are crediting for developing puff and choux pastries. For me, the tart is the crown jewel of pastries, and none as quintessentially French as the tarte aux pommes.

You only have to be in Paris for a very short time to realize that there is a pâtisserie on every streetcorner, the windows displaying a variety of tarts and tartelets, each crafted with tradition and the utmost care.  I spent many a day in Paris with my nose pressed up to the glass of a pastry shop, trying to figure out which one beckoned the most. They all seemed too pretty to eat.

Although I have never been much of a baker, when I returned home I was determined to master the tart. No more Tenderflake crusts with all their bad fats for me. I wanted the real thing, and I wanted to be able to make it myself. Your first attempts at pastry hardly ever turn out the way you want them to, but it doesn’t take long to master a good sweet short paste. And what can be easier than filling it with some sliced apples, sugar, and a coating of apricot jam?

Which brings me to Julia Child’s tarte aux pommes. This week I continue to cook with Julia from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in anticipation of Julie & Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron of Sleepless in Seattle fame and highly awaited by foodies everywhere. This classic French apple tart is, well–forgive the pun–easy as pie.

Tarte aux Pommes

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

appletart

Serves 8

Ingredients:

10-inch partially cooked pastry shell

4 pounds cooking apples (Golden Delicious)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/3 cup apricot jam/preserves

1/3 cup Calvados, rum or cognac (or 1 tablespoon vanilla)

2/3 cup granualted sugar for topping

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Cut enough to make 3 cups into 1/8-inch lengthwise slices and toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice and sugar. Reserve them for the top of the tart.

2) Cut the rest of the apples into rough slices. You should have about 8 cups. Place in a pan and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.

3) Beat in apricot jam, Calvados, sugar, butter, and cinnamon. Raise heat and boil, stirring, until applesauce is thick enough to hold in a mass in the spoon.

4) Spread the applesauce in the pastry shell. Cover with a neat, closely overlapping layer of sliced apples arranged in concentric circles, as illustrated below:

aptart

5) Bake in upper third of preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the apples have browned lightly and are tender. Slide the tart onto a serving dish and paint over it with a light coating of apricot glaze. Serve warm or cold with whipping cream or a scoop of ice cream.

Apricot Glaze

1/2 cup apricot preserves, forced through a sieve

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Stir the strained apricot preserves and sugar over moderately high heat until thick enough to coat the spoon with a light film, and the last drops are sticky as they fall from the spoon (225-228 degrees on a candy thermometer). Do not boil past this point or the glaze will become brittle as it cools.

Apply the glaze while it is still warm. Unused glaze will keep indefinitely in a screw-top jar.

slicesaptart

When I was a child I eagerly waited for the fair to come to town.  You know the kind–a travelling carnival that sets up every summer in the parking lots of suburban strip malls across North America.  I liked going on the roller coaster and the Ferris wheel, and a ride called the Yo-Yo, which reminded me of the airplane rides adults gave you when you were little.  Most of all, though, I loved the treats that are so ubiquitous to carnivals everywhere.  Fluffy mounds of cotton candy, swirly lollipops the size of your head, and especially, caramel apples. I waited all year in anticipation of my first bite of the sweet, buttery flavor of the sticky and chewy caramel followed by a burst of tart and juicy apple goodness.

Until last Christmas, I hadn’t had a caramel apple in probably thirty years.  One of my students brought me one as a little going away present.  A sort of spin on the proverbial apple for the teacher. As much as I loved the uniqueness of this gift, it sat in my fridge for days. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it.  Eating it somehow seemed childish, like going to the corner store and bypassing the Lindt chocolate bars for the Fun Dip.  But every time I opened the fridge door the caramel apple beckoned me.  Before I knew it, I was chewing my way through the caramel bit by bit, into the sour Granny Smith apple underneath.  I have to admit, the caramel apple was as good as I remembered.

As much as I love the combination, I’m not about to start buying myself caramel apples as a weekend treat.  Instead, I came up with this simple tart that I can put together when the craving for caramel apples becomes too much.

You will need good baking apples for this one.  Golden Delicious are a good choice. I used Gala’s the first time I made it and they were too juicy, creating a soggy mess. I use a mandoline to get really thin slices because puff pastry is more delicate than other tart crusts; I find thinly sliced apples a better combination texture-wise, but its not mandatory.  The caramel will not cover the apples completely, but mixed with the juices of the apples while it bakes, it will create a nice sauce that’s not too sweet.

 

Caramel Apple Tart

 aptartapplesServes 6

 

 Ingredients:

1 10-inch sheet puff pastry

4 baking apples, peeled and cored, cut into thin slices

1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

 

Directions:

1)  Roll out puff pastry on a lightly floured surface until its large enough to fit a 9-inch tart pan with some overhang. Fit into tart pan and cut off the overhang with a knife.

2) Place apples slices side by side around the pan, all facing the same direction, as pictured above.

3) Melt 1/2 cup sugar with the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Add lemon juice, then salt.

4) Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until caramel is thick and deep brown in color.

5) Drizzle caramel over the apples. Finish by sprinkling the apples with 3 tablespoons of sugar. 

aptartcaramel

 6) Bake about 25 minutes, or until puff pastry and apples are golden brown. Cool and serve with ice cream or a dollop of whip cream.

It’s great served plain, too. 

aptartcloseup

moussestrawbWhen I started this blog, oh not so long ago, I had only a fuzzy idea of what I wanted it to be.  I was taking a course on Food & Travel Writing at the same university where I completed my master’s.  Our teacher, Don Genova, suggested that blogging was a good way to compile a portfolio to show editors.  I had heard of blogs but had never looked at one.  It wasn’t until I stumbled upon  The Amateur Gourmet while doing a search on Ina Garten did it even occur to me that people blogged about food.  I looked at  the links on Adam’s blog and discovered some other really great blogs.  I also discovered that actually thousands of people blog about food.  I found this both encouraging and disheartening.  Did I dare add my voice to the cacophony?  Did I have anything to say that anyone would want to read?  Not just that, but I also realized that photography is a component of a successful blog–we like the eye candy.  Photography was not something I had much interest in.  I’ve always been drawn to the linguisitic over the visual.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t even have a digital camera today had my brother not bought me one last year, for my birthday.

I have been writing for a long time but I am a fiction writer.  Writing fiction is a completely different animal.  It will always be my first love…yet, there have been clues…that writing about food is also something I should be doing.  Members of my writer’s group complained that there were too many descriptions of food in my prose.  Menus got recited all over the place, characters were irrelevantly concerned about what they were eating.  Food was always present in my stories but it was never connected to anything.

When the downturn in the economy left me with more time on my hands, I decided to do something about this food writing thing.  I signed up for Don’s class and started putting paper to pen.  I didn’t know if I could make a go of it, but I knew I had to try.

I started this blog to put into practice what I learned in the class, albeit in a more casual and personal way.  I didn’t think I could do it.  I know very little about computers, even less about photography, but somehow I’m finding my way.  I’ve learned a lot in a short time, and that really excites me.  Even the photography has been a fun challenge and I find my interest in it blooming. I love learning something new.  Learning and growing as a person are more important to me than most things in life.  I never want to be stagnant.

Some of the blogs out there are so fantastic that it’s intimidating.  I know I can’t compete with them, but I do hope to find a small community to hear my voice.  I think that’s what all bloggers want, but at the end of the day I think blogging is about sharing.  It’s why we’re all here.

So in that spirit I leave you with a recipe for one of my favourite desserts, French Chocolate Mousse, adapted from the pages of America’s cooking Bible, The Joy of Cooking. Before I started this blog I rarely ate dessert. Making sweet at home made no sense; I had no one to make them for and eating them myself seemed was certain to lead to weight gain.  I’ve discovered baking to be the most fun, and when I reach for a recipe for these days it’s often for something sweet.

 

French Chocolate Mousse

moussecream

 Ingredients:

2 cups milk

1/4 cup sugar

3 ounces grated good-quality chocolate

4 egg yolks, beated

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

mousseglass

Directions:

1) Scald 2 cups milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan over low heat.  Add a little bit of these ingredients to the egg yolks with a whisk to temper. Stir the egg mixture into the rest of the milk.

2) Stir until the custard thickens slightly. Do not overcook.  Strain into another saucepan. Cool by placing the saucepan in cold water and then into the fridge.

3) In a separate bowl whip the whipping cream until stiff. Add the vanilla.

4) Fold the cold custard into the whipping cream until well blended.  Fill custard cups or champane glasses with the mousse.  Chil thoroughly before serving.

chocmouss

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QUOTE

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child

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