Showing posts with label French kitchens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French kitchens. Show all posts

21 January 2007

Chocolate Madeleines

Some time ago, I bought a madeleine pan, reasoning that such accouterments were essential in a French kitchen.

Besides, I love shells of any shape or form, and have a small collection scattered in bowls and baskets throughout my house.

I had good intentions. But I never actually made madeleines. The pan languished in my pie safe for several years.

Sunday was the day. I had a few free hours and we were being blanketed by a gentle snow — just the kind of afternoon for baking something containing chocolate.

Chocolate Madeleines
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, shredded
  • ¾ stick unsalted butter, sliced
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, adding the coffee when thoroughly melted. Stir frequently.

Beat eggs and sugar with a hand-held mixer on medium high. Continue until mixture thickens. You will know it is thick when strands of liquid fall from the beater as you raise it from the bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix flour and salt. Gradually add the egg-sugar mixture. Blend thoroughly.

Add the chocolate, blending carefully. Add the vanilla.

Now comes the messy part: Pouring the batter into the madeleine pan. I used a spoon. You might also try a measuring cup or pour the whole batter into a larger cup and then pour it into the shells. Each shell-shaped cavity should be only ¾ full.

Place the madeleine pan on a cookie sheet and bake until cookies are springy to the touch, 10-12 minutes.

This makes a very cake-like cookie, but one that is not terribly moist. Good for dipping in hot chocolate, I would say. The taste reminded me of the chocolate cookies my mother made on winter days when I was a kid.

12 June 2006

France: A Sunny Kitchen in the Midi-Pyrenees

Recently I had the pleasure of cooking in what must be one of the cheeriest kitchens in France.

Located in a nearly-300-year-old villa in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, the room is yellow and white with blue accents and terra cotta floors.

The villa’s owner is a woman of great style and charm who created a vacation feel in every room. The kitchen was no exception.

Working here — even cleaning up — was more like play than a chore. Why do we enjoy working in other people’s kitchens so much?

My husband and I shopped for staples upon our arrival and then daily for produce and meat. Everything, even the produce in super-marchés like the LeClerc chain, seemed much fresher than in American grocery stores.

I made ratatouille with a sun-dried tomato infused rice I cannot find in the U.S. My husband used a Moulinex “Robot Marie” hand mixer to make a rich spaghetti sauce with whole cherry tomatoes and green and black olives. At LeClerc he found a sausage unlike anything I’ve tasted at home.

Of course, I could not leave without making vegetable soup to eat with my daily baguette.

The kitchen was always sunny and from it we could hear church bells every hour.

Mornings from across the valley we would hear the calls of roosters and cuckoos and an early breeze would carry in the scent of lilacs and juniper.

At night, the faint aroma of wood smoke would waft in from a home in the village. Doves cooed and nightingales sang.

Surely this was heaven in a kitchen.

One warmer night toward the end of our stay I made an apple tart. I worked slowly and deliberately, cutting my apple into thin, even slices, and savoring every task.

I was content. The kitchen was my favorite room in the house.

11 June 2006

My Kitchen — and my Grandmother's

What makes my kitchen French?

I did not set out to create a French country kitchen, not the kind featured in home-decorating magazines. Too contrived for my tastes.

Still, my kitchen has a few of the accouterments of what is thought to be a typical French kitchen, including a ceramic rooster and a wire wine rack, the latter tucked away in a cool corner.

But I have no blue-and-white tiles, no copper pots — only one piece of pottery I purchased in France, a colorful serving tray.

A French kitchen is all about food anyway, and the spirit in which it is prepared and consumed. Forget carved cabinet doors and racks of gleaming pots.

If you like to cook, and you like French food, your kitchen can be as French as the most over-decorated room in Architectural Digest (which regrettably really isn’t all that much about architecture).

In my kitchen, bottles of olive oil and spices are within easy reach. A jar of herbes de Provençe is always nearby. A bowl of tomatoes sits on the counter. Every scrap of food is used, and if it cannot be used, it is carried out to the compost pile.

I think of my grandmother often when I cook. Her kitchen was always tidy, and it was important for her to keep everything in its place. (Not so in my kitchen.)

Grandma Annie lived in Frenchtown in the small Michigan town where her parents settled in the 1880s. The neighborhood included a meat packing plant, an ironworks and a small retail area. Small grocery stores abounded and farmers often came to town peddling eggs and vegetables. Annie’s home, purchased by her father in 1883, once included a small grocery store on its ground floor.

Annie bought her eggs from a German farmer. Neighbors traded produce from their gardens: Green beans, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini and potatoes. Mid-morning or in the early evenings, she would set out, basket on her arm, for the home of a neighbor who had fresh produce to share.

Annie’s kitchen had only one west-facing window, but it was never dark. It was a cheerful red-and-white, very much in the style called “retro” in today’s shelter magazines.

What made Annie’s kitchen French? Her love of food and cooking. It was a love that extended throughout the home, a home the family owned for 125 years.

My memories of Annie include sunny summer mornings when she would sit on her back step and shell peas, or cooler days in late summer when she would bake a cake or a blueberry pudding and her kitchen would be redolent of vanilla and almond.

These are simple activities I have tried to make a part of my own culinary life. Come high summer, I clean corn and shell peas on my deck, within yards of my compost pile. In cool weather or when storm clouds gather, I, too, gravitate to my kitchen to bake an apple crisp with cinnamon. The aroma and the activity provide comfort.

What makes your kitchen French? How does it comfort you?