How To Cut and Peel Hard Winter Squash

Winter squashes, with their wonderful range of shapes, colors, patterns and flavors, are definitely among the sweeter treats of the cold months. But the sweetness comes at a price: first, you have to roll up your sleeves and find some way to cut and peel the lovely beasts without losing a finger to the process.

Indeed, while some — especially in the early season — boast a thin rind easily peeled with a vegetable peeler, or even one that’s edible (cue love letter to the Hokkaido squash, potimarron in French), most secure their tender flesh underneath a tough outer shell that challenges even the sharpest chef’s knife. The task is made trickier by the shape of the squash, which is rarely stable enough that you can hack at it safely. And even if you do manage to cut your way through, working your paring knife along the grooves and ridges of the rind can be awkward and time-consuming.

Fortunately, there is an easier way, which I’ve recently adopted: it consists in par-cooking the squash for a very short time in a pan of simmering water to just soften the rind: after this treatment, only the very outside of the squash is cooked, which means you remain free to do with it as you please, whether you want to boil it, roast it, braise it, or stir-fry it (take your pick).

Here’s how to proceed:

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Light and Crisp Waffles

Every Sunday morning throughout my childhood, my father took my sister and me to the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a charming amusement park for children with structures to climb, goats to feed, carousels and bumper cars. It was quite the SuperDad thing to do: my sister and I had a blast of course, and I imagine my mother treasured those hours of weekend tranquillity.

Between an Enchanted River boat ride (I will forever remember the unique smell of stagnant water and weeping willows) and a game of Whac-a-Mole (we called it boum-tap), we were allowed a treat at one of the park’s snack outlets.

Whatever the age, everyone loves the idea of a freshly made waffle, and gets wide-eyed like a child when the golden squares materialize from the iron.

And this is where I developed my taste for the kind of light waffles one finds at fun fairs in France: crisp on the outside, creamy soft on the inside, steaming hot in the cold winter morning air. All kinds of toppings were proffered — whipped cream, chocolate sauce, chestnut cream — but we favored the generous sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar that left the tips of our noses white.

I haven’t bought a waffle like this in years, though I have sometimes been tempted by the smell wafting from the stands on Paris’ Grands Boulevards, or the one propped up against the carousel where I take my own son now. But as I researched recipe ideas to use my spiffy waffle maker, I found this good-sounding formula on a blog written by food stylist and writer Isabelle Guerre.

Said recipe, along with the author’s helpful tips, has largely lived up to its promise. I’ve made it so many times since that I know it by heart, and it takes me barely ten minutes to whip up the batter. I enjoy making it when we have friends coming over in the afternoon: whatever the age, everyone loves a freshly made waffle, and gets wide-eyed like a child when the golden squares materialize from the iron.

(I’ll note that this kind of waffle batter is simply a thicker crêpe batter with leavening added, which means it can be cooked in the skillet to make pancake-ish crêpes if you have a child who, because he’s two and a half and opposition is his job, insists he wants a crêpe, not a waffle.)

Light and Crisp Waffles

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Veggivore: French Cookbook Release (+ Giveaway!)

I am delighted to announce that The French Market Cookbook, my book of French vegetarian recipes, is being released in France today under the title Veggivore.

Just like the original French Market Cookbook, Veggivore is a collection of original, colorful recipes to cook with vegetables according to the seasons, with lots of tips and stay-with-you ideas to eat tasty and healthful dishes daily. I have translated and adapted the texts for my French readers so that it is similar in spirit, but slightly different in tone and content.

Veggivore is a beautiful hard-cover book with a refreshing layout and inspiring photographs. It is now available from French bookstores and on Amazon France, and it is scheduled for release in Canada on March 11 (Amazon Canada has it on pre-order). If you have a French-speaking friend you think would enjoy it, please consider letting him/her know, and maybe even surprise him/her with a copy! (And if you still don’t have your own copy of The French Market Cookbook, you can read more about it here.)

Win a copy of Veggivore !

To celebrate the release, I have three copies of this French book to give away. To participate, head over to the French version of this post and leave a comment (in French or in English) telling me about your greatest challenge when cooking with vegetables. You have until Wednesday, February 11 midnight (Paris time); I will then draw three entries randomly and announce the winners. Good luck!

February 2015 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2015, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

The desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for February is a picture of the little jar of dried herbs that lives by my stove. It’s a mix I got in Corsica called herbes du maquis, but it is quite similar to herbes de Provence and is used in much the same way: you can apply it on meat and fish as a dry rub or marinade, fold it into bread or cracker dough, and use it to flavour grains, legumes, and vegetables.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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Seaweed and Seed Crackers

The story of these crackers started quite serendipitously.

I had prepared my trusty olive oil tart crust to make one of my favorite dishes ever, the onion and cumin quiche featured in my first book. I was left with some scraps, which I usually bake in whatever shape they happen to come out in, to nibble on at a later date. But this time I decided to go one step further and stamp out crackers using an actual cookie cutter, and the first one I grabbed when I reached into my cavernous miscellany cabinet was a puzzle shape I’ve owned for years and years.

These crackers are thin and delightfully crisp, with air pockets that form randomly and add to the thrill of them.

I had enough leftover dough to make, oh, about three, but they were such a hit with my two-and-a-half-year-old (crackers! puzzle-shaped! what’s not to like?) that I soon whipped up another batch of the dough just for this purpose. The crackers have been on heavy rotation at my house since then, pleasing toddlers and adults alike.

Over time I have fiddled with the recipe to boost the flavor (and nutrition), eventually settling on this favorite version, which includes mixed seeds (sesame, chia, and flax) and dried seaweed flakes (all of these are easily found at natural food stores).

These crackers are thin and delightfully crisp, with air pockets that form randomly and add to the thrill of them. We tend to snack on them as is, either to hold us over till the next meal or to accompany a pre-dinner drink, but naturally they’d do just as well with the dip or spread of your choice, such as these colorful and veg-heavy beet hummus or peacamole.

PS: Add more fuel to your cracker fire with these Zaatar pita chips, Cheese thins, and Chestnut and herb canistrelli.

Seaweed and Seed Crackers

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