Porcini Walnut Risotto in the Pressure Cooker

My sister Céline is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. She is to come back to work in France at the beginning of next year, which makes me deliriously happy, but until then we have to make do with the weekends she comes to spend with us. This Saturday, after the traditional afternoon of shopping together, Céline came over for dinner. She is very appreciative of my cooking, so it’s always a pleasure feeding her.

As a main dish, I prepared a porcini walnut risotto in the pressure cooker. I always start from a recipe I picked up on the Cooking Light Forums some years ago, and tweak it to include whatever ingredients my risotto happens to star.

Each of us was served a little mound of risotto, on which I ground black pepper and sprinkled parmesan, with a green salad on the side. Alternatively the risotto could be deposited on a bed of salad in a shallow bowl, or circles could be used to shape the rice neatly, but this was just us, so I forwent the fuss.

Risotto is always a very satisfying dish, and here the creamy rice was particularly well complemented by the soft porcini and the crunchy walnuts. The three of us polished this off nicely but, had we had any leftovers, I would have made risotto cakes the next day, sautéed in a little olive oil in a skillet, in the manner of Italian arancini.

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Le Salon Du Chocolat

Le Salon Du Chocolat

A Chocolate Trade Show – has anybody ever heard of a better concept? The Paris one takes place every year in late October, when the weather gets a little chilly and Christmas is getting near and people need to warm their hearts and stock up on chocolate goodness. Passionate as we are about our chocolate, Marie-Laure and I just had to attend, and we decided to go to the late opening on Friday.

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Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Last weekend, as Maxence was walking up the rue Lepic, he was lured into one of the many inviting charcuteries (a charcuterie is a store halfway between a butcher’s shop and a deli). The boudin antillais was tempting, so he bought four small ones. Boudin antillais (a twist on boudin noir) is a specialty from the Antilles, the French Carribeans. They are blood sausages, made with bread, peppers, milk, onions, rum, various spices and, well, pork blood.

It took me a while to try blood sausages. In fact, I tried my first only two years ago, in the form of crunchy ravioli filled with blood sausage, pinenuts and apple, a signature appetizer at the excellent restaurant Les Dolomites, in the 17th arrondissement. If you can get over the main ingredient of boudin, the reward is the unique taste.

So boudins antillais went on the menu for lunch on Sunday. Maxence said we needed purée (mashed potatoes) with this. As incredible as it may sound, I had never prepared homemade mashed potatoes before. From dried potato flakes, yes, but from scratch, no. Having just read “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten, in which he devotes a whole essay to his quest for the perfect mashed potatoes, I thought myself well-armed to tackle the task.

We walked down to the rue des Martyrs to buy some bintje potatoes, the variety French purée recipes recommend. Back home, I opened the book to Jeffrey’s recipe, but thought he made it sound much more daunting than it should be (the double-cooking, the exact water temp, sheesh!), so I decided to be my ingenuous self and just follow my instincts, following the process outlined below.

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Happiness (A Recipe)

Happiness

On a Sunday afternoon, after a copious lunch, wait for your next-door neighbor Patricia to knock on your window with a wooden spoon. Agree to come over to their place for coffee. From the special chocolate cabinet in your kitchen (surely you must have one) grab what’s left of the excellent dark chocolate with fragments of roasted cocoa beans that your friend Marie-Laure brought you last time she came for dinner. Walk next door in your socks. Leave Maxence and Stéphan to chat about Mac OS-X and guitar tuners in the living room, while you watch Patricia brew coffee on their espresso machine. When asked, opt for the designer coffee cups. Bring the four cups to the table on a metal tray. Take a cup, break a square of the chocolate, sit down, relax. Have a bite of chocolate, then a sip of coffee. Repeat.

Congratulations, you have now attained the blissful state known as Happiness.

Salmon and Leek Quiche

Picard is a French chain store, the concept of which finds no equivalent in the US: it only sells frozen foods.

This may not sound very appealing to the foodiest foodies among you, but their products are surprisingly high-quality, much like I remember the frozen section at Trader Joe’s, in which I loved to wander till my fingers grew numb.

Their selection is wide: from simply cut-up vegetables or fruit, and uncooked meat or fish, to more sophisticated appetizers, main dishes, sides, and “ethnic” meals, plus ice cream, desserts, and breads. You could live off of their products alone — and many do — but I like to simply stock up on convenient staples that reduce the prep time for weeknight dinners.

Salmon and leek quiche is one of my favorite quiche recipes, one I find myself suddenly craving every now and then. And so, on Friday night, I was delighted to have everything on hand to make one, in which both the salmon and the leek were courtesy of Picard.

Salmon and leek are, in my humble opinion, a marriage made in heaven. They both offer wonderfully subtle and sweet tastes, best brought out by a salad dressed with a sharp and tangy vinaigrette.

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