My Father’s Vinaigrette

Mon Papa

In my post about Pissaladière, I alluded to my father’s signature vinaigrette. Such a teaser could not go by unnoticed, and many of you expressed an eager curiosity. The request for more information was passed on to my father, and I will now step aside, and let you read his reply :

Yes, perhaps the time has now come for the secret recipe of CDV (“Clotilde’s Daddy’s Vinaigrette”) to be revealed to the astonished (and expectant) world. To be secretive is one thing, to be selfish another. This has been a family secret from times immemorial, handed down countless generations from Father to Son. But I have only two (lovely, bright, charming and adorable) daughters, and no son to take over the heavy burden from me. So here we go.

First, let me say that making a Vinaigrette is not only an art, it’s also a science. You must carefully consider:

– the list of ingredients
– their quality
– their quantity, both relative and absolute
– the size, nature, form and shape of the bowl and of the spoon

There are many other significant parameters, of course, which we will ignore at this stage, since this is just Vinaigrette Making 101, after all. For the record, let me mention:

– the room temperature
– the atmospheric pressure
– the direction of the wind, and its force (you can’t very well use the same vinaigrette method in a leisurely south-westerly breeze, and in a severe northern gale force 9, imminent.)

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Having chosen the name of my blog to illustrate the two sides of my culinary personality — my love of fresh, seasonal produce but also my appreciation for desserts — I couldn’t justify not having a Chocolate Zucchini cake in my baking repertoire.

I am not a gardener myself, but I am told that in vegetable patches around the world, zucchini plants grow with supernatural vigor. When harvest season comes around, people are overloaded with their crop, and have developed all kinds of creative ways to use it up. Someone even explained to me that nobody ever locked their cars in their small town, except when it’s zucchini season, to avoid coming back to find that someone has left a crate of zucchini on the passenger seat.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake To The Rescue!

Among the popular uses of a zucchini glut (apart from abandoning it on the steps of the church) is baking quick breads and cakes, including chocolate and zucchini cakes.

I came up with my own version of chocolate zucchini cake by searching the web, examining the recipes I found, selecting the ones that made the most sense, reading the bakers’ comments and variation ideas, and blended all this with a family recipe for chocolate cake.

When I started cutting slices, I could tell immediately that the texture was just right, fluffy and moist, with a slightly crisp outer crust.

I baked it yesterday, and served it in the evening to my favorite taste-testers, Ludo, Marie-Laure, Stéphan and Patricia, who had come around for dinner (more on that in the coming days). And boy, was it good.

When I started cutting slices, I could tell immediately that the texture was just right, fluffy and moist, with a slightly crisp outer crust. The big advantage of using grated zucchini is that it provides some of this moisture, allowing you to reduce the overall amount of butter. There is no way anyone can taste the zucchini in there, as it melds with the batter and disappears.

In addition to being a deep and beautiful shade of brown, this chocolate zucchini cake has a voluptuous chocolate flavor. We have the cocoa powder and the chocolate chunks to thank for that, and also the dash of coffee. The latter is a trick that my grandmother taught me, and it’s good to keep it in mind when working with chocolate: you can’t identify the coffee as such, but it makes the chocolate flavor even more vivid.

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Maryland Delights, Act I : Chocolate Cremes

Maryland Delights, Act I : Chocolate Cremes

After I posted about the American food items I sorely missed, C&Z reader Alicia, from Maryland, offered to do a little food swap with me. Me? Food? In the mail? I happily accepted. I received her package just last week, and will now, ladies and gentlemen, before your startled eyes, proceed to uncover its content, in three installments.

The first item was a package of chocolate cremes, made by Berger Cookies, a bakery founded in Baltimore in the 1830’s. In passing, the website is worth a little trip, for the wonderfully kitsch photos, the brilliant tagline (“Bergers: the anytime cookie!“) and the company’s history.

I’d never had chocolate cremes before. Alicia described them as fudge cookies in the accompanying letter. Promising! They didn’t seem to have suffered too much from their transatlantic trip : the chocolate had probably melted ever so slightly, but that just gave them the appetizing and touching look of the home-made pastry.

And they were delicious. A thick layer of dark chocolate, topping a cake-like cookie, very smooth, very sweet and very rich : built-in portion control, I challenge you to eat two in one sitting! They are quite different from anything we can find here – very American! – and I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly, washed down by a cup of coffee…

[To be continued…]

Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Tomates Mi-Séchées

[Semi-Dried Tomatoes]

Remember how I mentioned buying a bottle of balsamic vinegar and some coriander anchovy tapenade at the balsamic vinegar tasting the other day? Well, I lied.

I also got a little bag of semi-dried tomatoes, moist and plump.

They come in a sealed package which seems to protect them well because the best-by date is in June — of 2005. The suggested uses include adding them to sandwiches, salads, pasta, risotto, stews, terrines, quiches and pizzas. Talk about leaving no stone unturned! Now all I have to do is make up my mind and decide what to do with them. Ah, choices choices choices…

The label is very promising, describing them as moelleuses (mellow), goût intense (intense flavor) and sans conservateurs (preservative-free).

But the best part, is this : “Ingredients : Tomates.”

Pissaladière

Pissaladière

Pissaladière is a specialty from Nice, in the South of France. It’s an onion tart with black olives and anchovies, on a thin pizza-like dough. The name comes from “pissalat“, a condiment made with pureed anchovies, cloves, thyme and bay leaves, which was spread on the tart before baking.

The name has taken on a somewhat looser meaning in my family, and we use it to mean any Mediterranean-style onion tart, not necessarily involving anchovies. My mother, sister and I made one during our Easter week-end in the mountains, and served it with a salad, dressed with what is now my father’s signature vinaigrette.

We were all delighted with the way it turned out : it is hard to go wrong with an onion tart, but the addition of pesto, tomatoes and olives (although un-traditional when it comes to the tomatoes and pesto) really makes it outstanding.

Ours did not include anchovies (which we like, but just didn’t have on hand), but you can add some if you’d like. Traditional recipes recommend anchovy fillets in brine, rather than those in oil. They should be rinsed well before using, and you should then omit the salt on the other ingredients. If you use anchovies packed in oil, drain them on a paper towel to absorb the oil.

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