Broccoli Soup

Broccoli Soup

[Broccoli Soup]

I am not a soup maker. For a very long time, I was most intimidated by it. Something about the large pot and the veggies cooked to death turned me off. I also didn’t grow up in a soup family — we hardly ever had it, though it was delicious when we did — so I don’t think of it as a particularly comforting dish. And finally, I’d rather eat a thing than drink it: I’d rather eat an orange than drink its juice, and I’d rather eat my vegetables than have them as soup.

My first attempt at soup, about three years ago, wasn’t altogether convincing : I tried to make a potato-leek soup, but I used too many potatoes and they killed the taste of the leeks. Plus, I burned the back of my hand with piping hot soup. Not quite what you’d call a success, but valuable lessons were to be learned. Lesson #1, do not underestimate the Power of the Potato. Lesson #2, do not assume your food processor is watertight, unless you would like your kitchen cabinets repainted in pale green accents. Understandably, this episode put an end to my soup making ambitions.

But I underwent dental surgery on Thursday, I am unable to chew much for a few days, and I thought, what better occasion to exorcise my fear of soup? So yesterday night found me and my swollen cheek tackling broccoli soup, loosely following Dean Allen’s sarcastic recipe for Something Soup.

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Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake

Yesterday we had a small party at my office to celebrate my company’s fifth anniversary, and our pendaison de crémaillère, which is French for a housewarming party: une crémaillère is a trammel, the metal adjustable hook that was used to hang pots in the fireplace in the days of yore, and the hanging of this essential piece of equipment in a new house was as good an occasion as any to have a village gathering.

Our new offices are located in the south of the 13th arrondissement, close to the Parc Montsouris and the very nice Butte-aux-Cailles area. The street name happens to be Rue Brillat-Savarin, in reference to Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin*, who’s considered the first food writer/critic in history. Cool, huh?

I had offered to bake a cake for the occasion, and used a trusted recipe for fudgy chocolate cake — gâteau au chocolat fondant in French. It is a very easy recipe that does not require a food processor, and like all dark chocolate cakes, it is best made the day before, or at least in the morning if served for dinner.

Edit: Over the years, my way of making this cake has evolved, and I’ve updated the recipe below to reflect that. I now use 180 g of sugar (instead of the original 250 g) and 4 eggs (instead of the original 5). I bake the cake at 180°C (instead of the original 190°C) for slightly longer (25 instead of 20 minutes), and I sprinkle the surface with fleur de sel, which enhances the chocolate flavor and provides tiny jolts of saltiness here and there.

The cake was suitably wolfed down by my appreciative coworkers. It has a nice thin crust, while the inside is 100% melty gooey chocolate goodness. Needless to say, it is pretty rich, so it is best served with something refreshing — ideally, Marie-Laure and Ludo’s fruit salad, but your own fruit salad, fresh strawberries, ice cream and/or whipped cream will be great too.

* Brillat-Savarin published a treatise on the art of dining called “La Physiologie du goût” (“Physiology of taste”) and he’s the one who said “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”, translated as “Tell me what you eat, I will tell you who you are” or “You are what you eat”.

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Cheese Fondue

Fondue

[Cheese Fondue at our Neighbors' place]

We are lucky enough to be very good friends with our next-door neighbors. Stéphan and Patricia live on our floor, in the apartment to the right of ours. We met on the night of our housewarming party : we had posted a note to apologize in advance for the noise and music, and to invite everybody over for a drink. We were very happy to have several neighbors show up (which was a very favorable omen in regards to the friendly and village-like atmosphere of the building), and among them, Stéphan and Patricia.

We have grown very fond of each other over time, chatting from window to window, plucking from each other’s aromatic garden, having drinks/coffee/cake/dinner at their place or ours, borrowing books, sharing a wireless high-speed connection, bringing back small gifts from our trips, and just generally having a grand time. We all share a pronounced taste for good food, and Stéphan is a passionate cook too, with his own style – pretty different from mine – and a lot of talent.

So Saturday night, when they invited us over for a fondue savoyarde (cheese fondue), we very happily accepted.

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My Grandmother’s Pear Cake

Le goûter is the afternoon snack kids are given when they come out of school around four. In my family, it is also called simply le thé, and is practically an institution. Around five on weekends, somebody will invariably ask “on fait le thé?” (alternatively “on prend le goûter?”). Cookies or cake (often home-baked by my mother) will be served, washed down by liters of tea. It is a habit I am very fond of, and one that I am always happy to indulge in when I can.

The resulting cake is golden, buttery and incredibly moist, light and fruity, with a slightly crusty edge, and it is very hard to stop at just one slice.

And so, when my dear friend Marie-Laure came over pour le goûter on Sunday, I baked a cake.

I used a family standby called Gâteau de Mamy. As the name implies, this is my grandmother’s recipe, which she calls “Gâteau d’Ella” because it was her dear friend Ella’s recipe originally. It is anybody’s guess what Ella called it.

It is actually what is called an upside down cake, meaning that you lay fresh fruit at the bottom of the cake pan, and then pour the dough on top. Sort of a cake equivalent to the tarte tatin. It works with a variety of fruit : apples, apricots, plums… Here, I used 6 small pears, of three different varieties.

The resulting cake is golden, buttery and incredibly moist, light and fruity, with a slightly crusty edge, and it is very hard to stop at just one slice. But if you do and there are leftovers, the reward will be that this cake tastes even better the next day.

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Cheeseburgers with a Twist

Cheeseburger

Reading the article on DIY Diner Food over at Digs Magazine put me in the mood for burgers, so that went on the menu for lunch on Sunday.

For the patties, I used 150g (5 1/3 ounces) lean ground beef, in which I mixed a chopped shallot, a large handful of chopped fresh herbs (I had basil and tarragon, both home-grown, as well as flat-leaf parsley), a spoonful of chopped capers, and liberal amounts of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and black pepper. This I shaped into two patties that were seared in the skillet. After flipping them the first time, I sprinkled salt on them and laid slices of Beaufort on top so they’d have just enough time to melt.

The burgers were then assembled on toasted sesame buns with lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard, then served with tomato halves sprinkled with fleur de sel.

Not what I would call a traditional Sunday lunch, but delicious and oh-so-satisfying.

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