Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Tapenade

Coquillages Farcis Ricotta et Tapenade

[Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Tapenade]

Last Tuesday, my sister Céline and I met for lunch. The plan was to eat at Rose Bakery, but it was closed for the holidays, so we went down the rue des Martyrs to Fuxia instead, a really nice Italian restaurant, hip yet friendly, where we had truly excellent salads. After that, we spent the afternoon strolling around the neighborhood, enjoying the unexpectedly sunny weather, and running various errands, which culminated in the buying of great fabric and crafts material at the Marché St Pierre, a huge discount fabric store at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur.

At one point, we went into a little store that the Fuxia people just opened, an Italian fine goods store and trattoria called Fuxia l’Epicerie. It’s open everyday till 10 pm, and sells a variety of Italian goodies (pasta, biscotti, condiments and the like) as well as freshly made antipasti and main dishes to go, which you can also eat at the small counter – comptoir de dégustation. Nice.

From one of the shelves, I distinctly heard a pack of conchiglie, big shell-shaped pasta, calling my name with their many little voices. Hmm, thought I. Stuffed shell pasta! Great finger food for the new year party! Back home, I took out a cookbook in which I remembered seeing something like this, but the recipes, though nice, didn’t appeal to me very much at the time (chicken-tomato, salmon-dill and ham-béchamel), so I made up my own.

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…et Bonne Année!

Fringe Benefits

I wish you all the very best for 2004 : health, happiness, love, friendship, prosperity and above all, excellent chocolate.

We hosted a little “réveillon” party yesterday night, for which Stéphane and I cooked up a pocket-sized storm. Recipes and stories are on the way!

And to mark the new year, I have had my hair cut with a fringe! It wasn’t planned at all, it just sort of happened. I looked at the girl getting her hair cut before me, she was pretty, she had a fringe (hers was long, below the brows), the thought popped into my head, it sounded nice, and I asked my (very friendly) hairdresser Michaël : “tiens, et une frange, ce serait une bonne idée?“. He said yes, he said cute, he said short, I said go!

La Nouvelle Ere
(Hairdresser)
4 rue des Abbesses
75018 Paris
01 42 57 40 55

Meine Wunderschöne Gebäck-Presse

Meine Wunderschöne Gebäck-Presse

Please meet my new beautiful friend, the cookie press! Personally imported from Germany by my sister, and an awesome Christmas present for the kitchen toy addict that I am. You should have heard me squealing with joy, kneeling at the foot of the tree!

It comes complete with a full set of cute little cookie shapes and an instructions booklet – hilarious in its French translation – that includes recipes. There is even a special attachment to fill Berliners, those little jelly donuts JFK identified himself so well with! What more could I want?

The process is this : you roll the cookie dough into a log, put the log inside the cylinder, pick the shape you like best, and start cranking away above an ungreased cookie sheet, dropping little blobs of dough that will bake into the chosen shape. You can even use two colors of dough for beautiful effects.

Needless to say, this will be put to good use soon, very soon. Stay tuned!

Zucchini and Mushroom Crumble

Crumble de Courgettes aux Champignons

[Zucchini and Mushroom Crumble]

On Christmas day, Maxence and his mother joined us for lunch at my parents’. My mother and I cooked for this meal too, preparing most of it the day before.

As a first course, we served a Zucchini and Mushroom Crumble, a recipe we had come up with a week before, during our Christmas-menu-brainstorming session. Elaborating menus is one of my favorite activities, and practicing it with my mother was a lot of fun : the ping-pong mode we fell into, throwing different dish ideas into the air, catching them, morphing them, and throwing them back, keeping an ingredient but changing the method of preparation, staying with a theme but putting a different twist to it, until we settled on a combination that suited our needs in terms of taste, festiveness, ease and fun of preparation.

After this, we served a roasted turkey, which I unfortunately didn’t get to photograph before the carving, stuffed with a walnut chestnut stuffing. I had never made stuffing before, but my mother had numerous times, and the walnut chestnut idea was from a magazine clipping. But as we started making the stuffing and I was asking about ingredient X or Y or some step the recipe called for, I quickly realized and pointed out with a laugh that she needed no recipe at all : what she really intended to make was her usual (delicious) stuffing, adding walnuts and chestnuts in the mix. And I can’t really tell you how it was made, as I spent the entire recipe-making time chopping walnuts and chestnuts, sneaking teeny bits in every now and then. We served the turkey with a celery root purée, a traditional Christmas meal fare in France, and a sweet potato purée with maple syrup, inspired from the Thanksgiving meals Maxence and I were lucky enough to partake in back in the US. The turkey was fantastic, moist and flavorful, and the trimmings were equally wonderful.

Next came a cheese course of dry goat cheese, Mont d’Or (a.k.a. vacherin, served in its pine bark with a spoon as is the custom) and Etorky, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrénées.

Finally, we served an excellent store-bought chestnut and vanilla cake called Carré Marron Vanille, brought to us by our friend Monsieur Picard.

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Roasted Apple with Dried Fruits, Calisson Ice Cream

Pomme Rôtie aux Fruits Secs, Quenelle de Glace au Calisson

[Roasted Apple with Dried Fruits, Calisson Ice Cream]

My mother and I wanted to end our Christmas eve dinner with a dessert simple to prepare yet festive, and satisfying yet light – more or less. This is what we came up with!

The store Picard Surgelés sells excellent ice-cream created by François Théron. They come in a variety of flavors, all of which quite unusual and incredibly tempting, like marron glacé (chestnut ice-cream with candied chestnut pieces), mendiant (vanilla ice-cream with dried fruits and nuts), or calisson (almond ice-cream with bits of calisson).

A calisson is an almond shaped specialty from Aix-en-Provence (South of France), made with pâte d’amande (almond paste) and crystallized melons, with a layer of “feuille d’hostie” (the thin wafer the catholic host is made of) underneath, and a crispy sugar coating on top. In my family, we are all big fans of pâte d’amande in general, calissons in particular, and my parents happened to have a box of fresh calissons they had recently received as a gift.

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