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

On Christmas day, Maxence and his mother joined us for lunch at my parents’. My mother and I cooked for this meal, 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 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 to the mix. We served the turkey with celeriac purée, a traditional Christmas side in France, and a sweet potato purée with maple syrup, inspired by 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.

Every body raved about the crumble. It’s a light and tasty dish that leaves room for what comes next, and the combination of soft vegetables and crispy topping is an excellent one. And I particularly liked the little dried parsley leaf! The crumble topping can of course be used on other combinations of vegetables, and I used it once successfully in a main dish of salmon and leek crumble.

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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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Scalloped Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poached Pear, Toasted Rustic Bread

Escalope de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poire Pochée, Toast de Campagne

[Scalloped Foie Gras Mi-Cuit, Poached Pear, Toasted Rustic Bread]

Christmas eve this year was spent just the four of us : my parents, my sister and myself. A week before, having come to my parents’ on a weeknight, my mother and I had brainstormed over an after-dinner cup of tea, and we had come up with the Christmas menus. My mom having taken care of the grocery shopping, the afternoon of the 24th found us preparing the dinner together, in between miscellaneous tree decorating and last minute gift wrapping activities.

I enjoy cooking with my mother very much. Probably because I have watched her cook so often and also because she has taught me a lot of what I know, we just seem to move around the kitchen in unison, picking up where the other has left off, handing out the right tool at the right time without being asked, the different tasks dispatched seamlessly, chatting all the while.

On the special request of my father, the dinner menu started out with slices of smoked salmon. My mother had bought two kinds : Norwegian farm-raised smoked salmon and a pricier wild smoked salmon. While both were very high-quality, the latter, of a lighter pink shade, proved particularly succulent. Sprinkled with lemon juice, served with oven-warmed blinis and crème fraîche, this was a delicious first course. Smoked salmon seems a more and more common fare, but I’m wondering if one shouldn’t hold off eating it unless presented with the real thing.

We then prepared and served the main dish : scalloped foie gras mi-cuit with poached pears and toasts of rustic bread. Mi-cuit (“half-cooked”) is a way to prepare foie gras, in which the raw liver is cooked in a terrine, slowly and at a very low temperature, allowing the natural flavors and textures to develop in very subtle ways. The resulting product has a very short shelf-life, whereas regular canned foie gras can be kept at room temperature for up to four years. Foie gras mi-cuit can be bought whole, or in slices (“escalopes”) as was the case for us.

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Chocolate Truffles

Truffes au Chocolat

This year for Christmas, I made chocolate bites of two kinds to give to my family, and bought small confectioner’s crystal bags at a professional store to put them in. I also wanted to make little tags to tie around the bags. I bought delicate ivory paper, beautiful green leaves made of very fine thread, and some silver yarn. I cut out rectangles of paper, wrote “Chocolate & Zucchini” with colored pencils on them, and sewed each rectangle to a green leaf with the silver yarn, tying up the label to the bags with a little knot.

Pretty, and it packaged up my goodies nicely : in addition to the mendiants, which I told you about yesterday, I made an assortment of chocolate truffles.

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