Home Made Croissants

Home Made CroissantsCroissant Crazy
Over the years, my sister and I have taken a lot of cooking classes. So many, in fact, that there isn’t a whole lot out there that we haven’t taken. By no means have we mastered the art of cooking. Far from it! But, you do reach a point that, unless it is something very specific, you can pick up any recipe and produce a better than average result. There was one thing that both of us were fairly intent on learning—and that is how to make croissants. Or, to be more specific, the laminated dough used to make croissants and other flaky goodness.

I’ve always been a fan of a really good croissant. I mean what’s not to love? You just can’t go wrong with flakey buttery pastry, with or without filling, fresh from the oven. Am I right?

This particular drive to learn the art of croissant was born out of an obsession with the orange morning buns that are produced by our favorite bakery in Tahoe City, CA. I can’t even with these morning buns. No trip to the lake is complete without these for breakfast at least once but they’re up there and we’re down here. We had to figure out a way to recreate them but to do that we needed to learn the basics.

This was how we found ourselves spending a lovely Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago learning to make croissants. It was great. It was challenging. And I have found that having an industrial grade sheeter would make the folding process so much easier but, alas, that is not an option.

To be frank, croissants are not a thing you make on a whim. They are a project that requires hours. It is something you do as much for the process as for the end result. It is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday when you have absolutely nothing going on.

This weekend for me is one of those rare weekends where we will not be running around shuttling kids here and there and my plan is to make a batch of croissants just to make sure I can do it without the instructor there. Should be interesting…

For those adventurous spirits out there below is a great recipe for those who are willing to give it a shot. For the rest, there is definitely something to be said for letting someone else do the work and grabbing a dozen or so from your favorite bakery.

Home Made Croissants
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yields about 2 dozen Read more…

French Fruit Tart — A Classic

French Fruit Tart — A ClassicCamp de Cuisine
I’ve written about my daughter and her summer kitchen shenanigans a few times over the past weeks. And, you might be happy to know that things are still going full steam (just ask my dishwasher). Right now, she seems to be in a French pastry phase. While I fully support her curiosity and creativity, I am wondering when she’ll get to the one bowl or less phase….

Though she hasn’t quite reached that Julie & Julia work her way through an entire cookbook level of obsession, she’s pretty close. For Fourth of July, she made Pâte à Choux for red, white and blue cream puffs with raspberry cream and blue sprinkles. That same week, she tackled French Macarons and they turned out way better than any of my attempts. The macarons actually had feet—and anyone who’s watched any of the baking championships knows how important feet are. Thankfully, my sons are her taste testers or there would be no way for my husband or me to fit into our pants.

This week, my kitchen (and the dishwasher) is getting a much-needed break as my teenaged chef de cuisine is attending a summer pastry camp. (Where was this when I was 12?) Yesterday they made a classic French Fruit Tart and I actually learned something new. If you spread a thin layer of semi-sweet or white chocolate on the bottom of the tart shell and then put the pastry cream in, the tart will not get soggy. (My mind is blown.)

These tarts are so versatile and fairly easy to make that you will find it easy to whip one together for any of your summer get-togethers. To make it even easier, I will substitute a good quality vanilla pudding mix like Dr. Oetkers or even Bird’s custard mix instead of making the pastry cream. Feel free to use any combination of ripe summer fruits to finish.

French Fruit Tart — A Classic
Adapted from Sur la Table
Finish the top with the ripest, most luscious seasonal fruit you can find. Summer berries are an obvious choice, but also try slices of nectarines, plums, poached pears, mango, or kiwi, depending upon the season.  Read more…

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic Confit

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic ConfitFrench Roots
I feel like we have finally turned a corner. As I look out my window at the clear blue skies I actually think that, maybe, hopefully, please dear lord let it be true, the rain could possibly be over? The calendar says spring after all….

Spring is a welcome occurrence. Weather is probably the most important reason, with Baseball as a very close second. But, for me, it is also a time when I flip a switch on my cooking. As new spring produce comes into market my dinners get lighter and fresher. And consistently, they get French-er.

I always seem to circle back to French food in the spring. Maybe it’s that whole Spring rebirth thing. Cooking French food gets me back to basic techniques so that I can go forth and innovate. Kind of like a spring cleaning for my culinary mind. Clean out all of the winter recipes and start fresh.

I have a number of French cookbooks and one of my favorite authors is Patricia Wells. Since moving to France in 1980, she has become an expert in French cooking with an emphasis on the Provence region where she opened her acclaimed cooking school.

This Chicken and Garlic Fricassee is very French—and very garlicy—but in the best way possible. The garlic confit is a must, so you will need to plan ahead for this one. The original recipe calls for a whole chicken cut into 8 parts. I prefer to do this with bone-in chicken thighs

Joyeux printemps à tous!

Chicken and Garlic Fricassee with Sweet Garlic Confit
Adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells

Read more…

French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips

French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and ParsnipsRainy Days and Mondays…

When the weather is as rainy as it has been the last week, I look to the things that warm me up. Usually, it’s something slow roasted or slow cooked in the crock pot. It could be pot roast or it could be a turkey breast but whatever the ingredients, it is a bowl full of warmth and comfort.

Last Sunday, while we contemplated lining the animals up two by two, I threw some beef chuck in the crock pot and made some tasty beef stew. And, it was the perfect answer to the wind and rain, especially served with warm crusty bread to sop it all up. Yum.

There is a multitude of recipes for beef stew you just have to decide which one is your favorite. That’s the hard part for me. Sometimes I want straight up stew with all that beef flavor. (Like my Batchelor Beef Stew.) Other times I like French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips and some red wine. And then there are the times when dark beer and onions make a great combo too. (Check out my Beef and Guinness Stew.) Depends on my mood…

So, this is the one I made this weekend. If you wish, it is easily done in the slow cooker. Just follow these directions. But instead of cooking in the Dutch oven, you put it all in a large crock pot on low for about 8 hours, or until the beef is falling apart tender.

French-Style Beef Stew with Carrots and Parsnips
Serves 6 Read more…

Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard

Chicken with Tarragon and MustardJanuary, the good and the bad.
Well, we made it. We survived the holidays. Now it’s back to normal life—which is in some ways good and some ways bad.

I don’t think I could have kept up with the eating and drinking (at least not the way I was doing it), so to be back to normal is good. However, there is the post-holiday let down. The excitement, the parties and good cheer are gone. It’s just the daily routine. It’s kinda boring.

January can also be what I call the food doldrums. The cold winter months can be less than exciting ingredient wise. Sure there are plenty of good soups to battle the cold air and rain, but I get bored with that after a while. Yes, you can always throw together a roast dinner but again, meh. The produce offerings are tasty but limited. This is the time of year to get creative with your dried beans but even then, for me, there is just not that much excitement. On top of all that is the need to lighten things up and eat better…

January is definitely when my slow cooker gets the most use, mainly because I am worn out from all of the holiday cooking. So, I go looking for new ideas for the slow cooker. A few years ago I stumbled on a series of slow cooker cookbooks that are not the usual pot roast or pork shoulder. Each book is devoted to a particular cuisine. There is the French version, the Italian, the Mexican, Mediterranean and even the Indian.

I have tried recipes from them all, but I tend to reach for The French Slow Cooker the most. One of my favorite recipes is Chicken with Tarragon, Mustard and Cream because it’s uncomplicated and tres French. The original recipe calls for heavy cream (and it is good that way), but I usually lighten it up with 2% milk instead. And, just be aware that the sauce won’t be as rich, which is good…and bad.

Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard
Adapted from The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serve 4 to 6
Read more…