I Know How To Cook

We have all been there, you read a recipe, you decide to prepare the dish, only to find that some essential information is missing, that the ingredients are impossible to find or that the result is something completely different. For instance, we once decided to prepare a fairly complex dish. It consisted of four components, one being a popcorn-like version of saffron rice. The steps were not too challenging: cook sushi rice with saffron, dry for 2 days and then fry in oil on 180 °C or 355 °F for 10 minutes until the rice looks like popcorn. Sounds do-able, doesn’t it? Apart from the ‘like popcorn’. All rice turned out fat and golden-brown. Finally, we figured it out: we had to use a neutral oil with a very high smoking point, for instance refined sesame seed or avocado oil. But that information wasn’t provided in the recipe. Why not, we wonder, isn’t the goal of a recipe to help the reader prepare it? So why not provide all the necessary information?

(In case you wonder what the smoking point of oil is, it’s the temperature on which the oil breaks down. That’s when it may release unhealthy, damaging chemicals and nasty flavours. Olive oil has a relative low smoking point which is why you should pay careful attention to your pan when using it for frying.)

Je Sais Cuisinier

Ginnete Mathiot approach to recipes is clearly based on an ambition to educate, to transfer and share knowledge. She was born in 1907 in Paris and pursued a career as a teacher and inspector in home economics and as an author of many cookbooks. She didn’t own a restaurant, she never worked as a chef, she wasn’t a tv-celebrity. She was focused on sharing recipes and useful household and kitchen information. Millions of copies of her cookbooks were sold and many more benefitted from her knowledge and experience.

When she was 25 years old she published her classic Je Sais Cuisinier. Today the book is known as La Cuisine pour Tous. The English version is titled I Know How to Cook. It is a very useful cookbook with recipes that truly help you to prepare a dish. She also wrote excellent books on patisserie and preserves.

When you leave through I Know How to Cook you will notice helpful sections on spices, aromatic vegetables and flavourings, you’ll see a well written glossary of essential cooking terms, seasonal suggestions and many more aspects of food.

Given the time of year we looked for the artichoke-section of the book. Such a delicious vegetable! She includes a recipe for Artichoke Hearts Printanière (artichoke hearts with a filling of mushrooms, shallot, boiled egg, ham and artichoke, grilled in the oven) and for Artichokes à la Barigoule. This is a classic dish from the Provence region. The artichoke hearts are stuffed, wrapped in bacon, fried and then cooked in a sauce with carrots and onion. The artichoke is then served with the (strained) sauce. Next week we will publish our  vegetarian version of this classic.

Her books (in French, Italian and English) are available via your local bookstore and the usual channels.

I Know How To Cook
I Know How To Cook

La Cuisinière Provençale

When we’re not completely sure about a sauce or a dish, we search for a recipe and inspiration in La Cuisinière Provençale. This comprehensive cookbook was first published in 1897 and was written by Jean-Baptiste Reboul. It includes 1119 recipes for an enormous variety of dishes and it provides background information on fish, meat and vegetables. It also gives traditional, seasonal, French suggestions for lunch and dinner for every day of the year. For instance for today, the third Monday of May, the two course lunch consists of moules farcies aux épinards et tendrons de veau bourgeoise. Or in English, mussels stuffed with spinach and veal tenderloins with carrots and onions.
You will find chapters about soups, hors d’œuvres, typical Provençal dishes, fish, sauces, mutton, veal, vegetables, eggs, jams and everything else you can think of.

This is one of the few cookbooks that uses the concept of formulas. For example: the recipe for Truite à la Meunière is very short: it simple states a few specific steps and then refers to formula 135, the one for Loup à la Meunière. We like this concept because it supports the idea that you can and should be flexible with ingredients. If for instance you can bake a pie with chard, then it’s probably a similar formula to bake a pie with wild spinach or beet leaves.

The recipes do not come with a separate list of ingredients, so you must make your own shopping list while reading the recipe. Not great, but we got used to it. The advantage is of course that the publisher could squeeze in even more recipes in the book.

Our Favourites

Daube Provençale is one of our favourites from this book. It is not too much work and you can also be fairly flexible with the recipe, as long as you use excellent, marbled beef. Well known chef Hélène Barale (La Cuisine Niçoise, Mes 106 Recettes) uses beef, veal and pork with tomatoes and dried mushrooms, Hilaire Walden (French Provincial Cooking) suggests marinating the beef in red wine and adds orange peel and olives whereas La Cuisinière Provençale suggests adding vinegar to the marinade but doesn’t use tomatoes, mushrooms or olives. We use carrots, shallot, garlic, mushrooms, black olives and red wine to make an intense, heart-warming stew.

La Cuisinière Provençale (in French only) is for sale via your local bookstore or the well known channels for 25 Euro or US dollar.

La Cuisinière Provençale
La Cuisinière Provençale

La Cuisine Minceur 

Michel Guérard is probably one of the most influential French chefs. He is one of the founders of the Nouvelle Cuisine (basically the style of cooking with a minimum of butter, eggs and cream) and the inventor of the Cuisine Minceur: the slimming kitchen. Enjoy a three-course lunch or dinner without consuming too many calories.

In his restaurant Les Prés d’Eugénie in the southwest of France you can enjoy his slimming food. It’s a bit too expensive for our budget (the menus cost between € 275 and € 310 per person), so we were very happy to buy one of his books.

Sauce Vierge

Once upon a time, there was a simple sauce called Sauce Vierge. It wasn’t difficult to prepare, just beat butter until soft, then add lemon juice, salt and pepper and continue beating until fluffy. Serve with asparagus, leeks or other boiled vegetables. It was not the most exciting sauce ever and Sauce Vierge could easily have been forgotten.

The Nouvelle Cuisine changed the recipe by replacing the butter by olive oil. The new Sauce Vierge became a star. It was turned into a warm sauce and ingredients like garlic, tarragon, basil, parsley and chervil were added. Sauce Vierge became the ideal sauce to accompany fish.

In 1977 Michel Guérard published his recipe of Sauce Vierge, including crushed coriander seeds and diced tomatoes. His suggestion is to serve it with sea bass and a puree of watercress. We serve the sauce with fried skate.

Sauce Vierge was a star, but the name wasn’t ideal. The term Antiboise became popular, especially outside of France. Antiboise is named after the city of Antibes in the south of France.

Books

La Cuisine Minceur was published in 1976, followed by Cuisine Gourmande in 1979 and many other books, including a Best Of (2015). His books are available via your local bookstore, the well-known channels (also second hand) and his webshop.

Wine Pairing

Given the powerful flavours (capers, olives, herbs, skate) we suggest a fresh white wine with lots of fruit and easy to drink. Our choice was a Verdejo produced by Mocen (Spain).
In general you’re looking for an easy to drink, white wine with intense aromas (tropical fruit). The flavours should be fresh, dry, fruity, round and balanced.

What You Need

  • Skate (or Sea Bass)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Lemon
  • Excellent Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Chives
  • Black Olives
  • Capers
  • Black Pepper
  • Butter

What You Do

Heat some olive oil and add the crushed garlic glove. Let it rest on low temperature until the oil is infused. Peel and seed the tomatoes. Chop in small cubes. Cut the olives lengthwise in 8. Cut the capers. Roughly cut all the herbs. Fry the skate in oil and/or butter until brown. Remove the garlic, add lemon juice and tomatoes; mix. Serve the skate on a plate, add the herbs, the olives, the capers and black pepper to the sauce, mix and serve the sauce on top of the fish. 

Classic White Asparagus

One of the classic ways of serving white asparagus is with melted butter, boiled eggs, ham and parsley. Preparing the asparagus this way, will allow you to taste the slight bitterness and sweetness of the asparagus. The butter and egg bring a velvety feeling to your palate, and the parsley and white pepper give a touch of sharpness to the dish. A great way to celebrate spring!

We use our Russel and Hobbs food steamer to prepare this classic dish. An essential kitchen aid for only 50 euro or US dollar. In this case the steamer cooks the asparagus, boils the eggs and heats the butter. Amazing!

A few years ago we enjoyed white asparagus with béarnaise and a small veal schnitzel accompanied by a glass of Silvaner at Café Heider in Potsdam, Germany. When we ordered we were asked how we would like our asparagus. Al dente, of course! If you like them more cooked, then steam them for an extra 5 minutes. 

Wine Pairing

Preferably serve the white asparagus with a dry Muscat from the Elzas. The delicate, slightly sweet but dry taste, the hint of bitterness and the rich aromas work very well with the asparagus. Muscat to us means the smell of fresh fruit. When drinking it is if you’re tasting the original grape. Wonderful wine and wonderful combination.
Or a glass of Silvaner of course. Just make sure the white wine has a touch of sweetness and is aromatic.

What You Need

  • 3 or 5 white asparagus per person
  • 2 Eggs
  • 100 grams Organic Cooked Ham
  • Parsley
  • Butter
  • White Pepper

What You Do

Clean and peel the asparagus. Steam them for 10+5+5 minutes. After 10 minutes add the eggs to the steamer basket. After 5 minutes, turn the eggs upside down and add a cup with cold butter. Another 5 minutes later everything is ready. The eggs will be medium: the yolk is not set but also not running. Peel the egg and cut in four. Chop the parsley. Serve the asparagus and eggs on a plate. Pour the warm butter over the asparagus. Dress the plate with ham (please make sure it has a bit of fat), perhaps some extra butter and sprinkle the parsley over the plate. Add some white pepper. 

Classic white Asparagus ©cadwu
Classic white Asparagus ©cadwu

Confit of Duck: a home made alternative

The traditional way of making Confit of Duck is not complex. It’s a bit time consuming and it requires some planning, that’s all. The principle is to cure the meat in salt with various herbs (thyme, cumin, rosemary) and garlic. After 24 hours or so the duck is washed with water, patted dry and then slow cooked in goose or duck fat for several hours. When ready cool and store in fat.

We take a different approach by slow cooking the duck legs in olive oil. The result is remarkable: juicy, full of flavours and aromas, provided you use first class duck (label rouge for instance). If not, the meat can become dry and tough. Another benefit: we don’t cure the meat so it’s not salty at all.
We serve the confit with celeriac mash. It’s light, nutty and refreshing compared to a mash made with potatoes.

Wine Pairing

Best choice is a full bodied, red wine with ripe fruit and smoothness. We decided to open a bottle of Herdade de São Miguel Colheita Seleccionada 2020 as produced by Casa Relvas. Such a pleasure! Its colour is deep ruby and the aromas made us think of ripe black fruit and dark cherries with some spiciness. The wine is well balanced with a nice structure and smooth tannins. Works very well with the juicy duck and the mash with its creamy texture and lemonish, celery flavours.

What You Need

  • For the Confit
    • 2 Duck Legs
    • Juniper berries
    • 4 Bay Leaves
    • Olive Oil
    • (optional) Garlic
  • For the Celeriac Mash
    • 1 Celeriac
    • Slice of Lemon
    • Cream
    • White Pepper
    • Nutmeg

Confit

Take a sheet of aluminium foil and place the leg in the middle. Add lightly crushed juniper berries and two bay leaves. Perhaps some crushed garlic. Add a generous amount of olive oil and make sure everything is covered. Wrap foil around the duck. Take a second sheet of foil and wrap it around the package, making sure it’s closed. Repeat with the second leg. Transfer both packages to an oven at 120 °C or 240 °F. After one hour reduce the heat to 100 °C or 210 °F. After in total 4 to 5 hours, depending on the size of the legs, remove the legs from the oven, open the package and let cool. Then transfer to the refrigerator for use later on.

Heat the oven to 200 °C or 390 °F. Put the legs in an iron skillet, transfer to the oven and 15-20 minutes later the legs are ready. If the skin is not yet crispy, use the grill for 2 or 3 minutes.
Another idea is to pull the meat and use it to top a salad.

Mash

The Celeriac Mash: clean and dice the celeriac. Cook in minimum water with a nice slice of lemon until nearly done. Remove the lemon and drain. Add cream. Put on low heat for a few minutes; the celeriac should absorb the cream. When the celeriac is done, use a blender to create the puree. Pass through a sieve. Perhaps add extra lemon or cream. Just before serving add white pepper. Serve with freshly grated nutmeg.

Hilaire Walden

Some chefs love the limelight, some prefer to stay in the background, focusing on cooking and writing. Hilaire Walden is clearly one of them. 

She is author of some 40 books and she has written for prestigious magazines and newspapers about food, cooking and restaurants. She wrote The Great Big Cookie Book, The Book of Tapas and Spanish Cooking, the Book of French Provincial Cooking, The Singapore CookbookQuick After Work Summer Vegetarian CookbookThe Book of Fish and Shellfish and more recently I Love My Barbecue. Indeed, a broad culinary spectrum!

The Loire

One of our favourites is Loire Gastronomique. In this book she follows the course of the French river and describes the various regions, local products, local recipes and of course the wines that go with it. Cheese, cookies, pies, everything. The Loire region is known as the Garden of France. In this garden you’ll find wonderful castles (Azay-le-RideauChambordChinon), great wine (MuscadetSancerrePouilly-Fumé) and beautiful food (asparagus, lots of fruit, artichokes and of course Lentille Verte du Puy). The book is inspiring and it will make you dream of a walk along the Loire, with a view on Amboise and a glass Crémant de Loire in your hand.

Recipes

One of the benefits of Hilaire Walden’s recipes is that they are always correct. Sounds odd, but as we all know, unfortunately, often recipes are simply not complete or correct.
If you prepare a dish for the first time, simply follow her instructions and you’re fine.

She started publishing books around 1980, so perhaps your favourite book will be second hand, but don’t worry, it will not be outdated.

Mirepoix

A combination of three ingredients that is essential when preparing stocks, stews and sauces: onion, carrot and celery (ratio 2:1:1). It’s intriguing that this combination works so well. All three bring sweetness when cooked, the combination is balanced and it brings depth to the result.

The celery could be a bit confusing: should it be celeriac, the root (knob) or celery, the fibrous stalks? Some suggest using the root in winter and the stalks in summer. We suggest using the stalks in all cases. They are very aromatic and they come with a touch of saltiness, very different from the root.

When for instance you want to make a beef stew, then first sear the beef, remove it from the pan, perhaps add some oil or butter and then add the mirepoix. Leave to simmer on low heat for 15 minutes or so or until soft. It’s all about creating flavours and aromas. Make sure you don’t brown the mirepoix. 

Another approach is to add it to (cold) water. This works well when making a white stock. And of course, when you want to make a powerful, tasty vegetable stock.

What You Need

  • 1 Large Onion
  • 3 Celery Stalks
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Leek
  • 1 Small Tomato
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Bouquet Garni (Parsley, Bay Leaf, Thyme)

What You Do

In the Netherlands an extended version of Mirepoix is fairly standard: onion, carrot, celery and leek (ratio 1:1:1:1) , also known as WUPS (Wortel, Ui, Prei en Selder). We prefer this version because the leek seems to bring extra flavours. Or perhaps because we’re Dutch?
Clean and dice the celery, the carrot, the leek and the tomato. Peel and chop the onion and the garlic. Add all ingredients and the bouquet garni to a pan with cold water and allow to simmer for one hour or so. Pass through a sieve and decide if you want to reduce the liquid. It freezes very well, so ideal to make ice cubes for use in sauces.

Mirepoix ©cadwu
Mirepoix plus extra ingredients for vegetable stock ©cadwu

Choucroute

A classic choucroute is a tribute to winter food. You could go for a rich version with confit de canard or pheasant (Choucroute d’Alsa­ce) or for an unexpected combination with fish (Choucroute de la Mer). We decided to make a simple but very tasty version with pork sausages, bacon and pork meat.
The choucroute is moist and soft, the meat comes with some nice fat and a light smoky aroma, the juniper berries are full of flavours. Ah, it makes you love winter.
Preparing choucroute can be done in various ways, including cooking in water. We prefer the slow approach in an oven at 80° Celsius or 175° Fahrenheit during four to six hours.

Some add goose fat to the choucroute to enhance the taste, but that’s too much for us. We actually prefer a light version of the vegetable, allowing the meat to bring fat to the dish and a velvety mouthfeel.

Wine Pairing

The obvious choice is probably a white wine from the Alsace region in France. Which is exactly what we did. We were looking for a refreshing, round white wine and decided to drink a glass of Pinot Gris as produced by Cave de Beblenheim. Perfect with the present flavours of the choucroute.

What You Need

  • 400 grams of Sauerkraut
  • One Shallot
  • Juniper Berries
  • Caraway seed
  • 4 strips of Bacon or Pancetta
  • Dry White Wine
  • Olive Oil
  • Two Bay Leaves
  • Various Sausages and Pork Meat (all organic)
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Optional: a mash made with Parsnip and Parsley Root

What You Do

Taste the sauerkraut. If too much acidity, then squeeze and remove some of the liquid. Peel and slice the shallot. Crush the juniper berries and the caraway seed lightly. Slice the strips of bacon or pancetta in 6 or 8. Combine the sauerkraut with the shallot, the caraway seed, the berries and the bacon. Add some white wine, a splash of olive oil and two bay leaves. Transfer the mix to a heavy (iron) oven dish. Put some aluminium foil on top of it, making sure you press it on the sauerkraut (as if it’s a cartouche). Leave for 4 – 6 hours in the oven on 80° Celsius or 175° Fahrenheit. Check the choucroute every hour to make sure it’s sufficiently moist. Also move the slightly browned choucroute at the edge to the centre of the dish. One or two hours before serving add the meat to the dish. Serve with some Dijon mustard.

Coq au Vin

One of our favourites for a grey, wintery evening. Warm, rich and full of flavours.
Let’s first talk about the chicken: we prefer using chicken thighs, organic, obviously. Great texture, layered and a bit of fat. You could also use chicken legs, but then we suggest removing the main bone; you don’t want to struggle while eating.

The second main ingredient is the red wine. A classic Coq au Vin is made with Bourgogne, a relatively expensive red wine from France made from Pinot Noir grapes. According to some people the wine you use for the stew must be the same that accompanies the dish. Which would mean that part of your beautiful Bourgogne ends up in the stew. Hm. We think that the background of this ‘rule’ is about the quality of the wine you use for the stew: it must be a nice, dry, red wine; one you would be perfectly happy to drink. So not some left over red wine, or a wine you didn’t like. A perfect stew requires quality ingredients, that’s all.

The third main ingredient is the pearl onion, that lovely small, silver onion. Great to pickle, but for a Coq au Vin you need fresh ones.

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our Coq au Vin with a glass of Révélation Pays d’Oc Syrah-Viognier produced by Badet Clément. It’s a full-bodied wine with flavours of blackberry and spices. Touch of oak as well. The 15% Viognier gives the wine a nice, light touch. Great wine for a very reasonable price.

What You Need

  • 2 Chicken Thighs
  • 4 strips of Pancetta or Bacon
  • 14 Pearl Onions
  • 100 grams Mushrooms
  • 2 Garlic Gloves
  • Chicken Stock
  • Red Wine
  • Water
  • Bouquet Garni (Bay Leaf, Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary)
  • Black Pepper
  • Chopped Parsley
  • Olive Oil
  • Snow Peas (Mangetout)
  • Nutmeg

What You Do

Clean and quarter the mushroom, slice the strips of pancetta or bacon in four, peel the onions, slice the thighs in two or three, peel the garlic and chop. Add olive oil to a warm heavy pan. Begin by frying the pancetta or bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan and let drain on kitchen paper. Add (whole) pearl onions to the pan and fry until golden. Remove from the pan and let drain on kitchen paper. Add mushrooms to the pan and fry until golden. Remove from the pan and let drain on kitchen paper. Add chicken thighs to the pan and fry until golden. When golden add the garlic and fry for 3 minutes on medium heat. Add pancetta, mushrooms and onions to the pan. Add chicken stock, red wine and perhaps some water. The chicken should be nearly covered. Add bouquet garni and leave to simmer on low heat for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. 

Remove chicken, mushroom, pancetta, garlic and bouquet garni from the pan. Discard the bouquet. Return one or two mushroom to the liquid. Transfer the remaining ingredients to an oven at 60 °C or 140 °F. Blender the liquid for one minute. Reduce the liquid until it has reached the right consistency. The fun is that a liquid thickened with blended mushrooms doesn’t split. Return the ingredients to the sauce and boil the snow peas. Combine the coq au vin with the parsley, add some black pepper. Steam or quickly cook the peas, coat with excellent olive oil and add some freshly grated nutmeg.

Coq Au Vin ©cadwu
Coq Au Vin ©cadwu

The Chef of Kings

Just a few years before the height of the French revolution, Antonin Carême was born in the poorest area of Paris. He was abandoned by his parents and at the age of 10 he started his career by sweeping floors of a chophouse. It turned out to be the career of a celebrity. He was not only King of Chefs, he was also Chef of Kings: amongst them Napoleon, the Prince Regent (later George IV) and Tsar Alexander I.

365 Menu’s

At the age of 21 the influential politician Talleyrand asked him to become chef at the Château de Valençay. On instruction from Napoleon, Talleyrand would entertain 4 times per week for at least 36 (foreign) guests. Carême was asked to create a menu for every day of the year, without repetition. And since meals were served a la Française (a variety of dishes served simultaneously) this meant Carême had to create many dishes. Fortunately, he kept note of what he served and how he prepared it.

In his inspiring book Cooking For Kings, the live of Antonin Carême, The First Celebrity Chef, author Ian Kelly introduces us to the world of Antonin Carême. In a very easy to read, inviting way he describes the menus and food as created by Carême.  For instance, on page 76 he includes the menu as served on June 8th, 1806 at the Château: two soups, followed by twelve dishes and four desserts, including intriguing dishes such as Young Turkey in Watercress and Flan Milan. All menus and recipes from his days at the Château are included in his book Le Maitre d’Hotel Français (Paris, 1822).

Potage

Soups were important to Carême and since he served at least two soups per menu, the number of soups he created is more than impressive. Some seem a bit outdated (Potages d’anguille de Seine au pêcheur (with eel from the Seine)), others would be perfect in today’s kitchen (Potage de purée de d’oseille et du cerfeuil (with sorrel and chervil)).

At the end of his career Carême was asked by James Mayer and Betty de Rothschild to become their chef. Carême, who basically had already retired because of his very poor health, was tempted by a more than generous budget and accepted. The couple also supported his writing. De Rothschilds, very much nouveau riche, intended to achieve a position in the Parisian high society by hosting gala’s, lunches, dinners and receptions.  Of course, with Carême leading, they were very successful. Amongst their regular guests were Heinrich Heine, Frédéric Chopin, Victor Hugo and Gioacchino Rossini. They also regularly invited the press enhancing the celebrity status of Carême even more. And in his slipstream, they became more important.

Last Years

During his last years (he died aged 48 probably due to inhaling toxic fumes of the coal burning stoves) Carême wrote L’Art de la cuisine française au dix-neuvième siècle. Traité élémentaire et pratique. Five volumes, nearly 1700 pages with menus, recipes and drawings. A clear legacy of a Chef who is still remembered for his Charlotte Russe, the Tournedos Rossini, his systemisation of the kitchen and the four mother sauces.

Cooking For Kings, the live of Antonin Carême is a tribute to a devoted, extremely talented chef. The book includes several very interesting recipes, for instance Gelee de Verjus and Petits Croustades de Cailles. Perhaps old school, but nevertheless worth trying!