Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fleur de Sel

Fleur de Sel

Fleur de Sel

Last year when my mother-in-law returned from Paris, she brought back gifts for all. One of the many things she brought us was a pound of sea salt. Nice! I love sea salt. But what I didn't know at the time is that this is no ordinary sea salt. This is Fleur de sel de Guérande. And according to David Lebovitz, "there's no finer salt available anywhere." Fleur de sel de Guérande is the most highly-prized of all salts. Salt harvesting in salt marshes of the Guérande began in the year 868, and at that time only women were allowed to rake the fleur de sel. Men were thought to be too rough to do such delicate work.

Fleur de Sel

Fleur de Sel

After tasting Fleur de Sel de Guérande, you'll never be able to use ordinary table salt again. Table salt seems almost bitter in comparison. Fleur de sel is a 'finishing' salt. You don't cook with it, but sprinkle it over just before serving. I love it on green salads, roasted potatoes, caprese salad, atop rosemary and butter-topped rolls. And the most fabulous use I've found so far is on these dark chocolate little gems...

Chocolate Truffles with French Sea Salt

Chocolate Truffle with French Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel
this is a slightly modified version of Pioneer Woman's recipe (because there can never be too much dark chocolate in my life)
8 oz semisweet chocolate
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla
8 oz meltable dark chocolate (I used Merckens)
Heat semisweet and bittersweet chocolates and condensed milk in a double boiler over medium low heat until chocolate is melted. Stir frequently. Mixture will have a slight marshmallow texture when chocolate is melted. Stir in 1 Tablespoon of vanilla. Remove from heat and refrigerate for two hours. Roll into balls, then roll in melted meltable dark chocolate, coating completely. Sprinkle with fleur de sel immediately. Pop one directly into your mouth. Mmmmmmm.

I did find a few different sources for Fleur de sel de Guérande when I did a Google search. Amazon has several choices, and so does

There is something very fine about dark chocolate and sea salt together.


Monday, January 18, 2010

twilight tour

It was a dark and stormy day. Yesterday was one of those days when the sun is never seen, and the large drops of rain fall sideways. My daughter and I were very tired of being inside, so we decided to take a mini Twilight tour. It's not often that a movie is filmed in so many locations around us. Most of the movie was shot on days that looked a lot like this day... wet and foggy. So we grabbed our iPhones with good GPS capabilities, some cash, warm coats and hats, and headed off to see a few of the sites.

Our first stop was lunch at The Carver Cafe, located in Damascus, Oregon, just off Highway 224. The food was okay, the waitstaff very unfriendly. But we were there for the atmosphere, right? In the movie this cafe was in Forks, Washington. Bella's Dad, Charlie, eats dinner here on a nightly basis. If that were really the case, he'd be much larger than he is. Lots of gravy and giant hamburgers served in this tiny diner.

Carver Cafe

Our next stop was The View Point Inn. Located in the Columbia River Gorge, this site is where the prom scene takes place. The staff was very friendly. The Inn was closed, but they welcomed us in, asked if we were Twilight fans, and encouraged us to look around. Even had tea and cookies set out for us! So we wandered around upstairs. It was from this window that Victoria spied on Edward and Bella.

The View Point Inn

The View Point Inn

They even had soap with Twilight labels in the gift shop.

Twilight soap

Edward was lurking everywhere...

Edward at View Point Inn

We grabbed a few photos outside. It's not the same without twinkly lights, music and giggly high schoolers, but Isabel enjoyed checking out the names on the Twilight Walk of Fame.

View Point Inn Twilight bricks


I hope they can afford to get their roof repaired soon.

The View Point Inn

Our last stop of the day was at Oxbow Park. We were losing daylight by the time we reached this destination. The nice guy at the gate who took our $5 entrance fee, provided us with a map that helped us locate one of the trees that Edward had climbed for the movie (well, his stunt double anyway).

Tree hugging at Oxbow Park

We ended the evening re-watching Twilight so we could see what we'd missed and plan our next tour.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boeuf Bourguignon à la Julia

Boeuf Bourguignon
The first time I saw Julie and Julia, I had a serious need for that succulent fish sizzling in butter sauce that greeted Julia and Paul upon their arrival in Paris. Meryl Streep enjoyed it with such tremendous gusto, I enjoyed it right along with her. I read My Life in France and asked for Julia's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for my birthday. The second time I watched Julie and Julia, which happened to be last weekend, I knew I had to make Boeuf Bourguignon and very soon. Today, even though it's Tuesday, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I had no idea what kind of time commitment I was in for. After creating a shopping list online last night, I did have the sense to allow one of New Season's friendly employees to shop for me. Between 1 and 5 this afternoon, every pan and cooking utensil in my kitchen had been used at least once, rewashed and used again. Every cube of butter melted away. Julia Child does not mess around!

"As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man, and can well be the main course for a buffet dinner. Fortunately you can prepare it completely ahead, even a day in advance, and it only gains in flavor when reheated." Julia Child

I served mine with homemade mashed potatoes, and butter-topped rosemary rolls, but Julia suggests boiled potatoes, buttered noodles or steamed rice. I also served a green salad. Julia suggested buttered peas. Oh, and a good bottle of red wine is essential.

Boeuf Bourguignon
a good dutch oven such as a le Creuset
6-oz chunk of bacon
1 Tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
3 cups of a full-bodied young red wine such as Chianti
2-3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
The blanced bacon rind
18-24 small white onions, brown braised in stock (recipe below)
1 lb quartered fresh mushrooms sauteéd in butter (recipe below)

1. Remove bacon rind and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts of water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.

3. Dry the beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon. In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the sautéing fat.

4. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

5. Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

6. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. (See recipes below). Set them aside until needed.

7. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon mixture to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

8. Skim fat off the sauce. Simmer sauce for a minute or two, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons of stock or canned bouillon. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. (The recipe may be completed in advance to this point).

For immediate serving: Cover the casserole and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in its casserole, or arrange the stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles, or rice, and decorated with parsley.

For later serving: When cold, cover and refrigerate. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer very slowly for 10 minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

Oignons Glacés a Brun (brown-braised onions)
18-24 peeled white onions about 1 inch in diameter
1 1/2 Tablespoons butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 cup of brown stock, canned beef bouillon, dry white wine, red wine, or water
Salt and pepper to taste
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon thyme tied in cheesecloth

1. In a 9-10-inch skillet, melt butter and add oil. When butter and oil are bubbling, add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect to brown them uniformly.

2. Braise them as follows: Pour in the liquid, season to taste, and add the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40-50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet.

Champignons Sautés Au Beurre (sauteed mushrooms)
4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoon oil
1 lb fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small, sliced or quartered if large

Place a 10-inch enameled skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as you see that the butter foam has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4 to 5 minutes. During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2 to 3 minutes the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.

Boeuf Bourguignon sauce

Boeuf Bourguignon

A few things to remember when cooking a la Julia Child: Don't crowd the mushrooms, or they won't brown. If you don't dry meat, it won't brown properly. You can never have too much butter!

Bon appétit!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

how to shed those holiday pounds: how I spent my post holiday vacation


Here's where I've been for the past few days. Recovering from a nasty stomach virus. I don't recommend this method of weight loss. But beyond eliminating the extra pounds I put on over the holidays, I've managed to catch up on some reading and movie watching.

A few of my favorite movies...

Amelie. A charming, romantic French film with a very unique visual style. It's highly saturated colors create a dreamlike atmosphere like no other. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and photographer, Bruno Delbonnel, used a lot of green and red throughout the movie, sometimes adding a little blue spot, such as a blue lamp, in the picture to set the contrast. Amelie stars Audrey Tautou, a shy, introverted girl born of dysfunctional parents. She is the victim of a childhood void of any social interaction. In her adult life, Amelie lives alone in a tiny apartment in Paris silently altering the lives of people around her. This little gem is a sweet, honest, emotional roller coaster ride of a film you won't soon forget.

Cold Comfort Farm. Another romantic comedy with atmosphere plus. In this 1995 film, based on Stella Gibbons's 1932 satirical novel, Kate Beckinsale plays Flora Poste, a perfectly poised, somewhat snippy girl, who searches for relatives she can live with after both her parents die in an accident. (This is not made into an emotionally big deal. Instead it's passed over as a minor bump in Flora's life. She claims she was never close to her parents anyway). Flora complains that she must throw herself on the mercy of various relatives, none of whom sound promising in the least. Flora winds up traveling to Sussex to live at Cold Comfort Farm, the well-named family seat of her cousins the Starkadders. Flora arrives to find the place colorfully appalling, and she makes it her mission to straighten out the lives of one and all. "Nature's all very well in her place," Flora declares, "but she mustn't be allowed to make things untidy." The contrast between the characters who inhabit the farm and those of British high society is stunning.

Sabrina. The 1954 version. Yes, it's another romantic comedy. Perfectly lighthearted and charming. One of my all-time favorite Audrey Hepburn movies. She's a girl in love. She's a woman in love. She sings. She dances. She's bubbly and sweet. Radiant. Sophisticated. It's a predictable film with a happy ending. Exactly what the doctor ordered!

Friday, January 1, 2010

a look back

2009 in pictures collage

While making this collage of images from 2009, I thought about the passage of time. Specifically, how quickly a year passes. The rate at which it passes seems to be relative to age. To a child, a year is seemingly an eternity, but as we get older, time passes much more quickly. Is that due to all the responsibilities we acquire? To my aging parents days seem long, but years still pass quickly.

The passing of time is a perception, not something we see, hear or touch, but something we perceive in relation to other things. Therefore, how quickly time passes for each individual is very different.

I am not big on making New Year's resolutions, since it seems like I don't stick to them anyway. But if I did make one resolution, it would be to enjoy my time and not think too much about how quickly it seems to pass.

Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go, I'm running late.