Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Art of Tidying Up

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal this week about a best selling book by Japanese author Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.   It’s a very interesting article, and I must say, a topic that always resonates with me.  I positively love to have everything organized and clean.  Our home is not small, but it’s not tidy either.   We have lots of stuff, and I’m constantly arranging and rearranging all the stuff for the three of us.  Unlike my brother (whom I love dearly) and a handful of others in my life who are Clean Surfaces kind of people, my parents and I can’t bear to part with let alone say no to any {new} stuff.  I have mentioned that our basement contains anything you might ever want; it’s a little Alibaba’s Cave full of sawed-off broom handles (the used broom end having been tossed) and cleaned and stored jars, and all kinds of interesting things.  Not exactly hoarder-quantity, but enough.   I thought I was doing well this week to get rid of a car-full of R’s books, which had been sitting in the garage, but there were certain ones I simply could not part with.  I mean, how can you say No to Shakespeare, Proust, Tolstoy and Twain? 


And after last week’s Paris Bistro lunch affair, I decided I had to have the 1900’s Dutch lustreware bowl my friend brought; it is the perfect size and color for Céleri Rémoulade, which I make often.   And being me, I liked it so much, I found a second one on ebay that I will bring to Beaune.  Like my china cupboard needs any more dishes…but it’s ok, it’s been Tidied recently and I made room.  


This past week, Jill and I did quite a bit of filming for French Food Camp and it was really lovely to pretend that the rest of my kitchen was as tidy as the screen shots.


Looks pretty good, right?


Clean and tidy, oui.


Until you open the top drawer below the stove.  Yikes~  Now, I swear I clean out this drawer every few 2-3 months.  The problem is that the kitchen is heavily used, and my Mom has the habit of throwing any small clean utensil in this drawer since she has no idea where else it might go.  As such, the drawer ends up being an I-Spy when I ask someone to open the drawer and find me an apple corer or herb scissors. Can you find those~?


Inspired by Marie, I took everything out of the drawer and began to organize.  Thankfully I have a second kitchen, and certain utensils can go there, and I did the major overhaul-clean-out-every-drawer-and-cabinet thing a while ago.  For the kitchen as well as the rest of the house, I pretty much know, if it comes into the house,  know I will be using it.  My friend Peggy in Connecticut has a rule that no new thing can come into the house unless something else goes out; I have used that as a guideline for a long time, hearing her voice say those words; it works sometimes for me but not always.


I know what I need and use, but for some reason I now have ten vegetable peelers in the drawer.  Some of these are from France, and some are from Williams Sonoma.  I got a two free peelers last week but they are made in {another country} and they can’t peel a potato worth anything.  Time to pare down the peeler collection….

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There are a few other things that are non-negotiable.  My niece Lauren made this little pipecleaner frog for me, and it’s always in this drawer.  It does not peel or core or chop anything, but it’s there because I think of her every time I open the drawer and it makes me smile. Non-negotiable no to declutter.  Marie’s mantra is “does it give you joy?”  Yes, I feel joy every time I see this frog and every other thing in my house.


I keep a stash of rubber bands and ties (which I use all the time to reseal foods), pastry cutters, various tools, Eiffel Tower scissors and vintage porcelain dish-towel markers in the drawer; one is for towels to dry your hands, and the other indicates a towel for glasses.  I have never used these tags, but they are always in the drawer.  Can someone use them??  $20 the pair.  I tied up the pile of rubber bands with a twistie, in the effort to be tidy.

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Various serving pieces were removed and relocated to their proper locations.

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The end result was a drawer that looks positively organized and contains all that I need that is not within arm’s reach on the countertop.  Everything here is important to me personally, or necessary to cook with.  I thought it looked quite good! For the time that it lasts, upon which time I will reorganize it yet again.


Not stopping there, Jill and I tidied up the silverware.  Or part of it.  The knives look great all in a row, but this will last for all of about a week.  Still, tidy is nice.  Cheese and butter spreaders are next, handy and organized.

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I feel like I’m on a roll and will keep going with all the tidying.  I will not be buying Marie’s book, though I’m sure it’s great, but will take it as great inspiration as a wanna-be-tidy person. 

Today we were busy with market shopping, lunch, a few phone calls to old friends and spending time together.  No time for tidy, it was time for food and flour and rolling pasta.  That is, it was time to make a mess.  And what pasta we had: hand-cut homemade papardelle with a pesto of basil and spinach from the market with garlic and lemon and the last of the winter walnuts.  All local; goodness it was good; I’m making this for friend again soon.  Making this pasta, I was happy to not be tidy.


Have a lovely weekend and hope you are eating and living well, whether you are making a mess or cleaning one up~

Friday, February 27, 2015

French Food Camp goes Paris Bistro

After several weeks of menu planning, and a few days of prep cooking, I was finally ready for the run-up to the French Food Camp Paris Bistro event at home in Laguna.  The night before, I stayed up very late to make some crème brûlée infused with my favorite-of-the-moment Ladurée tea, amongst other to do’s.   My Biscuit Dog is no help, but she is a lot of support, watching me from her bed underneath my favorite kitchen chair at midnight.  This look says Mommy, enough! Time for bed~


The next morning, I rose early to crank out three shortbread crusts, then go off to the market do to the final shopping.  Some of the produce stays outside the kitchen door since there isn’t enough room inside.  Guests who come up the kitchen stairs can see what is going into today’s meal just by glancing at the various baskets as I greet them at the Dutch door.  Today, leeks, various potatoes, citrus, various herbs and lots and lots of salads~


In the kitchen, before the guests arrived, I plumped up some sun-dried figs with some citrus and port.  This glorious combination will go into a chocolate tarte.

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And a trio of beet varieties from the Irvine Farmers Market got dressed with fresh thyme and a quick drizzle of olive oil, then into the oven wrapped in foil.  Roast at 350 until they pierce with a fork (they should be tender).  Cool and then slip the skins off.  A must for a Parisian Salad!!


Meanwhile, outside, Jill set the table, with Limoges and lots of roses, corks and candles.  We added glassware later.  But a communal table was fun and reminiscent of some of my favorite bistros in Paris, past and present.


When I think of Paris bistros, I think of roses.  There may be one big bunch in a Champagne bucket, or a single rose on each table.  But we went for a row of Champagne buckets, stuffed with roses, down the center of the table. You can buy them by the bunch for $3.99 at Trader Joes.  Accordion music was playing, and it was a fun atmosphere for a lunch. 


The hour before the Camp began was like the hour before the opening of a bistro….is it all in place?  Napkins? Menus? Mustard and butter and water on the tables?? Oui~ Check.  The scene was set!!


My prep was interrupted for a bit when a car I didn’t recognize pulled up the drive.  None other than the fabulous Jonnie of Bread Artisan Bakery.  She and her colleague brought a mass of baguettes, French-style in the flour sacks, along with a handful of seeded epi and three loaves of au levain miche


I can not be more excited about any bakery in Southern California….this is my comfort food, my staple, the one bite and it-takes-me-home kind of food.  I’m going to have an event at home for Bread Artisan Bakery as soon as we can coordinate it, but if you live in Southern California and love truly authentic French bread, you must try this bread.  I sent the last of the baguettes and epi home with my friends, and the miche was sliced by Jill and put in the freezer, with the bits being used to make herbes de Provence croutons.   Every morning I have a slice of this bread and an egg for breakfast; it’s insanely good!!!  You can buy this bread at the Downtown Santa Ana Farmers Market on Thursdays 4-8pm, otherwise it’s wholesale, or you have to beg Jonnie to sell you some, I guess!!


As guests arrived, I gave them a tour of the bread and appie table…we had my favorite celeri remoulade (bistro comfort food if there is one) and a terrine I made of porc and veal.  Chicken liver galore and potted herbed goat cheese…

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Jill wrote out the abbreviated menu on an enormous LP mirror supplied by my antiquaire friend Leah~


the pop-up brocante was a lot of fun, to browse and to shop and to admire the enormous glass cloches

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Meanwhile, in the kitchen, we got busy assembling a variety of dishes.  When I lived in Paris and frequented many bistros, I loved potato cakes with bacon.  In Paris you got a slice, but I decided to make minis.


Personal potato and bacon cakes; these were soooo good and worthy of any Paris bistro.

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On the other side of the kitchen, we rolled out shortbread crust and talked about pastry and Paris at length.


I demonstrated how to roll out a full crust, with all tips you need to do this right~


We ended up with a table full of desserts, including chocolate mousse two ways, lemon tarte, and passion fruit tarte~


The passion fruit tarte is adapted from the Picasso of Pastry, my very favorite patissier, Pierre Hermé.  It’s Jill’s favorite patisserie moment from Paris, can you tell~


This sweet confection is now going to be her signature tarte.  It was delicious, surprizing, delicate, amazing, gorgeous, nothing less than expected for a Parisian patisserie~


I layered one of the chocolate tartes with figs and port wine with citrus. Wow, in a bite~  To be a Parisian patisserie it must be better than the rest, in taste, ingredients or texture.


A Katie-Approved dessert plate~~!!!


Oh, but while some of us got started on the desserts, there were still main dishes to enjoy.  Like any bistro, we cranked out the plates from the modest kitchen.  Steak-frites, with fries three ways: salted, herbed and truffled.  Universally loved by all the diners.  This was reason enough to come for lunch for the afternoon~


There was a gorgeous bistro salad plated for everyone.  Very simple but delicious with a Dijon vinaigrette and fresh herbs~


Or did we love the desserts more?  this is the problem of dining in France and in Paris…it’s all good, and if you came to the class, you’d know how to make these dishes yourself~


The next French Food Camp is next month in Laguna, for spring foods.  If you would like to host your own French Food Camp or have me come show you how, please contact me;

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Prepping for Paris Bistro

This Saturday I will host the next French Food Camp at my home in Laguna Beach.  You can think of it as a boot camp for French food, or possibly book club for food, minus the books….the first few months everyone was taking copious notes and such, but over time the group wants to eat, chat, chat, drink, and chat, and eat.  And learn a whole bunch of new things about how to cook and shop and how to eat, French Style.  Get the picture??   Each month there is a theme, generally based on the seasons and what is good to eat at that time of year, but this Camp will mark the first destination-oriented event…dedicated to Bistro Food.   And while the Bistro is certainly not limited to Paris, we are focusing on Paris, full stop.  It will be a thoroughly French affair, with my favorite comfort foods as only the French can prepare, and an antique dealer hosting a small brocante.  Today I spent the day in the kitchen testing and noting a few more recipes.  Simple potatoes need not be boring….


when paired with bacon, that is~


I started my afternoon with tea and leeks.  This will become a gorgeously simple soup on Saturday.


I gave Jill a small cup of leek soup to taste…with a little crème fraîche and watercress~


There will be various courses Saturday, and several choices within each course.  And wine, though it will be served in bistro style~


Today Jill and I made the first of several terrines of pâté de campagne, a rustic style terrine made with ground meats, pistachios and cèpe mushrooms from Beaune; it will be great with the amazing bread from Bread Artisan Bakery that we will enjoy on Saturday.  Killer bread, authentic French Bread.  I am so excited!!!!  The first time I made this pâté I had my doubts, but one taste and I was sold.  Can’t wait for the group to taste this on Saturday.


The little vintage loaf pans are numbered, a gift from Brian at Republic Goods for Christmas…love love love…


If you are interested in joining French Food Camp, you can find the list of upcoming camps HERE; we also do private parties and you can contact me HERE for more details….we will post pics of the event on Saturday here so check back shortly~

Are you on Instagram yet??  You can follow me on Instagram HERE to keep up with my daily happenings~

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

French Food Camp San Diego

I love the way good food brings people together...It provides a certain joy, a thrill of discovery, a satisfaction of knowing.  A great way for people to spend a few hours together and have fun while exercising their creativity and their senses.  And so it was on Monday, our first French Food Camp in San Diego.  It was like book club without the books: the ladies all got together and sampled and tasted, and chatted and inquired….how to do this, what is that, where is this from and so on.  We started with blood orange cocktails, and a discussion of Champagne drinks.  Here the blood orange juice and a few additions are waiting for an overpour of Champagne.


Our hostess, Margarita, is a multilingual wonder and I can’t wait to spend more time with her talking about her life and her interests.  I took over her kitchen, with chickens and citrus and jars of quince sauce.  After the guests left, I stayed up talking with her until the wee hours;  gracias~merci~grazie~


After the chickens went into the oven, we assembled our desserts together: two cakes, to start:


After I did a frosting demo, the ladies did the cake decor, using fruits and flowers and the candied rose petals I had brought.  I loved this group~  They needed no instruction, and got right to decorating the cakes…and they did a pro job of it~




This is the second cake; C doing a great job with striped cake and striped shirt to match~


Brava! They had the idea to grate chocolate on top!


The second cake was more free-form as I was out of whipped creme.  It became another option; sometimes a lesser-dressed cake is ok; this one happened to be gorgeous with red rose petals on top arranged in the shape of a flower, with a chocolate heart for a center~


The side by side~


And then it was on to my easy chocolate pot de creme.  I don’t think they believed me.  This is EASY~

filing the pots~


a little bite will do, topped with whatever they liked from the assortment of fruits and nuts and more flowers~


and then it was to table~

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The table having been most graciously set by Jill~
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vintage French linens for napkins, finished in style~


a perfect little salad and Italian goat cheese starter~


Followed by lemon risotto made from an enormous stock pot of vegetable broth.  There was much preparation, time and care put into this food, and two days for this stock. 


I taught L from Spokane how to make risotto.  It can be so different to read a recipe versus have someone show you how in person.  I can still see the look on her face as she tasted her finished dish.  Oh wait, she had that look before the cheese and butter were added.  It wad awesome, even before it got plated and dressed up with more cheese and more lemon zest.


And then there was the discussion and demonstration of is just one of our finished birds….


We moved on to a surprise palate cleanser of a trio of sorbets: quince-blood orange, heirloom strawberry, and rose.  Shades of red and rose, flavors of ….amazing…natural…seasonal….

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to this, in small glasses, we added Champagne, vodka or cognac. OUI~~

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By 11pm or so, everyone was done, or out, or in Melody’s case, in bed. 


Thank you to all who joined for the evening…merci mille fois to the beautiful Margarita; I’m sure I’ll see you soon and hope we can get the group together for another French Food Camp~~