Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Avocado

I’ve been missing in action recently, a situation which has presented itself before since this blog’s inception in August of 2009.  This time my absence is due to my new-ish job at Haven’s Kitchen, where I work as a teaching assistant and sometimes as a prep cook for catered events there.

It’s been hectic mainly because I’ve been busy learning how to act as a professional cook and not as a home cook.  The differences between these two types of cooking are numerous, and I’d like to share with you the top 5 most important things I’ve learned about working in an industrial kitchen, and how it differs from cooking at home.

1. Salt your food.  I mean, really salt your food.

  • More salt goes into one dish in a night than I’m used to using in the span of a week- to give you an idea of what I mean,  take the amount of salt you think is appropriate for a dish, triple it, add a few more pinches, and then you’re just shy of the right amount. I suggest you not eat out anymore if this fact scares you.

2. Time is of utmost importance.

  • In my mind, this is the essential difference between a home cook and a professional: at home, you don’t want to spend hours making dinner, but you could if you wanted to.  At work, taking a long time to complete a task is a sign of inefficiency and inability to work properly.  I’m still getting used to this one.

3. Season as you go. Taste everything, every step of the way.

  • I hear almost every teacher say it during classes, and I see chefs doing it during service time for events – every dish should be tasted and seasoned from the very beginning to right before being plated.  This might seem strange to those who cook at home, but it ultimately makes sense:  in order to control the final result, you need to monitor the dish’s taste along the way.  Salt, salt, salt!

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Apricot and Cherry Millefeuille with Avocado and Melon

Pretty much everything I love about summer is summed up on this plate – delicious ingredients (mostly fruits and vegetables) full of flavor, that require very little preparation to make a meal.

Perhaps I should begin by saying that I have been a fruit fiend for all of my life, ready to pass up a plate of fries for a giant bowl of fruit any day.  What I’ve learned in France, however, is that fruit is only meant to be enjoyed during the right season.  While I grew up in Boston enjoying blueberries in December and green seedless grapes all year round, I quickly learned here, mainly by the stares I received by old French women and market vendors when trying to purchase a bag of grapes in winter, that there is absolutely no point in eating something out of season, because the seasonal stuff tastes so much better.  And I have to hand it to the French, because they’re absolutely right.  I now find myself dreaming about the enormous and tender black figs that are in season here through late summer and early fall – I distinctly remember eating my first one upon arriving in France in 2009, and just staring at it after my first bite.  I was shocked to know that a fruit could contain so much life and taste.  The other day when I saw a few of the same figs at a fruit stand in the Marais, I got so excited and quickly rushed to the vendor in order to have my first bite.  Imagine my disappointment when the fruit vendor confiscated my figs from me: “ne prenez pas ces figues - elles n’ont aucun goût.  Elles seront bonnes en août – don’t buy these figs, they have no taste.  You have to wait until August.” I like to think he was looking out for me.  One can never be too sure though…

Although I still sometimes yearn for a giant bag of seedless green grapes to munch on while surfing the internet at home in the wintertime, I admit that every minute of the wait is worth it, because the fruit season is in full force and everything I eat is bursting with flavor.   Of course, there are always exceptions (France is, after all, the land of paradoxes), which is why no one has qualms eating avocados from Chili throughout the year, in addition to green beans from Africa.  But I’m not judging, I’d rather join.

So I made you a fruit salad that I just love, with a dressing similar to what I made for the Avocado and Mint recipe (mint, olive oil, and honey, with the addition of lime juice).  I wanted to present it in the form of a millefeuille because I was excited about the prospect of taking a photo this way, but in terms of flavor combinations I would recommend just tossing everything together, because the creamy avocado will envelope the other ingredients and give them a wonderful, slightly savory touch.

If you are thinking of making this for a light lunch, I would recommend pairing it with a sweet white wine such as riesling or gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France.  Unfortunately I don’t know other wine regions from other countries well but hopefully you catch my drift.

Lastly, if you make this recipe you will find yourself left with half of a melon and half of an avocado.  For the melon, I recommend wrapping it in plastic wrap and saving it in your fridge for the next few days.  To prevent the avocado from browning, sprinkle it with lemon or lime juice and place in a sealed plastic container, so it will keep for a day or two in your fridge.  If you’d like, you could dice them both up and combine them both with some crabmeat, lime juice, and olive oil the next day to make another delicious and refreshing salad.  Just an idea – if you have any other suggestions for what to do with leftover avocado and melon, please write them!

Bon appétit!

Apricot and Cherry Millefeuille with Avocado and Melon - serves 1
.
1 melon, halved, seeds discarded
1 avocado, halved, pit removed
1/2-cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 tablepoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 apricots, halved, pits removed, thinly sliced
about a dozen dark cherries, pits removed, thinly sliced
1 handful toasted slivered almonds
.
1. Using a knife, cut around the edge of the melon half, then working from the center outward in a circular motion, cut into thin slices. Scoop out with a spoon, and place melon slices flat around the edge of a large plate.
2. Use one half of the avocado and reserve the other half for another use. Thinly slice the avocado, scoop out gently with a spoon, and place in between the melon slices.
3. In a bowl, combine a few sliced mint leaves with the honey, olive oil, and the juice of 1/2 of the lime. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Place three of the apricot slices in the center of the plate. Top with several cherry slices, then with some sliced mint. Top the mint with three more apricot slices, and repeat in this manner until you have no more apricot, cherry, or mint left.
5. Drizzle everything with the honey and lime mixture, then with the toasted almonds.

Avocado, Smoked Salmon, and Grapefruit Salad

I don’t think I’m the only one in Paris who feels it, and I’ve noticed the change taking place very gradually.  After months of grey sky, moody waiters, and an overall grim outlook on life, the sun has finally graced us with her presence and Parisians from all corners have decided to come out of hibernation for endless cafés and the chance to  flâner (a particular word, hard to translate, generally meaning to stroll with no purpose).  It has been a particularly cold winter here, and after a consistent week of sun, I get the feeling that Paris will soon again be the  friendly and jovial place we know and love, rife with lovers embracing in parks and groups of friends sitting along the Seine around a bottle of wine, a baguette, and some fabulously stinky cheese.

This dish came to be born on a whim, when I myself was flâner-ing down rue de Bretagne in the 3rd arrondissement, trying to figure out what I would make my friend and I for dinner.  Since smoked salmon is extremely popular here (and considered quite the luxury), I decided that it would have to go in the mix.  A craving for an avocado here, and an urge to eat some grapefruit there, and voila! So is born a new recipe. 

This salad is at once light and refreshing, simultaneously satisfying that creamy craving, thanks to the avocado, and the desire to eat something healthy during the generally heavier winter months.  Plus, it’s a great way to make use of winter vegetables and fruits.

Just a note: I know that while endives are a dime a dozen here in Paris, and are used as commonly as celery is in America, it is not as easy to get in other parts of the world.  If you can’t find endives, you can easily substitute iceberg lettuce for the endive (that is actually what I had originally intended to use).  Just chop up the lettuce finely, and ignore the bit about placing it on an endive boat.

I am confident in this dish mainly because I’ve made it three times now, once for myself and two more times for my friends Diana and Annette, and we all agreed that this recipe is a keeper.  Although the list of ingredients is on the longer side (but sill reasonable), this salad is a cinch to pull together and will likely leave you feeling content yet not overly full.

Although I have said it before I believe there is no harm in saying it again: when making salads, please don’t skimp on the quality of the olive oil.  I personally bought a fruity olive oil coming from the Provence region of France, at a store here in Paris called Premiere Pression Provence.  Although it is impossible to say for sure, I am certain that this olive oil helped the salad go from tasty to something truly memorable.  So please, spend the extra few dollars/euros/currency to treat yourself to something grand!

Avocado, Grapefruit, and Smoked Salmon Salad – serves 1
1 endive
2 slices smoked salmon
1 handful toasted walnuts or slivered almonds, or both
1 small grapefruit
1 avocado
1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons olive oil

1.  Peel out the outer two layers of the endive (optional); set aside. Cut off the root and tip of the endive, and roughly chop the rest.  Place in a medium bowl.
2.  Dice the smoked salmon into small pieces, roughly equivalent of the endive pieces, and add to the bowl.
3.  Roughly chop the walnuts (or almonds if using), and toast in the oven at 400°F/200°C for 5 minutes or on the stove in a skillet. Once slightly cooled, add to the bowl with the salmon and endive.
4.  Cut a grapefruit in half.  Peel one of the halves, and remove the segments from the skin.  Chop the grapefruit segments and add to the medium bowl. 
5. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, and remove the pit.  With a paring knife, divide the avocado halves (while still in the skin) into small cubes, and scoop it out with a spoon.  Place in the medium bowl.
6.  Make the sauce:  squeeze the juice of the remaining grapefruit half into a small bowl.  Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and freshly chopped dill.  Slowly whisk in olive oil until you have a consistency and taste that you like (probably 2 tablespoons).
7.  Toss the sauce and the remaining dill in with the ingredients in the medium bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. If using, place the salad on the endive leaves for a prettier presentation.
Bon appétit!

Oil- and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint

If you like avocados you will surely like this recipe; it is simple and straightforward, and the beauty of each ingredient (keep in mind there are only five!) really comes out.  Because of the simplicity of the dish, it is a good idea to round-up the best quality of everything you can find – ripe avocados, local honey, and good quality olive oil.  In my case, I used a fruity olive oil from Provence, that I gave to my sister Yasmin as a gift.  I haven’t asked if she agrees with me, but I think the complexity of the oil, combined with the sea salt, honey, and mint, helps to turn this appetizer from something good to something noteworthy.  However, I invite you to try this recipe with whatever you have on hand, a ripe and creamy avocado will never taste bad, especially when filled with honey, oil, and fresh mint!

I think this dish proves what a lot of people, including myself, are constantly discovering: that the best food is always the most simple, optimally made with local and seasonal ingredients.  If you’re like me, and you live nowhere near mint bushes or avocado trees right now, hopefully you are somewhere near a town or country that does grow them!  This is great as an appetizer, served before pasta or fish. 

Boooon appétit!

Oil-and Honey-Filled Avocado with Mint – Serves 1
1 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon of your favorite honey
1 heaping tablespoon fresh chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Optional: 1 lemon (for to squeeze the juice out of)
1.  Cut the avocado in half lengthwise.  Remove the pit, and place each half, cut side up, on a plate.
2.  In a small bowl, combine the honey, mint, and salt.  Whisk in the olive oil one tablespoon at a time.  Adjust seasoning to taste, add more olive oil or honey if desired, and some lemon juice if using.
3.  Pour into each avocado cavity; serve immediately.