Shrimp Fried Quinoa

Senior year of college I lived with ten other girls in an 11-bedroom house.  Suffice it to say that we were a group of “strong-minded” Cornell women, infringing upon other roommates’ personal space and sanity with less than stellar cleaning habits and oftentimes downright rude clothing theft (which we considered silent “borrowing” at the time).

The other day over drinks a few of us were laughing about the fact that almost all of us now live alone, in very clean spaces.

Clearly that experience left a lasting mark on all of us, so this post is dedicated to my fellow Cornell alum/solo-dwelling/sanity-seeking former roommates, whom I will always admire for going through all that we did.

Now let’s get to the food: this is a seriously good meal which you may consider strange to make for one person.  I can’t decide whether I agree with you, but regardless you can easily double this recipe and enjoy it with a significant other, good friend, roommate, etc.

If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: you can most definitely substitute another cooked grain for quinoa, with certain ones immediately coming to mind such as faro, brown rice, wild rice, spelt, millet, or couscous.  Cook each and every one according to package instructions and you’ll be golden.  On Friday I discovered a fantastic and fool-proof way to cook quinoa, in which you cook it like pasta and drain it once fully cooked – no need to worry about adding the perfect amount of water.  Amazing, I know.

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Perfectly Easy Poached Eggs (plus a recipe)

I wonder if you feel the same way I do about eggs: since I was a kid, I’ve loved eating any kind of egg with a runny center, whether it’s poached, overeasy, or softboiled, purely for the pleasure of dipping my bread in the oozing yolk that’s been sprinkled generously with salt.

By the time I got around to making my own eggs and experimenting with poached eggs on meals, I encountered a problem almost immediately: poached eggs were a lot harder to make than I ever imagined.  I always assumed that eggs were the easiest thing to master, but I slowly realized they’re actually one of the hardest.  When I was taking classes at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, one of the chefs joked that the hardest dish for a chef to master is scrambled eggs.  Now I get it.

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Chicken Breast Stuffed with Mushrooms and Parsley (And topped with truffle oil, if you please)

I started this blog a year and a half ago and I have not yet directly addressed the question of cooking for one: is it worth it, or is it just a sad way to spend an evening?  To be honest, when I started this blog I had no particular purpose in mind, and I certainly didn’t know if anyone would read what I had to write!  If I could trace back to what I was thinking in August 2009, I believe I told myself something along the lines of, “ok, I’m moving to Paris and I’ll be cooking for myself a lot, so why not write about it?”  It was as simple as that.

This blog has been a lot of fun and now that people are starting to respond my efforts feel very rewarded; I hope every one writes a blog so they can know how good it feels when people you don’t know contact you and compliment your work.  However, I can’t deny that at times I feel discouraged or unsure of myself: there are not many other sites that deal with cooking for one, for the obvious reason that it can be lonely.  There are moments when I ask myself why I am working on a blog that merely shows people how lonely I am, and that I often eat by myself. 

Ultimately I think these thoughts are just my potentially bruised ego talking, for every time I make a meal for myself, I never once feel sad or alone, quite the contrary in fact.  I have to eat, we all do, and sometimes I have to eat alone, so I may as well make it as enjoyable as possible.  I decided to write about it because I love cooking and even though I’m eating alone, I do want to share the meal with someone, and that someone is you!

The Wall Street Journal wrote a blog post last August contemplating cooking for one and whether there is value behind it (the exact title is “Dining Solo: Is Cooking For One a Waste of Time and Money?” – they clearly don’t beat around the bush).  I think that if you are just starting to cook for yourself, it takes some adjustment and getting used to using half of an ingredient or part of a product.  But I don’t know of anyone who has started cooking for themselves and later stopped.  The fact of the matter is that cooking for yourself gives you a sense not only of self-reliance and dependability, but also of self-esteem: you don’t need to go out because you can make the best things at home.  As for the issue of cost, I can’t imagine that eating out every night would be cheaper than making food at home, but I don’t know this for sure and would love to hear your opinion - if you cook for yourself, do you find that it saves you money?

I posted a comment on the WJS blog post with the example of a cauliflower head, and how you can use it several different ways during the course of a week, so you don’t have to eat the same meal three times in a row or throw away what you don’t use.  The most important thing, as I detailed in my comment, is pairing long-lasting pantry items, such as onions, garlic, nuts, spices, oils, and almond/peanut/soy butter with fresh ingredients, namely fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats.  If you want to make chicken but you can only buy chicken breasts in pairs, then use one breast to make this dish, save the other breast in the fridge for up to three days and use the it in chicken piccata or chicken with couscous and prunes.

This recipe for chicken stuffed with mushrooms was inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart, whose cookbook my dad gave me for christmas last year (the recipes are really great dad, so thanks!).  Her recipe calls for wild mushrooms but I used only white button mushrooms (in France they are called champignons de Paris), and it came out very well – there was a deep mushroom flavor while not overtaking the chicken and parsley.  However, I did add one expensive ingredient which certainly influenced the outcome of this dish – oil heralding from one of France’s most prized possessions, yes I am talking about truffles.  I bought a small tin can of black truffle oil for 8 euros, which I have already used 5 times and can probably use a few more times yet, so I don’t find this to be a huge splurge.  Unfortunately I just looked online and saw that the same tin can is being sold in the states for 25 dollars! 

It is up to you if you want to add truffle oil to the chicken; if not, you may want to vary the mushrooms and include a few wild mushrooms (chanterelle, shiitake, or porcini) to intensify the flavor.  Or, you could opt out of either of these options and eat it the classic way, or better yet add toasted pine nuts or walnuts to the mushroom mixture and stuff the chicken breast in this manner. Lastly, since I ask you to use only 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, and since you likely will be buying more than this, I highly recommend wrapping the parsley in a damp paper towel and putting it in a Tupperware container in the fridge to maximize its lifespan.

No matter how you eat it, I hope you enjoy it – and if you do enjoy it, or even if you don’t, let me know!

Bisous

Chicken Breast stuffed with Mushrooms and Parsley (and topped with truffle oil, if you please) – serves 1

1 tablespoon olive oil (plus extra for the chicken)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 large white mushrooms, finely diced
2 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 chicken breast
Black truffle oil for drizzling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C
1. Heat the tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and saute until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, wash and pat dry the chicken. Rub all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the parsley.
3. Once mushrooms are softened, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the white wine. Once the liquid has evaporated, remove from heat and stir in the remaining parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a teaspoon or so of truffle oil if using.
4. Stuff the chicken breast cavity with the mushroom mixture, and top the breast with any remainder of the mixture.
5. Line a baking tray with aluminum foil, place the breast in the center, and seal the foil around the chicken to create a sealed pocket.
6. Bake until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.

>Steak Filet with Roquefort, Mushrooms, and Roast Potatoes

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According to a Forbes article written last year, Paris is the best city in the world to eat well.  This immediately got me thinking – is this accurate?  And if this article does prove to have merit, do I agree?

There is an undeniable gastronomic charm in France, and aside from having a great food foundation rife with 400-some odd cheeses and arguably the best bread in the world, I think there are two other factors that contribute to Paris’ worldwide allure.  Firstly, a lot of the French people I have met, including my French friends, have an innate appreciation for art and beauty (how could you not in this gorgeous city?).  Secondly, the French absolutely, undeniably, hate to work – I am sure you have all heard about the 35 hour work week.  Put these two factors together and you have the recipe for charming bistrots and cafes, combined with exremely long lunches, that can sometimes last up to four hours. With good ingredients, an eye for a good ambience, and the desire to dine as long as possible, it is true that Paris has a leg up on other major cities.

I have to admit, I personally have a love/hate relationship with Paris.  Aside from the fact that I may not be able to stay here, faute de pouvoir obtenir un visa, I get easily frustrated with the cultural differences that I have not yet adjusted to.  Call me impatient, call me your typical I-don’t-care-about-art-I-just-want-to-make-money American, call me what you want, but I can’t stand waiting in line and wasting time.  Unfortunately, these dislikes of mine are everyday occurences in France, and which never seem to phase the rookie French people who are waiting next to me.


Trying to finalize the paperwork for my master’s degree at the Sorbonne is what I would like to consider an exercise in human endurance.  Talking with ten different individuals, who all pointed me in about forty different directions, until finally being told, “Pourauoi vous attendiez pendant tout ce temps?  Vous ne saviez pas que vous n’êtes pas obligée de rendre ces documents, vue que vous êtes étrangère? Bah!” (why have you been waiting this whole time?  Didn’t you know that because you’re a foreigner you don’t have to fill in these forms? Bah!) Evidently, this is not my idea of a Tuesday afternoon well spent.

But as soon as I can’t take any more of France’s beauracracy and disorganization, as soon as I am ready to throw in the towel and head back home, Paris will pull her amazing tricks and put me right back under her spell.  This morning as I was walking to class, I had decided for sure this time, I am going to head back to America by summer’s end – I’ve had enough of paying too much for groceries, living in a closet-sized apartment that I can’t afford, and still, after almost two years, struggling to understand French people when they speak too quickly.  I will never understand France, its people, and its culture.  Listening to the teacher in class, being the only non-French person, I was daydreaming about the job I would apply for in California, maybe giving cooking classes and drinking wine in Napa Valley.  Ahh, sigh of relief, I can go home now, and pursue other dreams in the culinary field.

These fantasies carried me through my first two classes, and I was so proud of myself for having made a decision and sticking to it.  Unfortunately, and this is where things always change direction, I sat down for lunch.  Where?  It doesn’t matter, because this is the exact routine I go through almost every day, but today it was a crêperie café down the street from the Pantheon and la Sorbonne where I study.  Sit down with two of my French colleagues, warm up a bit from the cold, chit-chat about which classes we like, which teachers we find to be odd, and what we’re doing this weekend.  Place the order, for me a crêpe super-complète, with Parisian ham, emmental cheese, mushrooms, and plenty of crème fraîche.  All I need to tell you is that as soon as the waiter put the plate in front of me, and as soon as I smelled the familiar and seductive scent of melted cheese combined with perfectly pink ham, I knew it was over.  One bite, and this morning’s conclusions were but a memory from the distant past.  With the first forkful, my mind travelled back hundreds of years, when the art of cultivating cheese and curing ham took an art form, and I reverted back to the dilemma that is always in my head and which once again came to the surface my mind: if I move anywhere else, I will no longer be spoiled with bitefuls of heaven, morcels of food which humans have spent centuries perfecting to this level.  I know this will be an ongoing debate for me so long as I stay in Paris, but while I am here I am happy to eat some of the best products in the world while coming to a decision.

So, to conclude, I have to agree with Forbes and say that Paris is the best city in the world to eat well.  I can’t confirm, because I have only travelled to three of the ten cities listed in the article.  But from my impartial point of view, I will approve anytime a native or a tourist ventures to affirm that Paris, and arguably all of France, provides a gastronomical excursion that remains to this day unrivaled.

As for the recipe, follow it to the letter if you would like, but since you are cooking for yourself, I implore you to change whatever you want to adjust it to your tastes.  This goes mostly for the amount of mushrooms, shallots, and roquefort.  And the wine to go with it?  The wine you cooked with, in my case a Sancerre wine, coming from near the Loire Valley in France.  However, I think any dry white wine would go well.

Steak Filet with Roquefort, Mushrooms, and Roast Potatoes – serves 1
2 fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
coarse sea salt
1 knob butter
1 steak filet
1 large shallot
4 to 5 white mushrooms
1/4-cup dry white wine
90 grams/ 3 ounces roquefort cheese
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/450 degrees F
1.  Wash and dry the potatoes.  Cut them into rough cubes/wedges.  Place in a lined baking dish, and toss with the salt and oil.  Heat in the oven for 35-40 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and delicious.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your vegetables: finely chop the mushrooms, and mince the shallot.
3.  Heat the butter over medium-high heat.  Once bubbling, add the steak and cook, turning once, to desired donenes (about 3 minutes per side for rare).  Transfer steak to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm.
4.  In the same pan in which you cooked the steak, add the shallots and cook for one minute.
5.  Add the chopped mushrooms, and saute until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.
6.  Deglaze with the white wine, and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and stir in the roquefort.
7.  Serve with potatoes and salad (you can put the roquefort sauce on the salad as well, but if you prefer I suggest the following dressing: 1 part dijon mustard, 1 part red wine vinegar, 2-3 parts olive oil).

Happy Holidays from Paris

>Saumon en Papillote (Salmon in Foil)

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I would say the title of this recipe represents perfectly one of those instances where, although in both french and english it says essentially the same thing, this dish sounds infinitely better in french.  Pronounced pah-PEE-y-ote, I love not only this method of cooking but also just saying its name out loud; its inundations flitter on ones tongue like a dancing butterfly.  No matter what language you say it in though, the process is always the same:  wrap the fish or meat in question entirely in foil or oiled paper so no air can escape, and bake it in the oven in order to give the food a replenishing and hearty steam.
I find that this method works particularly well with salmon, because it’s a fatty fish and when it is heated in a small, confined space (as you create with the foil) the layers of fat in between its pink meat break down and soften the fillet in order to provide a tender texture which is very rich in flavor.  I also think that we could call this dish “party in a bag,” because the experience of opening up the foil to discover what has been produced inside is quite a fun event, and one which is highly satisfactory once you taste the first bite!  I can’t deny that I also had a grand old time opening the foil and watching pockets of steam rush out, then peering closer and seeing a perfectly cooked salmon surrounded by softly steamed mushroom slices, all of which smelled herbacious and highly fragrant.
To top it all off, this recipe only requires 5 ingredients!  
A couple of notes: I mention in the recipe that you can use either olive oil or butter; I used a combination of both (a scant tablespoon of each), but you can certainly use just one or the other if you would like.  I also love the combination of salmon and mushrooms – actually I love almost everything with mushrooms – but I’m sure you could put some fingerling potatoes, brussel sprouts, cabbage, spinach or kale in its place.  I’m just thinking out loud, but we could probably even put some wild rice and a few tablespoons water alongside the fish, because everything is getting steamed and it may come out richly flavored and having absorbed some of the salmon fat.  And now my stomach is growling just thinking about it. 
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Saumon en Papillote – Serves 1
1 salmon fillet
4-5 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
4-5 thyme sprigs, plus 1 tsp chopped
1 bay leaf
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1.  Wash and dry the salmon fillet and the mushrooms.
2. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  On the bottom (skin) side of the fish, cut an incision length-wise and insert the bay leaf.
3. Cut a large piece of aluminum foil – large enough to comfortably wrap around the salmon and mushrooms. 
4.  Place the thyme sprigs in the center of the foil; put the salmon on the foil, and surround it with the mushroom slices.
5.  Drizzle everything with olive oil if using, or cut the butter into tiny pieces and drop them over the fish and mushrooms.  Give a final sprinkling of salt and pepper for good luck, sprinkle the chopped thyme over the mushrooms, and pinch the foil together so the salmon is totally encased and no air can escape.

6. Bake in the oven until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.