French Cooking: Pork Cheek Raviolis & Chocolate Meringue Swirls

We’re going for a double whammy this week with our French Cooking series. Two comforting dishes and a decadent dessert are coming for your Saturday. Maybe it will share a little inspiration for a weekend family dinner. French cooking, like Italian cooking, is food for the soul. It’s food that is scrumptious but also beautiful and seasonal. These dishes are no different. From a hearty soup to elegant raviolis to a pillowy, rich dessert, today’s menu will not disappoint.

STARTER: Harvest Soup
Harvest Soup is what I like to call an “everything but the kitchen sink” soup. It’s a simple meat and veggie soup that simmers all day for a tender, flavorful dish later. It’s so simple to prepare as well. Place a beef roast in a pot and cover it with water. Bring it to a boil and add the vegetables and let it simmer low for a few hours. Once the beef is cooked and tender, remove it for a few minutes to pull the meat apart and add back into the soup. It’s a simple, comforting dish anyone will enjoy.

MAIN: Pork Cheek Ravioli with Cepes
These raviolis are a lot of work but they are worth every second. If there’s one piece of advice I can offer after making these, it’s to have patience. The ravioli dough needs precision and patience. Too much flour and it will be too tough. Not enough flour and it will end up too sticky. It’s a fine line to manage. The pork cheek filling isn’t particularly difficult to make but it has a few steps that take time. The end result is this decadent and rich ravioli that will blow your mind. The filling is packed with flavor and has an almost creamy consistency. The red wine gravy is beautiful in color, so different from any traditional ravioli.

Cepes are mushrooms found seasonally in Europe. I have never seen a cepe in the midwest before so I look for whatever wild mushroom the store has in stock. If wild mushrooms are still tricky to find, a meaty portobello mushroom will work or shiitake. Pork cheeks are supposedly super affordable. At least from what I’ve read online. Even though my butcher mentioned someone else had recently asked for pork cheeks, they didn’t have any to sell. So improvisation led me to purchasing thin cut pork chops which cooked for a few hours before getting blended together with the wild mushrooms for the ravioli filling. It is divine. I cannot say enough good things about the filling for these raviolis. The flavor is off the wall and the red wine sauce that gets spooned over the top tastes like something that is served in a Michelin rated restaurant.

DESSERT: Chocolate Meringue Swirls with Chocolate Sauce
These meringues are the epitome of light decadence. They’re little mounds of pure heaven. Light enough to make you feel good about yourself but rich enough to feel like an indulgence. The chocolate sauce on top is an added treat with the Chantilly Cream. I was hesitant to tackle this recipe at first but I am so thankful I did. Mimi doesn’t have the exact recipe for these on her website but she does have one close to it. Click the link above to try them for yourself.

Catch up on our French Cooking Series HERE. In case you’re new or haven’t had a chance to read about our journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorrisson, read our very first post HERE.

French Cooking Friday: Croquant Ratatouille & Double The Desserts!

When dinner fits into a large bowl, you know it’s a good one. Today’s main dish from A Kitchen In France boasts a meaty and veggie filled meal perfect for chilly spring days. Slow Cooked Lamb with Croquant Ratatouille is one of those recipes that make the entire house smell incredible all day. It even lingers into the next day making everyone who enters your home hungry and jealous of your professional cooking abilities. The other two dishes we have for you today are desserts. One, a simple fruit and wine combination that is pure culinary sophistication. The other, simple and elegant yet delicious. Take a look and dig in!

MAIN: Slow Cooked Lamb with Croquant Ratatouille
The slow cooked lamb starts on the stove and finishes for a few hours in the oven. It bakes low and slow all day in a broth that has onions, garlic, carrots, herbs and celery. Instead of lamb, I used a pork roast because it was already in the freezer. It turns out a little milder in flavor and less gamey but still delicious. The pork roast (depending on its size) doesn’t need as much time to cook so as you’re checking on it every two hours, be careful not to let it over cook. You’ll end up with a dry, stringy piece of meat.

The Croquant Ratatouille is a delicious mixture of vegetables sauteed on the stove. The vegetables cook in two batches before coming together so everything cooks even. It takes hardly any time to bring this together. The chopping gets a little tedious since the vegetables need to be diced rather than chopped but it’s well worth it. Instead of plating this as a side, I used the Croquant Ratatouille as a bed for the slow cooked pork and spooned some of the liquid from the roast all over the top. It’s such a comforting dish and the leftovers are equally delicious.

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DESSERT #1: Pears a la Medocaine
If you’re not a baker and prefer desserts that are almost impossible to mess up, this one is for you. Start by making the red wine syrup. A few ingredients come together on the stove to a boil. The pears soak for a few minutes before everything gets transferred to a bowl. The pears refrigerate for about 24 hours and your dessert is ready. No cooking, no baking. Just a little boiling and stirring before calling it a day. I used red pears for this treat. I find them a little sweeter than green pears which works well with the dry red wine. A few things to note: make sure the pear is still slightly firm otherwise it will be hard to manage and start to disintegrate in the wine syrup. Second, choose a wine that you’d enjoy drinking. If you don’t like the wine itself, you won’t enjoy the dessert.

DESSERT #2: Apple Tart with Orange Flower Water
For those of you like me who are not particularly confident in their baking abilities, I introduce you to the apple tart. Tart dough is not as temperamental as pie dough making it much easier to throw together. The filling is also simple. Homemade apple sauce and sliced apples layer together for the simplest fruit dessert you’ll ever make. It’s also such an elegant presentation. It’s a great option to bring to parties or serve guests when you don’t want to go overboard.

Catch up on our French Cooking Series HERE. In case you’re new or haven’t had a chance to read about our journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorrisson, read our very first post HERE

French Cooking Friday: Savory Tartlets, Steak & Chocolate Tarts!

The sun might be shining a little more these days but the air still holds a chill. That means comfort food is still in season and I can’t say I’m mad about it. It provides the opportunity to enjoy tasty bites like what we’ve got for you in this week’s French Cooking Friday! From decadent tartlets to melt-in-your-mouth steak and rich, indulgent chocolate. Each of these dishes are easy to prepare (well, the tart will go smoother if you have baking skills. I struggle.) and they pair together well. Check them out and Happy Friday!

APPETIZER: Cepe and Parsley Tartlets
Tartlets have fast become my favorite appetizer. They’re versatile, easy to make and always tasty. These particular tartlets are quick to whip up and make a nice savory start to a meal. Cepes are a type of mushroom found in Europe but here in the states, especially the Midwestern states, you’re forced to improvise. Any wild mushroom will do fantastic. I love using shiitake mushrooms when Mimi has a recipe that calls for cepes or a wild mushroom mix. If those are still hard to come by, portobellos or bellas will be just as tasty.

Store-bought puff pastry dough is one of the best things ever invented. Considering how many times I’ve had to use this stuff while cooking through A Kitchen In France, I should buy stock in it. Sometimes it can be tricky to find but as long as you can get the kind that unfolds or comes in square form, you’ll be set. Dough is not my personal specialty. I don’t have the patience for it and it doesn’t have the tolerance for me. So don’t be embarrassed to give in to store-bought help.

MAIN: Grilled Entrecote a la Bordelaise
Translation: steak with a bone marrow sauce and sauteed shallots. Now, before I lose you with the bone marrow, I have to confess that I didn’t actually do that part. I would have though! I couldn’t find the ingredients that I needed. Bone marrow is actually a fantastic ingredient. If you can buy bones at your grocery store or butcher, do it! The marrow in the bone lends incredible flavor to things like soup and pasta gravy. That extra level of richness takes your cooking to the next level and has everyone asking for the recipe. Since I wasn’t able to grab all the ingredients I needed, I seared the steaks in butter in a cast-iron skillet and topped them with shallots. No marrow unfortunately but they were still quite tasty.

SIDE DISH: Butternut Gratin
This was the star of the show. I had butternut squash haters eating this. Similar in theory to a traditional potato gratin, this version is a bit sweeter with a nice salty kick. Butternut squash and onions come together with heavy cream, butter, brown sugar and delicious Gruyere cheese. Gruyere is a weakness of mine. It’s so tangy and salty, the perfect cheese to pair with an otherwise sweet dish. Regardless the time of year, this is a side dish for any dinner menu.

DESSERT: Chocolate Tart
It can take me two or three times to whip up desserts, especially ones that need dough. I got this one on the first try though. The tart dough for this recipe is a little different than a traditional kind. Almond flour lends a little bit more graininess and flavor. It’s also a heavier dough so it’s more sturdy but at the same time, not as pliable as you’d like a dough to be. The chocolate filling is simple to prepare as well. Melted chocolate, cream and a few other ingredients blend together for a rich dessert everyone will love. I suggest a very small sliver of this at a time. The chocolate is rich and becomes almost overpowering in excess. Then again, this is coming from someone without a sweet tooth.

Catch up on our French Cooking Series HERE. In case you’re new or haven’t had a chance to read about our journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorrisson, read our very first post HERE.

French Cooking Friday: Pumpkin Soup, Flavor-Packed Potatoes, A Galette & More!

It’s been a minute since we posted in our French Cooking series and we hope you missed it because we sure did. There has been plenty of kitchen work lately getting meals created and desserts perfected. While it would be delightful to say that it’s been a breeze, there have been a handful of incidents. Some have caused laughter, others frustration. Regardless, this has become one of my favorite series to date and it’s a little bittersweet that this will be our last leg of posts for it. Fear not though, we have several weeks ahead of French meals...so many that it will actually take us into March! If you’re catching up, read about our venture into A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson and scroll through past posts HERE. Bon appetit!

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STARTER: Pumpkin Soup
Confession, I have two individual containers of this left in the freezer. This soup is so delicious that it’s worth all the hassle to create. What hassle, you ask? This soup requires you to peel and dice a pumpkin. Sure, it sounds simple enough. 45-minutes later you’re just about ready to throw the knife across the room and give up on the pumpkin. Who knew a small pumpkin could yield so much work. A few more ingredients, a little milk and an immersion blender’s magic later, you have a masterpiece. Creamy, sweet and savory soup perfect for winter with a taste of fall.

MAIN COURSE: Quail Grilled Over Grapevines
This dish consists of two things that are impossible to find where I live: quail and grapevines. While I may never be able to taste the flavor Mimi raves about in her book and on her blog that only comes from grilling with grapevines, a girl can dream. Quail, on the other hand, might be more accessible but still not particularly easy to find. This is one of those times when I really want to try a recipe but I need to use a ton of improvisation. So here is how I turned a very French fall meal into a simple dish that you can make regardless of your location.

Original main ingredients: 4 quail, 4 thin slices of pork belly, pancetta or bacon, 4 teaspoons of butter, 4 garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. My ingredients; 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 4 slices of prosciutto, 4 teaspoons of butter, 4 garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs. Rather than placing the rosemary, butter and garlic inside of the quail, I sliced each chicken breast lengthwise but not all the way through to butterfly it. Inside of the fold, I place the butter and rosemary then wrapped a slice of prosciutto around the chicken to seal the deal. Finally,  I halved the garlic cloves and scattered them around the chicken before placing it in the oven to bake. I’m sure this is a completely different experience from the grilled quail but as baked chicken, this recipe was pretty fantastic.

SIDE DISH: Potatoes a la Lyonnaise
This is officially my favorite potato recipe on the planet. It’s a simple dish but out of this world. Potatoes, onions, parsley and a ton of butter come together for the most satisfying potato side you will ever have the pleasure to eat. It takes a minute to prepare but so worth it. The potatoes are first boiled to soften slightly. Next they are sauteed with salt, pepper and a ton of butter for a nice, fried flavor and texture. Onions are sauteed separately, again in butter, and then mixed together with the potatoes. Finally, the mixture is baked so the tops get a nice little crunch. It’s spectacular. If it weren’t all carbs, I’d eat it as a main course!

DESSERT: Galette Perougienne
A specialty from the small town of Perouges, near Lyon, this bite of heaven is a light, lemony cake. The dough is topped with sugar and butter before baking for a delicious, caramelized crust. It’s less like cake in texture and consistency and more like bread, which I actually believe it is, but the sugar and lemon give it a sweet flavor making it more of a dessert. This is no doubt my favorite dessert so far in A Kitchen In France. I think I ate half all on my own and it’s so simple to make that there’s no reason not to try it. Please, if you’re cooking through this cookbook, do not skip this treat.

Yes, that is a Halloween tablecloth beneath the cake. Seems that when I made this, I intended to write about it closer to Halloween! Whoops :P

Yes, that is a Halloween tablecloth beneath the cake. Seems that when I made this, I intended to write about it closer to Halloween! Whoops :P

Next week, we continue with a very hearty dish that stands strong on its own as well as two desserts perfect for the cold of winter. What have you been eating lately?

French Cooking: Pea Veloute, Pork Roast and Sweet Treats

We're sending summer off today (officially) with a French meal that is truly fantastic. This is quite possibly my favorite meal from the summer portion of A Kitchen In France. If you need to catch up on the series, search "French Cooking" on the blog or read our original post talking about the journey. We've got two desserts again this week and a main dish that is almost as good as the starter. If you like bacon, this menu is for you.

STARTER: Chilled Garden Pea Veloute
I should start by saying that I did not serve this chilled, I served it tepid warm. It was mostly because of timing but we all liked it at the temperature I served it. Pea soup is something me and my grandparents love. Add a little bacon, the garlic cream and you've got something special right there. I will say this. If you are shelling raw peas, you need a lot. I had one pound of pea pods and I managed to only fill the bottom of a bowl. I added frozen edamame (because that's all I had in the house that was green) to make up for the lack of peas. It turned out quite tasty.

MAIN: Black-Pig Pork Roast with Garlic Mashed Potatoes
I'm not sure where to get black pig anywhere around here, nor am I even sure we have black pigs in northern Illinois. But it is apparently a delicacy in the French country! Instead, I simply picked up a 3 pound pork tenderloin. It's wrapped in bacon, surrounded by garlic and thyme, drizzled with olive oil and roasted. It's quite delicious and so easy to put together. The garlic mashed potatoes are the perfect compliment, just as easy to whip up and so tasty. It's a classic dinner that anyone would enjoy and made even better with the bacon.

DESSERT: Peach & Cherry Papillotes
This is basically fruit and a red wine syrup baked in a parchment paper packet. It's delicious, it's easy and it's a great dessert for those cool summer nights the closer we get to fall. Serve it with a small piece of pound cake and you have one heck of a dessert. This is something you could whip up really quick with company and it will impress them. 

DESSERT: Red Berry Barquettes
Barquettes are fancy shaped mini tart molds. They look like little baskets and are super cute but if you don't have a barquette mold (like me) don't fret. You can use mini tart molds or you can just make it in a regular tart pan. It will turn out tasty either way. I love this recipe because it's totally customizable. Being a red berry tart, you can use whatever kinds of berries are available to you at the time: strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, red currants, etc. The recipe calls for a cranberry jam but I used a strawberry jam instead. It was so delicious. A perfect treat to hang on to summer if you're not ready to let go.

Now that we've been through the spring and summer sections of A Kitchen In France, tell me what you're looking forward to in fall and winter!

French Cooking: Soupe au Pisto, Coucous, Cream Puffs & More!

We might be in fall but I have two more summer menus for you in this series and I somehow managed to save the best for last. Couscous is not a traditional French dish but this Moroccan staple has become something of a phenomenon in French cuisine. Couscous itself is a grain but everything that comes together for this incredible dinner is a lot of prep. Today's menu is the most intense amount of work I've done for this series so far but it was well worth it.

STARTER: Soupe au Pistou
This is like a French minestrone soup. Simple, incredibly good for you and delicious. It would be even better if you threw a parmesan rind in the pot as it simmered but that's the Italian in me. This is perfect for one of the cooler summer nights. The pistou is basically a pesto sauce. It's rich and full of flavor so a little goes a long way. It's an excellent way to get rid of some of the basil that is overcrowding your garden.

MAIN: My Couscous
Not literally my couscous but Mimi's couscous. Let me just say that I have no idea where she got the idea this serves a mere six people. You have an enormous pot of stew, enough meatballs to serve six people, sausage and 6 chicken thighs. This is literally a feast. The way it's meant to be enjoyed is with a taste of each of the meats. The couscous serves as a bed for all of the other ingredients. Top with the lamb stew (which I substituted with beef) and layer a sausage, chicken thigh and meatballs. The stew has strong Moroccan flavors that are bright and earthy and just beautiful. If you're serving a large crowd, I highly recommend this meal. No one will go home hungry.

DESSERT: Coffee Cream Puffs
These are exactly what they sound like: cream puffs with coffee flavor. The filling has a touch of coffee added to the mix so it gives them a nice caffè flavoring. I always wondered how they got the cream in the middle of these babies and now I know! You bake the puffs first, slice a tiny hole and insert the cream with a pastry bag. It's so simple. Just be careful not to over stuff them otherwise you'll have cream oozing out or worse, you'll blow the thing up. Or you can be a moron like me and do it this way. I left them out on the kitchen table too long so they weren't necessarily puffs by the time I filled them. I also didn't have a pastry back so filling them through a small hole would have never worked. Instead, I sliced them about 2/3 of the way open and spooned the filling into the center. It works just as well and then you can see it ooze out the sides. 

DESSERT: Chilled White Peaches In White Wine Syrup
This is a very simple dessert but it's also very easy to screw up. The instructions state to plunge the peaches into boiling water for 10 seconds. Those 10 seconds are incredibly important because too long and they're mush. Learn from my mistake. If the peach's skin does slide off after the 10 seconds, simply take a peeler to it like you normally would. For the white wine syrup, I'd recommend a sweeter wine or at least one that you really enjoy as with any wine-focused dessert.

One more set of French summer meals and we jump into fall! I'm so excited because fall is  my favorite season and I'm really hoping that we get to throw some pumpkin in there! How have you liked the French Cooking series so far?

French Cooking Friday: Tomato Salad, Vegetable Tian, Duck Breasts & Panna Cotta

If you've never had duck before, this is a great way to start. I have fallen in love with French cooking since starting this journey. Sure, it can be stressful when I decide to do too many things at once but each individual dish is simple in its own way. Whether it's a short ingredient list or all the work is done in the oven or in a pot on the stove, it is the easiest and least stressful cooking I've experienced. This is another pure summer menu with juicy peaches and tomatoes coming in at the center of everything. This is a great August meal so if you want to try any of these recipes for yourself do it now while peaches and tomatoes are at their best!

STARTER: Tomato Salad with Parsley and Shallots
This is an incredibly simple dish you can throw together in a jiff. There are literally 5 ingredients, one of them shallots which I feel the need to point out are not onions. Shallots are a bit more potent than onions and are often described as a cross between garlic and onions. They're smaller, usually grow in groups, are purple and white and are quite strong. Be prepared to cry as you chop these babies. Heirloom tomatoes work best for any tomato salad. They have the best flavor of any other tomatoes (in my opinion) and because they're not any traditional shape, it makes a funky visual. You can also mix up the colors if you'd like. This is a very refreshing salad and simple. Pair it with crusty bread and you're off to a fantastic dinner.

MAIN: Duck Breasts Grilled Over Grapevines
In case you're wondering, I have no idea where to find grapevines in the Chicagoland suburbs. It would take beating down winery doors but would probably lead nowhere since they get their grapes shipped in. Our vineyard scene is rather lacking. Instead, I just grilled them normally. This was my first time trying duck and it was fantastic. Duck has so much flavor because it's naturally fattier than other types of poultry. I did cook it a little too long, notice the extra crispy crust but it was still tender and juicy on the inside. The seared peaches were a really nice touch as well. It turned this dish into a sweet and savory masterpiece that is perfect for summertime.

SIDE: Vegetable Tian
This dish is basically ratatouille only assembled and roasted. Try your best to find vegetables that are about the same size in diameter. It will make assembling much easier. It's tedious to prepare but delicious once complete and beautiful to look at. This is another simple dish and allows the summer veggies to really shine. It features a combination of tomato, zucchini and eggplant. They're roasted for about 30 minutes so that they're not mushy and roasted just enough for incredible flavor.

DESSERT: Apricot (Peach) Panna Cotta
Apricots have a short season, at least where I'm from. Since I couldn't find any in the store when I whipped this tasty dessert up, I substituted with peaches. The "peach" part is basically a jam, or compote. I've made compotes on my own several times so it wasn't anything new and it helped me know what consistency to look for, thick but not burnt. The creaminess of the panna cotta pairs perfect with the sweet peach making this a light, decadent summer treat. 

Only two weeks left of the summer section from A Kitchen In France with Mimi Thorisson. I'm kind of kicking myself because she just came out with another cookbook, French Country Cooking, that I am dying to get my hands on. She's really inspired me to go out of the box with seasonal produce and embrace each season for its greatest qualities. 

French Cooking Friday: Tomato Tart, Roasted Poussins & Strawberries In Wine

Summer is hanging on as hard as it can. For those of us who are bigger fans of fall, we are waiting ever so patiently for the cooler weather to make an appearance for good. These 90 degree days on the horizon are making me sweat just to think about it. It's the time of year for over-sized sweaters, pumpkin mania and hot cocoa. Let's face it, if there were a competition (which I'm pretty sure there's an unspoken one), fall beats out every other season by a landslide. But until then, we have four summer menus left from A Kitchen In France and I am savoring every bite. Although fall flavors might be my favorite, there's something about the freshness and brightness of summer produce. This week's menu is all-encompassing when it comes to summer. From juicy tomatoes to sweet strawberries, these are by far the best flavors of summer.

STARTER: Tomato Tart
When you think of late summer produce, I'm willing to bet the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes. The juicy, delicious fruit that pretends to be a vegetable pops up all over from farmer's markets to restaurant menus. It's no surprise Mimi would have several summer recipes with tomatoes at the center. This particular dish is no different. The same day I made this tart, I was planning to make another as well and I only have one tart pan. So I used a pie dish instead which is why it didn't turn out very pretty. It made up for looks in flavor though. The tart dough is the same recipe as the Sugared Almond Tart, simple enough to prepare, even for those of us that are baking novices. The rest of ingredients are simple with tomato and basil being the all-star combo. It makes a delicious appetizer and would even be good for a light lunch with a side salad or sandwich.

MAIN: Mustard-Roasted Poussins
I swear the poultry gods hate me because I can never find what I need in the store. This dish calls for four 1.5 pound poussins, aka, a very young chicken and there were zero. So instead I went for the trusty, classic whole chicken. I love how the first time I cooked one of these I said that I'd never do it again and since then I've roasted a whole chicken four more times. Each time has been just as unpleasant as the last but it is what it is. This particular recipe is fantastic. I love a good spicy mustard and the pairing of Dijon and crème fraîche is perfection. Marinating the whole chicken overnight guarantees a flavorful, juicy chicken the next today. The roasted potatoes around it are phenomenal as well. This would be a great dish to serve any time of year.

Excuse this poor bird's hole in the butt. I wasn't thinking of photography when I tested it to see if it reached the right temperature. Whoops!

Excuse this poor bird's hole in the butt. I wasn't thinking of photography when I tested it to see if it reached the right temperature. Whoops!

DESSERT: Strawberries in Wine with Mascarpone Cream
Summer's greatest asset is the berry. Strawberries and cream is a classic dessert that is easy to prepare. Mimi took this to the next level by soaking the strawberries in wine and making a homemade mascarpone cream. It's light and decadent, perfect for summertime. My biggest note would be to choose a red wine that you particularly enjoy. That will make all the difference because if you choose a varietal that may not be your favorite, you won't enjoy it enough.

If you are new to our French Cooking series, check out this post talking about A Kitchen In France and the journey we've embarked on. It's a little bit of Europe here at home until I can catch a one-way flight for infinite travels.