Purple Plum Tart

  So much depends on the plums for a tart, they should be almost bursting at the seams with juice. Their season is short, but when the moment strikes, a rare treat awaits with this simple tart — the dough is like a sugar cookie, with only the butter holding it together. I suggest a

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Apricot and Custard Tart (Tarte aux Fruits Alsacienne)

The local fruits in Alsace—apricots, bilberries (blueberries are a close relation), and half a dozen varieties of plum—are so juicy that cooks go to great lengths to avoid a soggy crust. They use a puffy yeast dough (popular, too, with German cooks across the Rhine) that soaks up juices from the fruit with help from a

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Baking Day

jam-tarts-e1480628506411Old Emily was a champion baker. She lived with my mother and me in a big, cold house half a mile from our nearest neighbor on the farm. The most welcoming place was the kitchen where I parked myself immediately after breakfast in a dining room where there were just Mummy and me. Despite our tiny household, hierarchy must be maintained and Emily ate in the kitchen.

Thursday was baking day. Emily rose an hour early to stoke the fire with logs cut from the spinney behind the house, boosted with a few precious lumps of coal which was strictly rationed — this was World War II.  Just about everything else was rationed too, certainly food. We had 2 ounces of butter each per week (that’s 4 tablespoons) and at one stage half an egg (i.e. one every two weeks). More than a cup of sugar per person per week sounds a lot, but it soon disappears when that is all there is. It was the farm that saved us, the 30 cows were milked twice a day, and Mrs. Wilkinson kept hens that supplied a more or less steady supply of eggs. (more…)

Last Class with Anne and Chef Alain Giraud

imgresHello all! This will be the last La Varenne class in Los Angeles for some time as Anne is preparing to return to Europe. Chef Alain Giraud is a wonderful friend and familiar face to La Varenne.

On October 1st at 2:30pm we will be featuring Chef Alain Giraud in our seasonal class. Since moving to Los Angeles in 1988 Giraud has opened a number of esteemed restaurants including Lavande, Bastide, and Anisette. He was named “Chef of the Year” by Bon Appétit Magazine in 2003. Today he is waiting upon the reopening of his Pacific Palisades restaurant, Maison Giraud, while working for private parties and catering. Learn more about Chef Alain at http://www.maison-giraud.com/bio-alain-giraud/.

We will also be featuring a Lavender Blue pop-up shop hosted by Catherine Giraud where you will have the opportunity to glance at a plethora of gorgeous French Provençal goodies which can be previously viewed at http://lavenderblue-la.com/.

Class will be available for no more than 15 students who will savor five delicious seasonal foods and a glass of wine along with an intimate group setting beside Chef Giraud at a fee of $250. Recipes will be provided to take home as well as a personal gift from Anne. Reserve your seat now as space is limited! To sign up call 310.396.7464 or email daylin@lavarenne.com

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Harvest Time

For me as a child in rural Yorkshire in the north of England, harvest time was the high point of our agricultural year, only comparable in excitement to lhermitte-de-oogstChristmas. Over the previous weeks, we would eye the ripening fields of wheat spreading down from our house on the hill, debating when the gold of the grain was dark enough, and dry enough, to start gathering the harvest.

An early morning start on cutting the grain was not possible because of damp from the overnight dew. So near to midday I would walk the half mile to the farm to help Mrs. Wilkinson, the farmer’s wife, to carry the lunch baskets out into the fields — the churns of tepid, milky sweet tea would be my job. We would choose a sheltered corner, if possible under a tree for shade, and lay out a massive coarse white cloth to flatten the harsh, prickly stubble of cut stalks. I would carefully set my churns of tea upright, chipped enamel mugs beside them. (more…)

Things I’ve Smuggled in My Suitcase

I’m currently traveling through France with family and close friends — how I wish I could smuggle some foie gras! Here’s a nostalgic list of some wonderful illicit treats I’ve enjoyed over the years:

1. Ginger biscuits for a midnight feast at my boarding school.
2. Exotic fruits and vegetables from Manaus on the Amazon, confiscated in Miami.
3. Fresh truffles for Julia Child, packed with camphor balls to distract sniffer dogs.
4. American bacon for the French chefs at La Varenne—so much crispier, they said.
5. Trunks of American flour to France for testing recipes.
6. French Mars bars to the United States for the best hot chocolate sauce for the children.
7. Christmas gingerbread houses from America to France; if the roof collapses it still tastes the same.
8. Ypocras, a medieval spiced wine, labeled “Spiced Vinegar” so it can cross the state line.
9. A vinegar “mother” from Italy for our U.S. kitchen.

While we don’t condone or encourage smuggling things back, we’d love to hear what’s on your list! 

Guinea Hen with Ceps

When I go to southern France and mushrooms are in season, I look forward to the particularly meaty, pungent ceps (also called boletus and porcini or “little pigs’, the Italian name). Ceps dry wonderfully well, an intense, fragrant addition to sauces and soups. They are outstanding with game birds such as guinea hen or pheasant,

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The Top 10 Questions I Get Asked

One of the consequences of having a long career as a cookbook writer is I do a lot of interviews, especially when promoting the latest book. Each interview certainly takes its own course but I’ve realized I frequently get asked many of the same questions. I thought it would be fun to compile the Top 10 most asked and also share my answers with you.

1. What cooking technique was hardest for you to learn?
Answer: How to peel an apple. Of course, since childhood, I’ve been able to pare off bits and pieces from an apple with a peeler, but the rapid, professional way to peel an apple using a small, razor-sharp vegetable knife and holding the whole apple with the fingertips of your other hand is something else. You should be able to spin the apple, so the peel is detached in a single, even ribbon. Throw the ribbon over your shoulder and, folklore has it, the ribbon tells you the initial of your next lover.

2. What cookbooks were more formative for you – and which new ones have caught your eye?
Answer: Somehow, the most influential cookbooks are always referred to by first names – Julia (Child), Jim (Beard), or Larousse (Gastronomique). I was brought up in England, so Mrs. B (Beeton) was important. When I went to France, Escoffier (Le Guide Culinaire) took center stage, and when I started writing my own recipes, Elizabeth David became a model of clarity combined with background information that illuminated the context of a recipe. Her simplicity of phrase remains a model. As for recent cookbooks, Heston Blumenthal’s Historic Heston takes a brilliant journey into my favorite subject, old cookbooks. And, every time I open covers of the massive Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold (who was a student at La Varenne), I am enthralled.

3. What’s the most important cooking advice you’ve ever received?
Answer: Never give up! Something that has gone wrong can almost always be saved. Stand back, take a deep breath, and all eventually will be well.

4. How has the way you cook changed since you started your career?
Answer: I’ve always been a hands-on cook, no rubber gloves for me! I’ve had to be wrenched into using machines, but now I’m inseparable from my hand-held electric blender, mixer and food processor. I’ve also grown to love my coffee-grinder, which is so handy for grinding fresh spices for medieval recipes. But it’s best to use a separate grinder for coffee and spices so the aromas don’t mix unintentionally. The marble mortar I once used for crushing now has succulents growing it.

5. What inspired you to turn La Varenne Pratique into an ebook?
Answer: La Varenne Pratique was first published in 1989 and it is just as relevant today. Information on how to choose a good steak, or the quickest way to chop an onion has not changed. I’ve long wanted the book to reach a wider audience, and to be available at a modest cost, and this gave us that opportunity.

6. What do you like to cook for yourself now?
Answer: Cooking in California is a treat. The supply of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables lasts all year round. So, we have a lot of salads, greens and seasonal things like: asparagus, green beans, peaches, artichokes and amazing berries. We enjoy fish, whole chickens, split and then flavored with chopped herbs and olive oil under the skins and toasted in a heavy skillet with a foil-wrapped brick on top; the skin comes out wonderfully crisp. I’ve just been blanching some sweetbreads in white wine and water and we’ll flour and fry them in butter for a weekend indulgence. And, we are never, ever, without a good supply of cheese: cow, goat, sheep, hard, soft, fresh or aged – we love them all!

7. How do today’s La Varenne students differ from those of 20 years ago?
Answer:Cooking students today are far more knowledgeable than when I started teaching fifty years ago. They eat out, travel and are much more adventurous than in the old days. They think of good cooking not just as a trade, but as an accomplishment; even at the highest levels – an art. With the plethora of new, challenging ingredients, and an informed audience eager to try new dishes, we cooks are enjoying a golden age.

8. What is your favorite food?
Answer: Cheese – cow cheese, goat or sheep’s cheese. The huge variety of cheeses is one of the greatest pleasures of France.

9. Is there any food you don’t like?
Answer: I hate beets. I was fed a lot of them as a child and I’ve hated them ever since. A second dislike is chili pepper. For me, hot pepper masks the nuances of flavor.

10. What is your go-to snack while you’re traveling and doing book events?
Anne’s Answer: Peanuts, roasted and salted, of course. No sense skipping making them taste their very best.

Make Mother’s Day Memorable with Spinach Soufflé

Last Minute Cheese SouffleThis Mother’s Day I will be at BARDOT Brasserie inside the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas signing books and helping celebrate mothers and the special role they’ve played in our lives. Whether or not you can join me in Vegas, I wanted to share a recipe that can make your Mother’s Day meal very special; it all starts with a soufflé.

A soufflé is the perfect dish to make in lieu of Eggs Benedict – the cheese and egg mixture brings together a savory flavor and the appearance is elegant in itself, and with this recipe it’s not really as hard as you might think.  (more…)

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