The Secret Ingredient

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I’m not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables, and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else: Who we are, who we have been, and who we want to be.” –Molly Wizenberg from A HOMEMADE LIFE.

Cooking and eating together has always been something shared in my family. Taking time to fix a meal and taking the time to sit and savour it was a priority I grew up with. Meal times in our house often lasted a good hour or more. We would sit either at the kitchen table or the dinning room table, always with a tablecloth and cloth napkins, and we all had to participate in some way. My brother and I would take turns setting the table, or clearing it. There were sometimes dishes to do or a dishwasher to load or empty. When we got older we got to help with preparing what we would eat, cutting it and cooking it and serving it. With work schedules and school schedules, home schedules and weekend schedules to manage, I am sure it wasn’t always an easy task to tackle, in fact I am positive my mother was not always in the mood to cook, but she did it because she had responsibilities and a family. I know my mother would try to make it fun, arranging food nicely on a serving platter or in our plate. Keeping in mind that presentation was everything, sometimes the fun would come in the way she cut a vegetable, or the choice of a color scheme, or the design of a plate coinciding with a season or holiday. Thought was always put into the tablecloth or place-mat that would be used, the center piece and the flowers, the candles or other decorations. Even our school lunches were prepared with a thought of presentation, not just your regular sandwich, though when we did get a sandwich the plastic bag was sealed with a smiley face sticker.

Most of the women in my family cook and are excellent cooks. My aunt Jacqueline makes everything from scratch, from jam, pie crust, soup, even canned goods, she does it all. She is incredible and makes it look so easy, so effortless and always so tasty. My godmother is also an exceptional cook and also has a knack for presentation, making cooking fun. She knows the tricks to use to cut corners and make dishes less time consuming to prepare but always as delicious. My grandmother was another remarkable cook and I know it was not her favorite thing to do. I am lucky to have grown up surrounded by these women of influence. I have wonderful memories of being in the kitchen with these women, either one-on-one or all together at the holidays. In my memories, in different kitchens, generations came together, the passion of food – tastes, smells and textures where shared, techniques were demonstrated, secrets were spread and every time the Secret Ingredient* was incorporated into the dish.

On my husband’s side of the family, he had the influence of not just women in his family cooking, but the men too. His grandfather was the one who always went shopping at the butcher’s and he prepared the meat dishes. Guillaume’s father is also an excellent chef, preparing dishes with technique, style and a hint of spontaneity. He has a special gift for knowing what ingredients to mix, what dishes to serve together, what tastes compliment each other. Surrounded by these men of influence, Guillaume was also often in the kitchen, participating in the preparation of meals.

Now as a wife and mother, along with my husband, we try to continue to prepare food and eat it like we did as children. Sharing in the preparation and then later the food helps us to slow down and connect. Breakfast is eaten at the kitchen table, but lunch is often in the dinning room and dinner is always enjoyed in the dinning room, every night, weeknight or weekend, holiday or not. We continue to use tablecloths and cloth napkins, everyday. I am unsure as to whether I am a good cook or not. I still have a lot to learn, a lot to master. But I do enjoy being in the kitchen. Trying out new recipes or performing classic traditions, I find preparing food – chopping it, marinating it, mixing it, spreading it, never forgetting the Secret Ingredient* -to be somewhat therapeutic. I like the feeling of being in the kitchen and making something, something that will be later shared. I love when Guillaume and I are in the kitchen together. Working as a team to prepare a meal. Synchronized in our actions, coordinated in our chores (if I cook, he’ll do the dishes, and vice versa). And it is very rewarding to know that you are trying to make a balanced and appetizing meal for your sons and husband, even more rewarding when they enjoy it!

When we got married, my Godmother put together a recipe/scrap book of all our family members three favorite recipes. Referring to it daily, we have since added and expanded it over the years with our own family recipes. It was the best wedding gift we received and one of my most prized possessions. Each recipe is written by that family member and there is a family photo of us seated around the table for a meal with that family member. It is a beautiful souvenir of cooking and family meals enjoyed.

Sundays in France are often family days. Usually Sunday lunch will be shared with extended family. It might me a menu that is a little bit more special than during the week. Following lunch, some family members may nap, others may go on a walk. We did all three today (meal, nap, walk!) Now that we are back in France and have all these wonderful ingredients at our finger tips – great cuts of meat, and several different types of creams to use when making sauces and herbs to sprinkle and our oh-so-awesome gas stove and oven, who wouldn’t want to cook for a special Sunday lunch!

So, for today’s noon meal, I started prepping at 10:30AM. We sat down to eat at quarter of 1PM. Sure prep was long and lunch was a little later than usual, but it was such fun to use the ingredients and use the utensils and the pots and sit down and savour the meal as a family. It made the day special, the moment memorable, the memory unique.

Recipes

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS

Ingredients for 6 people :
– 1.5kg [3 lb] potatoes
– 1 garlic clove
– 40 cl [14 fl oz] cream
– butter
– Salt & pepper

Method
1-Peel and cut potatoes into thin slices
2-Heat the oven to 350°. Spread garlic and then butter in the bottom of a gratin dish. Cover bottom of gratin dish with one-third of potato slices in an even layer. Sprinkle potatoes with salt and pepper. Cover with cream. Repeat until all the ingredients are used. Dot with butter.
3- Place in the oven for a good hour, until top is golden brown and potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

PORK FILET MIGNON WITH ONIONS

Ingredients for 4 people :
– 800 gr [3 lb] filet mignon of pork
– 4 onions
– 20 cl [7 fl oz] dry white wine
– 5 Tbspoons olive oil
– Salt & pepper

Method
1- Peel and mince the onions ; cut the filet mignon in 3 to 4 sections.
2- In a non-stick stewpot, medium flame, heat the oil and brown the onions in for 15 minutes (turn regularly with a wooden spoon).
3- Brown the meat in the onions for 5 minutes with salt and pepper, then pour the wine, cover with a lid, and let simmer for 30 minutes ; turn from time to time.
4- Serve each of your guest cutting slices from the meat sections.

TARTE AUX POMMES

I make my pie dough ahead of time and freeze it directly in the pie dish, so it is ready to go whenever I feel like a tarte! This dough can me used for both pies and quiches.

PÂTE BRISÉE – Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9- to 10-inch pies

Ingredients
– 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
– 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Method
In the bowl, combine flour, salt. Add butter, and mix with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and continue to mix until dough holds together without being wet or sticky.
Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may also be frozen, up to 1 month.

For the pie –
Ingredients
– 1 pie crust
– 6 apples, Peel, core, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
– sugar and cinnamon

Method
Line the pan with the dough, place apple slices in a spiral. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Place 30 min. in a 350° oven.

*In case you didn’t guess it the Secret Ingredient is L-O-V-E

Resources : Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, Les Classiques de Camille

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About Alexandra

wife, lover, mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher, blogger, scrap-booker, cross-stitcher, photographer, designer, multi-lingual speaker, dual-citizenship holder, world traveler, dreamer... hopeful, happy, blessed
This entry was posted in family, Food, reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Secret Ingredient

  1. Catherine says:

    What a savory delight! It’s Julia Childs all over again! Thanks for the photos. It sure looks suptuous(sp?)!

  2. Diane Hagan says:

    Your truly are amazing. As I read your blog, I felt as if I was there sitting in your home watching you work with your Mom, Aunts and Memere. Thank you for sharing those experiences and your recipes. Love you bunches!

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