Sunday, January 6, 2013

My New Year's Cooking Challenge

Happy New Years!

If you are a regular reader of Our House in Provence blog, you know that I am a "foodie". I love to eat, cook, read and talk about food and restaurants. I guess that's how we ended up as co-owners of a small French bistro in Northern California called Bistro Des Copains.

I used to subscribe to almost every cooking magazine there is but I don't do that anymore except for "Saveur" and "Cook's Illustrated". In my opinion, in an effort to compete with all of the cooking shows and channels that populate daily TV, the magazines have been redesigned and content dummed down to keep their readers.

While I don't read food magazines like I used to, I love cookbooks and continue to get new ones about foods I like to eat and cook. In the dining room adjacent to our Northern California kitchen, I have two tall bookcases full of cookbooks. At last count, I had over 250 of them.

My family loves when I cook but I don't have time except for weekends and then cook only if Shirley is not working at the hospital. Although I have all these cookbooks, you probably aren't surprised that I usually do the same salads and cook the same pastas, risotto, and fish over and over.

A few weeks ago on a Saturday before Christmas, we were eating lunch and we started talking about my cookbook library and that I had requested, as usual, cookbooks for Christmas. Shirley suggested that my New Year's resolution should be to cook a new recipe out of a different cookbook every week. So 52 new recipes from 52 cookbooks during 2013.

Because I like a challenge and want to try new recipes, I have accepted Shirley's challenge as one of my New Year's resolutions. So in between my posts about our lives in Provence, I will share some of the recipes that we think are particularly good and think you should try.

For my first week, I chose recipes from "Patina Cookbook" by chef Joachim Splichal. Patina was a fabulous restaurant in Los Angeles on Melrose Avenue where I had the chance to dine a few times before it relocated to downtown Los Angeles. In addition to Patina, chef Splichal opened Pinot Blanc, a restaurant we really liked in nearby Napa Valley.

My Patina menu consisted of a first course "Salad of Corn" with sauteed potato, frisée and corn with a balsamic vinaigrette.

For our main course, I made the "Sea Bass" with creamy lentils and garlic infusion with baby carrots and pearl onions. As you can see, I substituted salmon for sea bass which I could not find. This was the best lentil dish I have ever tasted. Although it's time consuming, I will definitely make this dish again and again.

The piece de resistance though was the "Chocolate Croissant Pudding" with Wild Turkey Sauce, the best bread pudding according to Stephanie, a bread pudding aficionado, she has ever had. Served warm, it was almost like a chocolate fondant cake, all warm and gooey bittersweet chocolate inside.

Chocolate Croissant Pudding
with Wild Turkey sauce
Serves 6

Wild Turkey Sauce

1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Wild Turkey whiskey

In a small sauce pan, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to infuse for 5 minutes, then strain out the vanilla pod. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar until the mixture is pale and thickened. Pour about a quarter of the hot milk into the egg mixture and mix until well combined, then return the yolk mixture to the pot with the rest of the milk and, over medium-low heat, stir until thickened. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Strain it through a strainer into a clean pan and add the Wild Turkey. Cool the sauce and refrigerate, covered, until chilled.


4 croissants, cut in half horizontally

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F(230 C). On a baking sheet, toast the croissant halves until golden, about 6 minutes, watching carefully as they burn easily. Remove from the oven and, when cool, cut the croissants up into 1/2 inch pieces and set aside. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F (175 C).


2 cups heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped out
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and the vanilla bean together over medium-high heat. Bring the cream to just below boiling point, then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain out the vanilla pod. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until the mixture is pale and thickened. Gradually whisk the warm cream into the egg yolks and then return the mixture to a clean saucepan. Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture up to just below boil, stirring all the time until thickened, and immediately remove it from the heat.


The reserved toasted croissant pieces
8 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, cut into 1/2 inch chunks. True confession, I used 10 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate chips.
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Arrange an equal amount of toasted croissant pieces in each of six-eight ounce ramekins or ovenproof bowls (I used 10 ounce ramekins). Distribute the chocolate chunks evenly among the ramekins. Spoon the warm custard over the mixture, pressing down with a fork to be sure all the pieces of croissant are soaked in the custard, and cover each ramekin tightly with aluminum foil.

Place the ramekins in a roasting pan and pour in enough very hot water to come halfway up their sides. Bake in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes, or until just set, then pierce the foil with a toothpick to release the steam and let stand for 5 minutes before removing the rest of the foil. (Note: At this stage you could cool and refrigerate the pudding for several hours or overnight. Warm them through in a 400 degree F (205 C) oven for 4 to 5 minutes before serving.)

When you are ready to serve, dust the top of each warm pudding with a little powdered sugar and serve the the chilled sauce in a sauce boat on the side.

In the words of Jacques Pepin, I wish you happy cooking. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. A very Happy New Year to you and Shirley, Michel! Now why didn't I have that idea? It is absolutely fabulous and I have almost as many cookbooks as you do...

  2. I can attest that the bread pudding was fabulous! Almost like a hot chocolate croissant smothered in custard - delicious. Looking forward to the next round of dishes to try...

  3. I will have to steal this excellent idea as well. My wife and were just discussing turning Saturday into new recipe night. I look forward to seeing what's next.

  4. Oh yum yum yum Michel! I am so jealous of this meal... and also of your cookbook collection (I just started a very small one myself). Thanks so much for sharing your New Year's feast with us, looks out of this world. All the best to you.. and happy travels.. in 2013! Tuula

  5. This challenge is awesome Michel! I'm so excited for you and I'm so excited to discover all of these great new recipes from your blog! And you've inspired me, I think that once a week I'm going to cook something I've never cooked before as well :)

  6. Barbara - Thank you!

    Unknown (daughter Tricia) - Thanks so much for your help with dinner. I love it when you are there to assist me.

    Lee - It was nice to run into you in Santa Rosa. You will have to let me know what new recipes you try.

    Tuula - Thank you Tuula. Happy cooking to you in 2013.

    Sara - I get into ruts with recipes so this is a great way to force me to try new ones and use some of the cookbooks that I have never used before.

  7. What a fun idea! In some ways I'm glad that the majority of my cookbooks are in boxes in storage, because that way I really use the few I have on my shelves in Paris. The collection never stops growing, though. I'd love to try a project like this myself. The meal looks fabulous!