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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

Potatoes in the Spotlight

January’s frigid temperatures and grey skies don’t get me down.  I chase the winter blues by searching culinary discoveries to share with my students.  My ingredient of choice this past month was none other than the homely potato.  It’s so easy to become complacent about the potato, as in “you want fries with that?”   It was time the potato took its turn as a culinary star.
When it comes to vegetable make-overs, I troll through cookbooks I’ve collected over the years rather than rather than try my luck with random Google searches on the internet.  In truth, I was on the lookout for a treasured 20 year-old paperback devoted entirely to potato recipes.  Its author, Joël Robuchon, is said to have won his first Michelin star in the 80‘s at his Paris restaurant, Jamin, with a simple potato puree.  I felt I would be in good hands.
The book’s recipes for Potato Tart and Potato Soufflé suits my purposes perfectly.  Each dish makes a spectacular entrance, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ of appreciation at the table.  I wondered, could a humble potato deliver the anticipated pleasure relying simply on eggs, butter, flour and milk?  Then I remembered Chef Robuchon’s famous Potato Puree contains just four ingredients: potatoes, cream, butter and salt.  It was worth a try.
Before starting to cook, I translated the recipe directions and metric measurements into their English equivalents.  Although the directions were helpful, they were, by necessity, concise.  The book’s authors assume the reader has a grasp of basic French culinary skills.  That’s where I come in.  These recipes made them great recipes to teach.
On a recent Saturday morning fifteen students joined me in the well-appointed kitchen of  Chicago’s Alliance Française kitchen.  We prepared both the potato tart and the potato soufflé with ease.  The speed with which our results were consumed confirmed my conviction that the potato can definitely take its place in the spotlight.  Links to the recipes follow.
Potato Tart 
Potato Souffle
Recipes adapted from Le Meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre. by Joël Robuchon and Dr. Patrick P. Sabatier, Editions Robert Laffont, S.A. 1994

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

My Croquembouche


There are times when healthy eating gets boring.  All things in moderation, they say, even moderation.  We all need a moment of excess; some of us need it daily.  Occasionally, excess takes the form of a breathtaking sweet à la belle cuisine Française.

Two hundred years ago a great confectioner, Auguste Carême, built an awe-inspiring edible empire of temples and pyramids with  marzipan, nougat and caramel.  In a moment of dangerously high self-esteem, Carême proclaimed pastry "the highest form of architecture”.  They're all gone now, eaten, crumbled, all Carême’s grandiose pièces montées (mounted pieces) save one: le croquemebouche

Few francophiles have seen much less tasted a croquembouche.  This tower of cream-filled choux pastry is reserved for momentous occasions such as a wedding reception, a communion or a baptism.   What makes is this stunning dessert so rare?   I recently took the opportunity to find out at a Lenôtre pastry school in Paris.  

Here are my notes....

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