Pineapple carpaccio with lemon sorbet, cilantro granité, pineapple chips, and crystallized cilantro from Souvenirs.
Isabelle is two months old! I can’t believe how much she has changed in eight short weeks. It’s like the saying, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I’ve always been a nostalgic person. Even though I know there are years and years of joy ahead in discovering my daughter, I’m already feeling the passage of days. She can do so many things now she didn’t do before: the little coos she makes when she’s curious. Her smiles at me (she’s smiling!). The mini push-ups she does when she’s on her tummy and trying to lift her head. The way she looks around for me and focuses right on my face – who would have thought that being recognized would evoke such a palpable sense of joy?
Several people have asked me if I’m a baby person, which at first made me wonder, why would I have a baby if I wasn’t a baby person? But I realized the question really meant which stage of my child’s life I was most looking forward to. Hey, I get why many people don’t enjoy the infant/baby stage: the sleepless nights, the endless dirty diapers, the constant loads of laundry covered in spitup. Hubby Mike says he is looking forward to when she can walk and talk and he can communicate with her, and I’m looking forward to that too. But I guess my answer is yes, I’m a baby person. I love holding her in my arms and smelling her baby smell, I love watching her little innocent face as she observes the world around her. I will become one of those old ladies who stops moms with strollers to gush wistfully over the newborn sleeping inside. Right now, when those old ladies stop me to gush over my baby, I smile and tell them yes, I feel very lucky, every day. I try to commit every day to memory, because these are the days I want to remember.
This nostalgia is probably why I really enjoyed Souvenirs: Stories and Recipes from My Life, Chef Hubert Keller’s latest cookbook. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, you might have first heard of Chef Keller on television, on Secrets of a Chef or Top Chef. Here, though, Keller and his restaurant Fleur de Lys are San Francisco icons. Keller brought his classical French technique to the US and adapted it to California ingredients and sensibilities. Fleur de Lys is now the quintessential modern French restaurant. Souvenirs contains the story of Fleur de Lys, along with Keller’s early years and his journey to chefdom. I was fortunate enough to be one of the recipe testers for the book, thanks to co-author Penni Wisner, and get an early preview of his recipes. The final product is a beautiful hybrid of cookbook and memoir that I’m very honored to have been of, if only peripherally.
Souvenirs means memories in French, and this cookbook is a beautiful collection of memories. Chef Keller has lived the kind of life I think everyone hopes to have: filled with adventure, accomplishment, loving family and friends, and a great deal of good food. His joie de vivre is evident in the photographs and anecdotes that fill the pages of the book – leafing through it is like looking through a scrapbook filled with glimpses into a wonderful life. The book is set up in sections, each devoted to a particular time or theme in his life, from his beginnings in Alsace, France, to his formative years cooking under Michelin-starred chefs, to the restaurant collection in San Francisco and Las Vegas. My favorite sections have to be the one about love, where he shares memories of his marriage and the dishes he and his wife Chantal love to make together, and the one one Christmas in Alsace, because I can never resist anything Christmas-themed, especially if it’s in France! This is my favorite kind of cookbook: one that is deeply personal and elevates the recipes to more than just a collection of ingredients and techniques. You’ll always associate them with the accompanying stories: for example, the kugelhopf his father made for years at the family patisserie in Alsace, the spiced fruit compotes his wife loves to make, the cannelés he and Chantal had at a little restaurant in Bordeaux.
I had the opportunity to eat at Fleur de Lys and meet Chef Keller last year; he was wonderfully open and gracious, exactly as he comes across in the book. I’m delighted that his story has been captured so charmingly in this lovely book.
Following are some of the dishes that I helped test for the cookbook. Note these are all progress shots and the final recipes in the book might be slightly different – and of course, the photos are better!
Hot spiced wine, an Alsace Christmas tradition. Husband Mike is really into all kinds of mulled wine so he eagerly volunteered to test out this concoction laced with citrus, star anise, ginger, cardamom, and a host of other spices. The scent of the holidays.
Feuilleté of Crayfish, Scallops, Summer Vegetables, and Basil in Hollandaise Sauce. Another dish that Mike volunteered to test, because he’s a fan of Cajun crawfish boils. It was fascinating to make a totally different preparation of crayfish, French style. Here is the combination of crayfish, scallops, haricots verts, peas, and wild mushrooms in the pan.
Here is the final preparation, with the filling tossed in hollandaise sauce and spooned into puff pastry cases. This was probably one of the most elaborate recipes we tested, but as Mike said, “It made me feel incredibly accomplished when I finished it.” It was pretty satisfying to eat, too.
Chicken liver mousse with smoked duck ham and pineapple-vanilla consomme. This beautiful dish is from the “Modern French Cooking” chapter, which covers the beginning of Keller’s career in the US and how he adapted his cuisine to American ingredients. Many of the dishes from Fleur de Lys show up here, including this chicken liver mousse. Playful, unexpected, yet still very French.
Galette des rois – the classic Three Kings Cake served at Christmastime (there is an entire chapter devoted to holiday recipes!) I loved the chance to work with puff pastry and I adore the almond cream filling.
Alsatian Plum Tart (before baking) – this is an ode to the Alsatian plum, or quetsch, in Keller’s native Alsace. It is a small, purply-black plum with golden flesh, perfect for jams and tarts. Alternatives here in the States are Santa Rosa plums or prune plums. Either way, a gorgeous celebration of the ending of summer.
Citrus tartlets filled with a lemon-and-orange puree and topped with lavender-scented meringue – an ideal spring treat. The filling combines Meyer lemons and Valencia oranges – from winter to spring in one dessert. They are a perfect treat to make now, on the cusp of spring and the return of sunny days.
Orange Tartlets with Lavender Meringue
- from Souvenirs by Hubert Keller and Penni Wisner
- 2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 12 tablespoons (6 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 1 thin-skinned orange such as Valencia
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar
- pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup (4 oz) confectioners’ sugar plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon ground dried lavender flowers
- 1/2 teaspoon dried whole lavender flowers for decoration
For the Pâte Sucrée:
- Combine flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor.
- Add butter pieces and process until mixture resembles coarse sand.
- Add egg yolks and process until the dough comes together. Do not overwork.
- Turn out dough onto a floured surface and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to a day.
For the citrus filling:
- Leaving the skin on, quarter the lemon and orange and remove any seeds. Place fruit, sugar and salt in food processor and process until citrus is evenly ground with sugar.
- Add eggs and butter and process until fairly smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day.
To make the tarts:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter six 4-inch tartlet molds. Roll out dough on a floured surface about 1/8 inch thick.
- Cut out six 6-inch circles with a sharp knife and fit into the molds. Prick dough with a fork. Trim off excess pastry around the mold edges and refrigerate for 30 minutes to chill.
- Cut six 7-inch squares of foil and line the tart shells with the foil, shiny side down. Fill molds with dry beans or pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes, until dough has firmed up.
- Remove foil and beans, and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until shells are light golden in color.
- Divide citrus filling among the tarts shells and bake until custard has puffed slightly and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Leave oven on.
For the meringue:
- While the tarts are baking, combine egg whites and salt in bowl of a stand mixer. Whip with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until frothy.
- Increase speed to medium and add confectioners' sugar by spoonfuls, whipping until stiff peaks form. Beat in the ground lavender.
- Transfer meringue to pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe meringue in a rosette pattern on top of tarts. Sprinkle the dried whole lavender over the tartlets.
- Bake until meringue is browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Using tip of sharp knife, pry tartlets out of molds - they should come out easily. Serve warm.