Consecutive days of blue skies and sunshine coupled with warmer temperatures undoubtedly signal the return of spring, and the dark cloud that seemed to be following me everywhere is finally starting to dissipate. For the past several months, I had succumbed to what my friend has coined a professional depression, which extinguished my curiousity, motivation, and creativity. Living in France was starting to wear on me as well. It’s not easy being so far away from family and friends, especially since it’s been an uphill challenge trying to establish an equally strong social circle here. Consequently, I started to withdraw from pretty much all activities that brought me any sort of pleasure, including cooking.
Since last autumn, my work situation has been slightly difficult and the possibility of finding an exit was rather slim, given the stagnant economy in France that is only further depressed by its rigid labor laws and astronomical taxes that are crippling innovation and the job market. However, things started to look up around the Vietnamese New Year. Though I was enduring what was bordering on harrassment since last fall, I had to bide my time. Here in France, most job announcements typically appear around the beginning of the year. As the new year rolled around though, I was starting to feel a bit antsy because there weren’t a ton of job postings. I was afraid that I would have to succumb to accepting whatever offer just for the sake of leaving my job. Fortunately however, I received an offer that actually interested me. The only downside is that I won’t get to start the new gig until next month, since I currently have a permanent contract, and in France, that usually means that the préavis, or required notice period, is 1-3 months.
Without a job search consuming all of my time and energy anymore, I can finally focus on other things again! My husband and I had signed up to take the CAP de Cuisine exam this June, which is geared towards students who would like to puruse a culinary career. Though I am not looking to change careers, I thought that this would be a great way to immerse myself in French cuisine and to learn proper culinary techniques. Instead of the traditional educational route towards obtaining the BAC and continuing on to college, students who take the CAP de Cuisine exam usually follow a 2 year program that prepares them for working in the food industry. Not only do they learn culinary techniques and the French classics, they also learn about the science of ingredients, how to manage a kitchen (e.g., ordering ingredients) and a restaurant as well as food safety.
Part of my exam preparation consists of learning basic techniques and mastering the classic French dishes from Cuisine de Référence, which is the quintessential teaching/reference book for French cuisine. I started by learning the various types of French pastry dough, such as pâte brisée, pâte sablée, pâte feuilletée, etc. As a first dish, I chose one of the easiest dishes to prepare, a quiche. Quiches are incredibly versatile and you can add essentially whatever ingredients you like. They are typically made with a pâte brisée, which is a cinch to make. I’m not sure what the equivalent dough is in English, but the closest translation that I found is shortcrust dough, which I’ve never heard of before.
The reference book is great in that it presents base recipes and indicates how they could be modified. The quiche lorraine is the most basic of quiches, so I used that base recipe to inspire my own. Instead of adding bacon, I used some tasty mushrooms and fresh spinach that I had bought from the weekly outdoor market in our neighborhood. They were a perfect combination and it couldn’t have possibly been easier to throw together. Now, I just can’t believe that I have been living in France for this long without having ever made a quiche before!
By the way, if you don’t already use a scale for cooking, I highly recommend making the switch from measuring cups to a scale to measure ingredients. A scale became an integral part of my kitchen years ago when I started dabbling with French pastries while I was still living in Austin. Since then, my results have been much more consistent, particularly when making pastries, which generally require a high level of precision.
|Quiche aux champignons et epinards
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, water and butter. Mix the ingredients with your hands and knead the dough a few times, being careful not to overwork the dough. Form a ball with the dough, cover it with saran wrap, and place it in the fridge for about an hour.
1. Reduce the oven to 180°C.
*Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking has a fantastic illustrated section demonstrating how to properly roll pastry dough and to place it onto a pan.