Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

28 11 2008

Now that everyone has stuffed themselves silly, the only thing left to do this holiday weekend is shop!  To facilitate your holiday shopping, I have built an Amazon store filled with kitchen tools, cookbooks, ingredients, and a few surprises.  Click here to shop Croque-Camille, or you can always go to the “Shop” tab at the top of this page.

Amazon has also provided me with a special link to their Black Friday specials, just for today, so you can do your holiday shopping from the comfort of your own desk, couch, or even bed (aren’t laptops great?).

Any proceeds will be used for adventurous market purchases, photography and styling improvements, and researching all the Parisian eateries I can!  (Anything to improve your reading experience.)

Check back soon for my Thanksgiving photo montage!





Worthwhile French Beers: Hellemus

26 11 2008

I may have mentioned that we brought back some beer from Lille.  It turns out Nick got a photo of the lineup, so now I can share it with you.

So many beers, so little time.

We haven’t come close to getting through them yet, seeing as most of these are bières de garde, a potent (around 8%, usually) style similar to Belgian brews.  It’s sipping beer.  So far, we found the La Choulette Blonde to be unremarkable, and while their Ambrée was pretty good, we neglected to make any tasting notes, which greatly decreases the chance of it getting its own post (that is, until I can get my hands on some more).  But when I tasted this one:

Hellemus Blonde des Flandres

I immediately smiled and exclaimed, “This tastes like grapefruit!  I bet it would make a great brunch beer!”  Nick found it to be a bit on the sweet side, which I argued is one of the things that would make it so good for morning consumption (when events warrant).  I didn’t find the sweetness to be distracting, balanced as it was with the distinct tang of grapefruit.

The literature on the back of the bottle explains that Hellemus Blonde des Flandres is a natural, traditionally produced bière de garde.  It is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and they claim that the carefully chosen malts and hops assure a unique, authentic flavor.  I’ll say.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Le Marcab

24 11 2008

A table at Le Marcab

I found a new restaurant!  Or, to be more accurate, Nick found it.  Not far from Pierre Hermé’s boutique in the quiet 15th arrondissement, Le Marcab opened for business a little over a week ago.  Upon viewing the menu posted outside, and the chic décor inside, Nick thought it might be worth checking out. 

The tempting menu posted outside Le Marcab

So when we found ourselves in the neighborhood on a recent weeknight, we wanted to see if this place would live up to its potential.

Like sitting on a giant gold couch.

Stylishly decorated in tones of gray and gold, the dining room feels opulent yet welcoming.  The banquette, which takes up one entire wall of the restaurant, whimsically evokes an oversized, baroque couch.  Since Le Marcab had only opened a few days before, we were the only people there, but we didn’t let that daunt us.  The service was as polite and timely as any of my better dining experiences in Paris, and the restaurant, on the whole, shows the kind of attention to detail you would see in any top-tier establishment.

Read the rest of this entry »





Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé!

21 11 2008

The wine shop across the street.

The French have their own Thursday-in-late-November celebration: La Fête du Beaujolais Nouveau.  Come the third Thursday in November, anywhere that sells wine will be loudly proclaiming the arrival of the new Beaujolais.

Due, I think, to overproduction on the part of French winemakers, the “holiday” was created to boost Beaujolais sales right after the harvest.  When they say “Nouveau,” they aren’t kidding.  The grapes were harvested maybe two months ago, and this is the first actual wine to be produced in any given year.

Les Beaujolais Nouveaux chez moi.

Very light and fruity, this wine is meant to be drunk NOW.  There is no tannin to speak of, and very little structure, but the stuff goes down like fruit juice.  Served slightly chilled, it is dangerously drinkable (it is not unheard of for one person to casually polish off a whole bottle on a weeknight… not that I know anything about that personally, mind you).  Because of its gentle acidity, it is a rather food-friendly wine, and magazines all over the US for the last couple of years have been touting it as a great wine for Thanksgiving.  While I tend to prefer a wine as special as the meal I just spent three days preparing, I can see where they’re coming from.

This year’s batch (based on the one I’ve tried so far) is fairly typical – fruity and easy-drinking.  If you see it, grab a bottle and drink it soon.  This is not cellar wine, so don’t spend more than 10 bucks.

Cheers, and have a wonderful weekend!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Energy Food Challenge

20 11 2008

Hopie, a fellow American-in-Paris-food-blogger, is hosting an event in an effort to support her mom, who is training for a 109-mile bike ride.  But this isn’t any ordinary bike ride, it’s also a fundraiser for research on blood cancers.  So Hopie has asked the food blogging community to help out by offering up their best energy food recipes.

Energy Food Challenge

I immediately thought of granola, high in energy and fiber, and low in fat (at least the way I make it).  I could have gone the lazy route and reposted this old recipe, but that didn’t really seem to be in the spirit of the event (the laziness, I mean, not the recipe).  Plus, I thought a seasonally appropriate update was in order.  Be warned, however, once you get hooked on homemade granola, you may never go back to the pre-packaged stuff!  Without further ado, here is my dream recipe for Fall granola – most of the ingredients are horrendously expensive here in France, so eat it up, Americans!

Cranberry-Pecan Granola

A great snack or breakfast for fall, you could even use this to top an apple or pear crisp!

500 g/ 1 lb. rolled oats
150 g/ 5 oz. pecan pieces
100 g/ 3½ oz. pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)(optional)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg (about ½ pod – if all you have is dried nutmeg, leave it out)

300 ml/ 10 oz. apple juice concentrate

200 g/ 7 oz. dried cranberries
60 ml/ 4½ Tbsp. maple syrup (the real stuff, no corn syrup allowed!)

1. Preheat oven to 175 C/ 350 F.
2. Combine the oats, pecans, pepitas, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Drizzle the apple juice concentrate over the oat mixture and toss gently to evenly moisten the oats.
3. Spread the granola mixture on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake, stirring every 10 minutes or so until the oats are uniformly toasted to a nice terra cotta shade. This should take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven.
4. During the last 5-10 minutes of toasting, heat up the maple syrup in the microwave. 20-30 seconds will suffice; you just want it to be fluid and easily pourable.
5. Carefully transfer the hot granola to a large bowl and toss with the dried cranberries. Drizzle the warm syrup over the granola and toss gently to coat.
6. Spread the granola back out on the sheet pan to cool. Once cooled, it will keep in an airtight container up to 6 weeks.

Makes approximately 1 kg/ 2 lbs.  (Enough to fuel many, many bike rides.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Meert

17 11 2008

Whenever I travel somewhere new, the first question I ask before going is, “What are the local food specialties?”  I guess that makes me some kind of culinary tourist.  In preparing for our recent trip to Lille, I searched three or four different libraries for guidebooks to Lille or at least the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.  No dice.  So apart from a few recommendations from a friend, Nick and I were pretty much flying blind.  Which turned out to be cool.  We found a great restaurant in the paper, we had Google Maps running constantly on our phones (what an age we live in!), and we chatted with the very friendly locals.  In one café, the owner found out that I was a pâtissier, and said that I should really pay a visit to Meert.  He explained that it was one of the oldest pâtisseries in France, and that they were the official pastry suppliers for the royal family of Belgium.

Meert's grandiose storefront

Situated on a very posh street (the smallest bill dispensed by the nearby ATM was a 50!) just off the Place du Général de Gaulle (which everyone insists on calling the Grand Place, just to confuse you), Meert’s gorgeous storefront invites you in to ogle the tempting treats.  The shop is split into three parts: on the left is the pastry boutique, the right side houses the chocolate shop, and a salon de thé sits cozily tucked away in the back.

We arrived late in the afternoon on a Sunday, and the pastry selection was dwindling.  We chose a beautiful tarte au chocolat, and then went next door to pick out some chocolates.  (Since I’ve started learning the art of chocolaterie, I have become much more interested in the chocolate selections at the pâtisseries I visit.)

A very sexy chocolate tart

That piece of crisp nougatine on top of the chocolate tart was the reason I had to try it.  Crushed hazelnuts and cacao nibs were bound by a thin layer of crunchy caramel.  But that may have been the best part.  The chocolate tart shell was tasty, but too thick.  It left very little room for the smooth dark chocolate ganache filling, which was a shame.  More filling and less crust would have let the chocolate flavor shine.  Still, I appreciate that Meert uses chocolate disks to display their logo, as opposed to cardboard tags.

I failed to get any photos of the chocolates, but let me assure you that they were beautiful.  The raspberry ganache had bits of fresh raspberry mixed in, which was a nice touch.  My favorite was probably the semi-liquid passionfruit gelée enrobed in dark chocolate, but I was impressed by how incredibly smooth their ganaches and pralinés were.

We retuned to the same café later that evening for an apéritif, and the owner was pleased to see we had a Meert bag in tow.  I thanked him for the suggestion and then Nick and I settled in with pints of Affligem Noël – an absolutely delicious winter beer scented with cinnamon and other spices.  With all the beer and chocolate (not to mention the mussels and gaufres) Lille feels a lot more like Belgium than France.  Which is great, because after only an hour on the train from Paris, it really felt like we’d gone somewhere.  And that’s the whole point of a weekend getaway, is it not?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Hot Sandwich For A Cold Night

13 11 2008

Those of you who have been paying attention the last couple of weeks have probably noticed a proliferation of meals involving Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese.  Normally, I would use La Fête du Fromage as an excuse to try something funky and new (although who needs an excuse, really?), but this time I’m going to wax rhapsodic about my favorite cheddar cheese.

Started in 1909 as a dairy farmers’ cooperative to ensure the continuing high quality of cheese produced in the region, the Tillamook County (Oregon) Creamery Association now includes over 100 dairy farmers and produces a gamut of dairy products from cheese to ice cream.  Pretty much everything you could want to know about them can be found on their website.  (And no, I am not a member of the fan club.)

The cheese itself, in case you are unfamiliar, has a firm, bordering on crumbly texture.  It melts like a dream, and has a distinct tang to its robust, smooth cheddar flavor.  It’s great for snacking as well as cooking.  I’ve already made chili and macaroni and cheese with it, but this time I wanted a sandwich.

Nearly there

Specifically, a tuna melt.  Using my standard tuna salad recipe (red onions, celery, and mayonnaise – no pickles) and some tasty bread from Du Pain et des Idées, I built a solid base for the thick slices of Tillamook.  Into the pan the sandwiches went, with a thin smear of butter on the outsides of the bread.

Cooking the tuna melts

And out they came, gooey and delicious as ever.  Nick took about a million pictures of the beautiful cheese oozing out the side of the crispy, toasty sandwiches.  And then we sat down to eat them while watching the Daily Show.  It was a good night.

Personally, I think this borders on obscene.

Don’t forget to stop by Chez Louloufor the Fête du Fromage roundup on the 15th!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Worthwhile French Beers: Les 3 Brasseurs

11 11 2008

Having been tipped off that I might find some good beers there, and having found a good last-minute weekend deal, Nick and I found ourselves in Lille last weekend.  A friend who used to live there recommended we check out Les 3 Brasseurs, a microbrewery/brewpub conveniently located right next to the train station.  Approaching it from across the square, we were greeted with this charming sight:

Doesn't Nick take great pictures?

This is, it turns out, the original location of Les 3 Brasseurs, which has expanded over the last twenty years to include locations in several French cities as well as in Canada.  But on to the beer…

Blonde and Ambrée

The first two we tried were the Blonde and the Ambrée.  The first sip provoked smiles on both our faces.  This is microbrew!  This is what I’ve been missing!  The Blonde had a clean, crisp flavor with a distinct hoppy aroma and a pleasing bitterness on the finish.  The Ambrée was smoother and maltier, but also had a well-balanced hoppiness to it.  As we savored our non-macrobrews, we perused a local paper and found a restaurant we wanted to try.  Confirming that Les 3 Brasseurs would be open for dinner on Sunday, we vowed to return to try the rest of their wares.

Which we did.  We failed to get any pictures on our second visit, but did taste two more beers.  The Blanche was fairly typical for the style, but the Brune was surprisingly tasty.  Dark and full-bodied, but again balanced nicely with hops, it drank more like an English porter than the sweeter, Belgian-style brune we were expecting.  The food was decent, beer-friendly fare such as Carbonnade (beef stewed with beer and onions), Chocroute garnie, and Flammekeuche (an Alsatian specialty – like a thin pizza spread with crème fraîche, onions, and lardons).

Good beer, hearty food, and cozy brewery environs: just the ticket after a cold day in Lille!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Spaghetti and Fried Eggs

10 11 2008

Sounds weird, I know.  I’ve had this recipe filed away in my mental recipe box for months now.  Every time I brought it up in the past, Nick would give me this look and say “So it’s just pasta?  With a fried egg?” in such a way that eventually discouraged me from pursuing it.

Frying eggs

So I was very surprised one day last week, when, while assessing the contents of our still-not-fully-operational fridge, Nick asked me, “didn’t you have some pasta-fried egg thing you wanted to try?”  Seizing on what was surely a rare opportunity, I agreed to make it the next night for dinner with the caveat that I add something to liven it up a bit.

A trip through the produce section of the supermarket the next day proved somewhat fruitless.  I had hoped to find some mustard greens, dandelions (I have yet to try them but am quite curious), or even arugula or spinach, but they were sorely lacking in the fresh greens department.  (Spaghetti with fried eggs and lettuce doesn’t sound the slightest bit appealing, does it?)  As I meandered through the aisles, searching for inspiration, I came to the realization that I had everything I needed for a great pasta dish at home.  Contemplating the pasta and fried egg concept, I recalled that I had seen it referred to as “poor man’s carbonara.”  Further reflection dragged up some memory of peas in carbonara dishes.  Well, I have a bag of frozen peas that need to be used… but what else can I put in there to make it more seasonally appropriate?  A quick mental scan of my pantry revealed some fresh rosemary and a jar of dried porcini mushrooms.  Now we’re talking!

A jumble of ingredients

This is a perfect dish for busy weeknights.  Fast, filling, infinitely variable – I will certainly be turning to pasta and eggs for future emergency dinners.  I started rehydrating the mushrooms and boiling water for pasta, and 20 minutes later I had dinner!

Stirring the pasta

The eggs were fried in a rather large amount of garlic-infused oil, just like the original recipe.  I threw the peas in with the pasta, timing it so they would be done at the same time, and meanwhile chopped up the rosemary and mushrooms.  I saved the mushroom soaking liquid to adjust the consistency of the final dish, which turned out to be necessary as the runny egg yolks combined with the oil to create a thick, rich sauce.

Quick, tasty, filling, and cheap - what more can you ask for?

For future reference, four eggs, when combined with the pasta and other ingredients, is a lot more than two people can eat for dinner.  Not that we didn’t enjoy trying.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Duck Dinner, Revisited

7 11 2008

Now that the weather has turned decisively cold, I find myself craving duck again.  Since I was so pleased with the results of my Winter Duck Dinner, and because Nick was so excited to see Brussels sprouts reappear at the market, I thought I’d do a rehash for Autumn.

Yet another photo of caramelized onions

On the same market trip, I found a guy selling baskets of red onions for a euro a pop.  For some reason, red onions are normally about three times the price of their less-stunningly colored relatives, so I jumped on the deal.  Once the onions have been caramelized, I’m not sure if there’s that much of a flavor difference between varieties, but Iove the color of deeply caramelized red onions.

Come here, you tasty little cabbages!

As before, the Brussels sprouts were seared over high heat in duck fat and combined with caramelized onions.  I added the last of the fresh sage, mainly just to use it up, but it turned out to complement the sprouts beautifully.  I’ve decided this recipe is too good to keep to myself, so look for it after the photo.

Rounded out with an apricot-based pan sauce and a pile of roasted potatoes and carrots, the Fall take on the Duck Dinner was every bit as fulfilling as the Winter version.

Fall Duck Dinner - photo by Nick

Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions

 

Even if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, give this recipe a try.  Allowing them to brown a bit deepens their flavor, which is enhanced by sweet-and-savory caramelized onions.  Sage brings autumnal warmth to the dish and embellishes the earthiness of the sprouts, but the dish is equally good without it.  You could serve this with duck or game, and it may even be a surprise hit on the holiday dinner table.

 

2 Tbsp. butter

3 small red onions, thinly sliced (White or yellow onions will also work.)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

2 Tbsp. duck fat (Bacon fat would be good, too.  Olive oil is acceptable in a pinch.)

500 g/1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp. fresh sage, thinly sliced (optional)

 

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized, about an hour or so.  Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar and scrape the onions out into a bowl.  Set aside.  (This can be done ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.)
  2. While the onions are cooking, trim the root ends from the Brussels sprouts and chop them (the sprouts, not the ends) into small pieces.
  3. Wipe out the pan and add the duck fat.  Heat over high heat and throw in the chopped Brussels sprouts.  Let them sit still a few minutes to brown, then season with salt and pepper and stir.  Allow a few more minutes of browning time, add the caramelized onions and sage (if you’re using it) and toss to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until heated through.  Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

 Serves 4.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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