Adventures in the Languedoc

25 07 2011

This post is not about food.  Mostly.  At least most of my vacation pictures don’t feature food, in a vast departure from my normal routine of photographing my meals and pretty much nothing else.  Not that we didn’t eat well during our week in the Languedoc.  Our first stop was Montpellier, where we stayed with a colleague of Nick’s.  He took us to Les Estivales, a weekly food-and-wine event in downtown Montpellier.  A glass and three 10cl pours of wine cost just four euros, and there were food stands up and down the main drag, selling everything from paella to aligot.  The three of us indulged in mussels, calamari, some skinny little sausages that looked like SlimJims but tasted way better, some tuna-filled African “empanadas” whose proper name I have forgotten, a trio of vegetable-laden tartines, and probably a few more things that got lost somewhere between the third and fourth tastes of wine.  The next day we lunched at a café on the beach, and after sunning ourselves most of the afternoon (don’t forget your sunscreen, kids!) we stopped to pick up an array of seafood and vegetables which we grilled on our host’s balcony.

The next day Nick and I headed south.  We stopped in Béziers for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised by Le P’tit Semard, a cute little restaurant featuring fresh seasonal products from Béziers’ main market, conveniently located across the street.  I say we were pleasantly surprised because when you arrive in an unfamiliar French town at 2pm on a Sunday, the chances of you finding something to eat, period, are slim.  That it would also be a worthwhile meal is almost too much to hope for, but we got lucky this time.

Beautiful, colorful stained glass in Béziers

After lunch we decided to take a stroll through the town, and stopped to take a look at the Madeleine church, originally built in the 10th century.  The architecture was definitely different from the Gothic style with its sturdy stone walls, square construction, and few small windows.  But these windows had some amazing colors.  Outside we read some of the history of the church, which was mostly horrible and bloody.  At one point, there was a massacre, the leader of which was quoted as saying, “Kill them all.  God will know his own.”

Beziers

Under semi-threatening skies we took the bridge out of town with the top down on our convertible (did I mention that we rented a convertible?  We did, and it was awesome.) but put it back up before hitting the main road, not wanting to get caught in a sudden rainstorm.

Read the rest of this entry »





Vegetable and Grain Salad

14 07 2011

You can try to plan it out.  You can try to make sure you have holiday-appropriate recipes all ready in advance.  You can spend hours taking that perfect photo.  You can read, and re-read, and edit.  You can post regularly, multiple times per week, or day.  There are lots of you who do, and that’s why your blogs are better than mine.  Me, I’m in a phase with my blog right now where I am just letting it come to me.  If I don’t have inspiration to write about something, I’m not going to force you to read my pained output.  I’ve got a couple of books I’ve been trying to write about for weeks now.  But I’m afraid the truth is I don’t have much to say about them.  What I am excited about right now, and what I want to share with you, is this:

Don't judge a book by its cover.

I know.  It kind of looks like barf.  But this is just one in a parade of such grain-and-vegetable salads I’ve made over the last few weeks.  I wouldn’t keep making if they weren’t tasty.  It started with a box of blé, which translates literally to “wheat” but often refers in French to a particular product that resembles wheat berries in the way that Uncle Ben’s resembles rice.  I acquired this box of blé when a friend was moving away, and Nick and I both actually like the stuff – it’s a nice change from rice or pasta – so using hasn’t really been a problem.  But one day it occurred to me, perhaps following a party at a friend’s where she served a couple of delicious grain-based salads, that I could use the blé as more than just a side dish.  Combine that epiphany with a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables and an uncommonly delicious salad dressing, and you’ve got what’s been a very popular dinner in my house of late.

So far I’ve done it with asparagus, broccoli, and zucchini, but I suspect it’s also good with green beans, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, winter squash… you get the idea.  When I finally ran out of blé, I bought and used petit épeautre* which was equally successful.  I originally wanted to type this up as a nice recipe (see above re: planning), but the more I think about it, the more I think this is something you should be able to play around with.

Here’s how it goes.  Cook your grains in a pot of boiling water.  (If they require it, as my spelt did, soak them ahead of time.)  While the grains are cooking, make the dressing** and prepare and cook your vegetables.  Roasting and sautéeing are my preferred methods, for the flavorful browned bits they produce, but if you’d rather just steam yours over the already boiling pot of water, that’s fine, too, and saves energy to boot.  When the grains are tender, drain them and gently stir in the vegetables and dressing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  A little crisped bacon, chunks of ham, or shredded cooked chicken would be good additions, too, but I assure you it’s just fine without the meat.  Some toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds add a nice crunch.  Fresh herbs like parsley or basil could add a fresh note.  See what I mean?  This “recipe” is so infinitely adaptable I see no reason to commit to just one version.

Have fun with it, and happy Bastille Day!

*Anyone who knows the difference between spelt and farro, and their respective names in French, is implored to comment here and enlighten me and my readers.

** I linked to the dressing recipe above, but here’s my paraphrased version: take a small pot of plain yogurt (about 125 grams or 4 ounces), add 4 big spoonfuls of tahini, a big pinch of salt, the juice of half a lemon, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves.  Blend them together.  The flavor of this dressing can vary according to the juiciness of the lemon and the pungency of the garlic, but it is always delicious.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fouquet

8 07 2011

France is full of things that make foreigners (and the French, too) complain.  The ample vacation time is not one of them.  I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks now, and I have a couple more ahead of me before I go back to work.  We’ve got some friends arriving into town this evening, and Nick has taken today off to prepare for their arrival (well, initially they were supposed to be arriving in time for a late lunch, so he’d planned to take the day off to hang out with them – we won’t go into the reasons behind the delay here) and won’t go to work the whole time they’re here.  He just admitted he has more vacation days than he can probably use.  I’m lucky in that once the vacation schedule is all sorted out, we pretty much have to stick to it – we rotate vacations so the pâtisserie can stay open all summer long – and July is my month off.

One thing that people do complain about (and rightly, I suppose) is the general tendency here to be oblivious or unconcerned about food sensitivities and allergies.  It’s getting better, but vegetarians, celiacs, and the lactose-intolerant still have extremely limited options, even in a large city like Paris.  The reason I bring it up is because one of our arriving friends is allergic to wheat.  It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to take her on a bread and pastry binge, so I posed the question to the Paris by Mouth forum (which I believe I’ve mentioned at least once before) in hopes of getting some wheat-free pointers.  As it turns out, simply asking the question made me realize I had more answers than  I thought.

Ice cream is almost always wheat-free, especially if you get it in a cup instead of a cone.  Meringues and their trendy little sisters, macarons are also generally made without wheat flour.  (It can’t hurt to ask in the shop, though, just to be sure.)  And then I hit the motherlode, so to speak: chocolate shops!  Caramels, ganaches, pralinés, pâtes de fruit, marshmallows, and many other sweet confections, all so very French, and made without any flour at all.  So you can be sure that we’ll be visiting at least one chocolatier this weekend… as if I need an excuse.

Chocolate treats at Fouquet

Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a tasting at Fouquet.  It’s one of Paris’ oldest continually operating chocolate shops, having opened its doors in 1852.  The original shop still exists, on rue Laffitte in the 9th arrondissement.  The company has been in the same family since the beginning of the 20th century – Frédéric Chambeau and his sister Catherine Vaz are the fifth generation of Chambeaus to run the place as it continues to grow.  They now have three locations in Paris (which you can find, along with many other tasty destinations, on my Google map) and while the house may have started out making mostly candies, which they still do, and marvelously well, they have expanded into chocolates, and we’re so much the luckier for it.

Salvatores

The only things I tasted that day that my friend won’t be able to indulge in are the “croustillants” – pictured in the top photo – thin, crisp almond cookies dipped in chocolate.  But everything else should be well within the limits, from the “salvatores” – single, perfect nuts coated in a glassy layer of crystal-clear caramel – to the jumelles, “twins” of roated hazelnuts coated in dark chocolate, to the marshmallows, about which David Lebovitz waxed rhapsodic a few weeks ago.

Chocolate-covered or plain?

Personally, I’m hard pressed to tell you whether I like them better coated in a thin layer of chocolate or unadorned.  The crisp chocolate offers a nice contrast, but the marshmallow itself is so wonderfully puffy that it’s a delight on its own as well.

Pâtes de fruits and candied fruits at Fouquet

Fouquet also make a range of candied fruits and peels (my favorite was the grapefruit, although the cherries were also excellent) and pâtes de fruit.  What’s special about their pâtes de fruit is that instead of being made in a big square and then cut, like they do at most places including where I work, they drop the still-warm jelly into a sheet of sugar, with pre-formed wells, so as to get the pleasant round shape as opposed to an industrial-looking rectangle.  The same procedure is followed for the fondant candies, of which the chocolate-covered mint ones are what Junior Mints dream of being.

But if I have to pick one favorite confection at Fouquet, it’s got to be the pralinés.  They make them the old-fashioned way, carefully caramelizing the hazelnuts and almonds before grinding them not to a paste or a powder, but to a still-crunchy mass which is then combined with a little cocoa butter or milk chocolate to help it keep its shape before being enrobed in dark or milk chocolate.  The slight crunch, the deeply toasted nuttiness, the slightly bitter edge from the caramel, these are probably the best pralinés I’ve eaten in Paris.  Really.  I like them better than Maison du Chocolat, better than Jacques Génin.

So don’t worry about me, even if I have to eschew wheat this weekend, I’ll have plenty of ways to satisfy my sweet tooth, and my friend’s, too.

On this day in 2008: Happy 4th of July! Or, Our Very First Attempts at Burgers and Potato Salad in Paris.  We were successful.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Cardamom and Black Pepper Chicken

1 07 2011

Almost exactly a year ago, I got bitten by the Indian cooking bug.  Since then, I’ve been cooking up various vegetable dals on a pretty regular basis.  So when Grapefruit of the blog Needful Things announced that she was starting a monthly Currypalooza event, I was very excited to participate.  Then life happened for a few months – my arsenal of Indian spices were all packed away and I couldn’t get to them, I had insanely busy weeks juggling houseguests, job interviews, and deadlines, but now that we’re finally settled in the new apartment and have a little time to breathe (thank you, vacation!) I’m pleased to be able to play along in this month’s Currypalooza.  The dish in question?  Madhur Jaffrey’s Cardamom and Black Pepper Chicken.

Look Ma!  No Carbs!

The recipe was delightfully quick – prepare a marinade for the chicken, let it sit while preparing the rest of the sauce, throw it in the sauce, marinade and all, and let it finish cooking.  I deviated from the recipe a bit, because I wasn’t sure how or why I should grate a tomato, so I just chopped one up.  Other than that, I was unusually faithful.  Grapefruit will be posting the recipe on her blog, and as soon as she does, I’ll put in the link.  And here it is!

What to serve with a saucy Indian chicken dish?  The obvious answer is probably rice, but Nick and I had already eaten rice at lunch that day.  Or naan, but it was a little too close to dinnertime to start kneading and proofing dough.  I didn’t feel like getting two pots dirty to make lentils, and I definitely wanted a vegetable component to the meal.  Mallika and her wonderful Quick Indian Cooking blog to the rescue!  There I found a delectable recipe for Masala Mattar, a spicy side dish featuring peas.  The two dishes worked well together, and I even got to have some of the leftover chicken for lunch the next day.  The peas were all gone, so that time, I made rice.

On this day in 2008: Get Confident, Stupid!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 307 other followers

%d bloggers like this: