Bastille Day Picnic

16 07 2008

The Champ de Mars on Bastille Day

While this is still timely, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Bastille Day.  (For those of you who don’t know, July 14th is also the Fête de Ste. Camille – my name day!  So nice of them to put on a fireworks show for all the Camilles out there.)

Anyway, we had a picnic with a couple thousand of our closest friends on the Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower.  Our little group managed to bring enough food to feed everyone, I think.

This is a picnic for 5 people!

We had pita bread, baguettes, potted tuna, stuffed peppers, dolmas, hummus, baba ghanoush (homemade by yours truly), pasta salad, no less than four bags of chips, three kinds of cheese, three different cookie flavors (one of which was peanut butter, also made by me), and the now-notorious onion dip, front and center.  Since there were only five of us eating, joined by four more later, we managed to make two meals out of this spread.  It was a long afternoon spent lounging in the sun and enjoying the scenery.  Really, just like the 4th of July, only 10 days later.

I feel like I’ve been teasing you a bit with the onion dip, so without further ado, here’s my recipe (with thanks again to my friend Pete for the suggestion):

Pete’s Caramelized Onion-Bacon Dip

 

1 oz./25 g bacon, chopped (about 2 slices)

2 medium onions, sliced

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne pepper

White wine

Rosemary red wine vinegar (substitute balsamic or sherry vinegar)

 

1 lb./500 g crème fraîche or sour cream

 

  1. Put the chopped bacon in a medium skillet over low heat.  Cook until most of the fat has rendered out.
  2. Add onions and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (bear in mind the bacon is already contributing some salt).  Continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions deepen in color to a nice golden brown.  When you start to notice browning on the bottom of the pan, splash in a bit of white wine and stir to scrape up the brown bits.  When the onions are the desired color, add a hit of vinegar to the pan to keep them moist.  Remove from heat and cool a few minutes.
  3. Stir onion-bacon mixture into crème fraîche.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  It is best if you wait an hour or so before serving it, but that can be hard to do.  Serve with potato chips, crackers, baguette slices, crudités…

 

Serves:  Fewer people than you might think.





Happy 4th of July!

8 07 2008

OK, so I’m a little behind the times, but better late than never, right?  For the 4th last Friday Nick invited some students who are doing a Summer program in Paris over for some good old-fashioned cheeseburgers.  He bought freshly ground beef from the butcher while I procured potatoes and appetizer fixins.

When I got home from work I started a batch of brioche dough with which to make hamburger buns.  Nick made his famous potato salad – with a few changes.  Usually he uses Russet potatoes, but starchy-type potatoes are thin on the ground over here, so this time they were red.  We also made the mayonnaise from scratch, and the sweet pickle relish that often goes into the salad was absent.  But it tasted like home nonetheless. 

For the apéro, I decided that onion dip would be suitably Classic American Cookout to serve at our 4th of July party.  My friend Pete recently told me about his onion dip, made with bacon, caramelized onions, and sour cream.  I loved the idea, so I did just that, with the minor substitution of crème fraîche for sour cream.  No one complained.  In fact, the entire batch (500 g crème fraîche, 4 small onions, and a few ounces of bacon) was gone by the end of the night.  We will definitely be making that one again.

Having found a fairly reliable source for cheddar, we knew exactly what to put on our burgers.  That, along with some sliced tomato, red onion, and lettuce leaves, and we were in business.  (We realized just slightly too late that we had neglected to purchase ketchup – d’oh!)

Cheeseburger and potato salad

And of course, we washed it down with some All-American beer.  (Although these particular beers were brewed in Spain and they have to shorten the name in Europe because some Czech brewery got the name first…)

Budweiser, King of Beers

Happy 4th, everyone!  (Or 8th, or whatever.)





BBLTs

19 06 2008

The extra B is for Bbleu d’Auvergne.

I came to the realization the other day that for once, the stars had aligned properly and I had all the components of a BLT sandwich in the kitchen at one time (well, except the bread, which takes all of 3 minutes to run down to the corner and buy).  Nick’s been hankering for a BLT for a while, so when he called to let me know he was on his way home, I fired up the stove and started cooking bacon.

While I was getting the bacon out of the fridge, I noticed a hunk of Bleu d’Auvergne that had somehow escaped my notice for the last couple of days and was therefore untouched.  Bacon and bleu cheese being a natural pairing in my book, I grabbed the cheese as well.

There were also a couple of artichokes lying around in there, and I thought they would make a good side dish, so I got a big pot of water boiling.  Then Nick arrived home and announced that since it was such a nice day we should take our dinner to the park.  I agreed, and then I remembered the artichokes, which are not exactly the world’s most picnic-friendly food.  We decided to stick them in our biggest tupperware and bring along a small one of melted butter.  Problem solved!

For the sandwiches, I split lengths of baguette and spread one half of each with butter.  The other half I smeared with Bleu d’Auvergne before stuffing the sandwiches with 4-5 slices of bacon each, and the requisite lettuce and tomatoes.

His and Hers BBLTs

We packed up our picnic and headed up the canal to a nearby park.  We had just enough time to find a spot, open our wine, and take a few bites of sandwich before we heard the telltale whistles of the park police.  This meant that it was coming up on 9:30, closing time.  Which seemed very odd, considering that the park was full of families playing and large groups having picnics in the early evening sun.

Yes, sun.  The sun officially sets just before 10 pm, but these days, it seems to stay light until nearly 11 o’clock.  Here’s a picture from after we had relocated to a spot beside the canal, set up, and eaten our way through the better part of our sandwiches and one of the artichokes.  (It had to be at least quarter past 10.)

Now I understand why the French eat dinner so late...

The artichokes actually caused quite a stir among the group next to us – one guy couldn’t help but gape and exclaim gleefully to his friends that we had brought artichokes on our picnic.  The friends apologized and explained that he was absolutely crazy for artichokes.  Then we lent them our corkscrew and were deemed “des touristes très sympas” (very nice tourists).  I jumped to correct the error.  “Nous ne sommes pas des touristes, nous habitons ici.”  It still feels awesome to say that.





Shou-DAIR

25 04 2008

It’s chow-dah! Say it right!

Earlier in the week, before the sun came out, it seemed the right kind of weather for some New England clam chowder.  Just to underscore the point, Mother Nature decided to dump rain on me while I was at the market shopping for the ingredients.  But I was not to be deterred.  I managed to procure the necessities, including a salmon carcass with which to make fish stock.

I know, you’re not supposed to use salmon for fish stock.  Well, I had originally intended to just buy a few fish scraps for the cat, but the fishmonger(ess) informed me that she only sold scraps in 3 euro lots.  I didn’t want nearly that much, so when she offered up the salmon carcass, I took it.  The cat wasn’t nearly as excited about her gift as I had hoped*, so I was left wondering what to do with the majority of this salmon carcass.  (Don’t worry, I cut the salmon into pieces before trying to give it to the cat – what I gave her, she kept, and the rest stayed clean.)  Then it dawned on me that I could use it to make stock for the clam chowder instead of using my precious chicken stock.  Personally, I think the fish stock made with salmon came out just fine.  I had to skim a little more than usual, but no more than your average chicken stock.

Stock at the ready, I began the preparations for the chowder.  All good chowders start with bacon, at least in my house.  So I cut a few slices of smoked bacon into small pieces and set them in a saucepan over low heat to render.  I put in a little butter to help it get going, because, as one of my chef-instructors used to say, “a little bit of butter helps the bacon fat go down.”

Rendering bacon

While the bacon cooked, I steamed the clams in a little fish stock.

Steamed clams

I reserved the resulting clam juice-enriched liquid to use in the chowder.  When the bacon was getting nice and crisp, I added a diced onion to the pot and scraped the bottom to pick up the fond.

Bacon and onions - the basis of a great chowder

Once the onions were beginning to soften, I added a minced garlic clove and a pinch of flour.  I stirred these around until the garlic was aromatic and the flour evenly coated everything.  Next I whisked in the fish stock (to ensure there would be no lumps of flour in the final dish) and added some diced potatoes.  I put in some fresh thyme and a bay leaf and brought the whole mess up to a simmer.

Only missing one thing...

When the potatoes were tender, about 15 minutes later, I added the clam meat and stirred in some cream.  I fished out the bay leaf, adjusted the seasoning, and served the chowder with bread and a Riesling from Alsace.  (Bacon and potatoes being staples of the Alsatian diet, plus the bottle said the wine went well with seafood.  Sounds like a good match to me.)

Clam chowder supper

If you look closely at the spoon, you can see Nick taking this photo, as well as the awesome exposed beams in the ceiling.  At any rate, it was a hearty and satisfying meal.  Now, does anyone have any suggestions as to what I should do with all this leftover fish stock?

*She did, however, love the couple bites of clam Nick gave her.





Choucroute, part Deux

6 03 2008

Choucroute is French for sauerkraut.  Choucroute garnie is a specialty of the Alsace region and may be the second-heaviest dish in the French repertoire.  (The first being cassoulet, though I’m sure this is debatable.)  Given that I had a bowlful of leftover homemade sauerkraut, I decided to attempt choucroute garnie.  I was up in Montmartre yesterday afternoon on a pâtisserie-scouting quest, and I had looked into the neighborhood charcuteries and chosen one to visit.  Of course, this particular charcuterie is closed from 1-4 pm, so I had to time my visit accordingly.  Naturally, it was still closed when I showed up at 4:15.  No indication of whether they planned to open later that day, just the cold metal shutters of a closed French shop.  Well, this can’t be the only place to get sausages in Montmarte.  Sure enough, two or three doors down was a butcher shop which had at least ten kinds of sausage.  When I got to the front of the line I told the butcher that I wanted to make choucroute garnie and asked which sausages I needed.  He proceeded to point to three different sausages as well as some large chunks of unsliced bacon.  He asked how many I was cooking for and I replied, “Deux.”  So he pulled out two francfort sausages, a fat red sausage whose name I have forgotten, and a piece of poitrine.

This much meat for two people?!

This is, apparently, the necessary meat to make choucroute garnie for two.  After making my purchase, the butcher advised me on how to cook each item.  I nodded politely, a plan already forming in my head.

Despite the poitrine already being cooked, I decided to trim the skin off and render it a bit more.  I also cut some thin strips to form the base of my choucroute garnie, because… why not?

Mmmmm… hog fat

Once that started to brown, I added a couple of sliced onions to deglaze the pot.  When they were softened I added some roughly chopped garlic and let it become fragrant.  Next came about a glass’ worth of Alsatian wine, followed by the sauerkraut, some chicken broth, two bay leaves, a few sprigs of thyme, a clove, and black pepper.  I nestled the remaining chunk of poitrine (cut in half) in the pot, covered it, and turned the heat to medium-low.

Before…

After it had simmered for about an hour, filling the house/room with irresistible smells, I sliced up some fingerling potatoes and added them to the pot along with the sausages and a pinch of salt.  I let it cook for another half an hour or so, until the potatoes were tender and had absorbed the flavors of the choucroute.

…and after

Here you have it, folks: choucroute garniefor two!  Yeah, right.  I served it with the rest of the wine, an Alsatian Sylvaner, and that was all the accompaniment it needed.

 Choucroute Garnie

It was a pretty easy dish to make (in one pot, no less!), and as a bonus, we have lots of delicious leftovers.  That red sausage was so good, it elicited a “wow!” from both Nick and me.  It was smoky, but with a distinctive flavor we couldn’t quite name.  The white sausages were good, too, akin to hot dogs (frankfurters) in color and texture, but with a meatier, warm-spiced flavor.  The poitrine basically disintegrated into the dish, infusing every bite with meaty goodness.  I highly recommend you try this at home.





Pig Day Salad

3 03 2008

Saturday, as you should all know, was National Pig Day in the United States.  Curious as to how this came about, I trawled briefly on the old Internets and came up with this, from holidayinsights.com: “Ellen Stanley, a Texas art teacher created National Pig Day in 1972. Her intent was to to recognize and be thankful for pigs as intelligent domestic animals.  There is no evidence to suggest that this is truly a ‘National’ day, which requires an act of congress.”  First of all, what is congress thinking?  This situation needs to be rectified at once!  Secondly, I’m afraid Ellen Stanley may have been a bit misguided when it came to inventing a reason to celebrate the pig.  I think most people would consider National Pig Day as a day to appreciate the multitude of flavors and textures given to us by the humble pig.  Homer Simpson said it best when he (unwittingly) referred to the pig as “a wonderful, magical animal.”  As evidenced by that first link, food-loving types will be overjoyed to have an excuse to indulge in as many pork products as possible.  (Side note: I am making those bacon bowls as soon as I get my hands on some decent cooking equipment.  If anyone gets to it before I do, I want to hear all about it!)

Upon learning of this holiday, Nick and I set out to build a meal around it.  Unfortunately, we had planned on having salads for dinner, in order to use up the last of that fine head of lettuce before it went limp.  Luckily, I have never been above putting pork products center stage in my salads.  So I decided on an old favorite of ours, the poached egg and bacon salad.  This pretty much has infinite variations, so I went to the store to see what I could find for tonight’s salad.  (Yes, I went to the store, not the market – it was Saturday and the market is on Sundays and Thursdays.)  Browsing the pre-packaged charcuterie section, I decided on a bag of lardons fumés.  Hey, the bacon is already cut up for me!  It doesn’t get much easier than that.  Blue cheese is always nice with bacon, and salads, so I selected a round of Fourme d’Ambert, a relatively mild blue cheese from Auvergne.  Roasted, salted hazelnuts went into my shopping bag next – I like nuts on my salad for crunch.

Armed with my salad fixins, dinner came together in a snap.  First I cooked the lardons over low heat in order to render the fat, then turned it up to get them nice and brown.

Browning Lardons

Once the lardons were crispy on the outside, but still chewy in the center, I took them out and added a julienned onion to pick up the fond.  (You don’t expect me to just leave all that bacon fat and fond behind, do you?)

Bacon-y Onions

When the onions were softened and sufficiently bacon-y, I removed the pan from the heat and replaced it with a pot of salted water for poaching eggs.  While it heated up, I began to put the salads together.  Lettuce, cleaned and torn, went on the plates first, followed by a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.  Next went the onions, lardons, and crumbled Fourme d’Ambert.  I poached the eggs one at a time and placed one atop each salad, then sprinkled them with the hazelnuts.

Salad for National Pig Day

We raised our glasses to the pig and dug in.  Happy National Pig Day, everyone!








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