Monte Cristo Sandwiches! (And Another Salad)

18 06 2008

Last Saturday, while we were trying to come up with something to have for dinner, Nick hit on an old favorite of ours: Monte Cristos!  I probably haven’t had one since college, which is… a while.  For the uninitiated, a Monte Cristo is a deep fried double-decker ham and cheese sandwich (sometimes there’s turkey in there, too) which is deep fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  Yum!  Not being lucky enough to own a deep-fryer (yet), I remembered making them in college with slices of French toast.  And we were off to the grocery store to get sandwich fixings.

On the way there, (before biking through the protest) we tried to think of an appropriate side dish.  Coleslaw sounded good, but our favorite coleslaw recipe contains buttermilk, an ingredient I have as yet been unable to find.  I decided that plain yogurt might make an acceptable substitute.  For some reason, regular white and red cabbages are horrendously expensive here (we’re talking two to three euros a head!) so we ended up taking home the cheaper French green cabbage.  How different can it be?

 What I refer to as French green cabbage

<Bleep> this <bleep> piece of <bleep> website!  <Bleep> thing just erased half my <bleep> post!  To sum up the rest of my heartbreakingly eloquent prose, French cabbage + carrots + yogurt + tarragon vinegar + celery salt = damn fine (albeit French-y) coleslaw.

 I think it's the tarragon that makes it so undeniably French

Sandwiches?  Brioche French toast + Jambon de Paris + Emmenthal = gooey sweet and salty deliciousness. 

Lightly sweetened French toast (so we could skip the powdered sugar)

French toast Monte Cristo Sandwich

Want to try this at home?  Here’s my recipe for the coleslaw (I think you can figure out the sandwiches on your own):

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Simple Summer Salad

17 06 2008

I’m sitting in the park at the Place des Vosges right now, taking advantage of the beautiful late spring day.  Most of the parks in Paris have free wifi access, and while it may seem kind of lame to bring your computer to the park, it seems even lamer to sit inside in front of a perfectly portable laptop while the sun is shining.  In the distance I can hear the chanting from a manif (demonstration/protest).  I think this one is about keeping the 35 hour workweek.  Anyway, apart from all the cigarette butts littering the grass, the Place des Vosges is lovely today.  The fountain is running and people are milling about, playing cards, sunbathing, and the like.

A glance through my pictures reminds me of a nice little salad I made last week.  Inspired by a charentais melon that needed to be used and the memory of a fresh, summery salad I had at a restaurant last year, I got out the melon and started slicing.

 Charentais melon

I nestled the thin slices of melon among leaves of baby spinach and drizzled the salads with sherry vinaigrette.  The inspiration salad had a garnish of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (not to mention watermelon instead of charentais), but since we were already having cheese on our pissaladière, I decided to skip it.  Some bacon would have made a nice addition, but then, what salad isn’t improved by a little bacon?

 Spinach and Melon Salad

I was pleased with the results, even without the bacon.  (Or serrano ham.  That would have been good too.)  The sweetness of the melon paired well with the spinach, and the sherry vinaigrette gave just the right amount of tang.  Plus I felt good eating it, knowing that the combination of spinach and vitamin C (from the fruit) is a nutritional powerhouse.

Clafoutis aux Cerises

16 06 2008

Hooray!  It\'s cherry season!

You may be wondering what I did with the rest of the cherries after only using a quarter pound in last week’s stone fruit tart.  Well, obviously some went to the noble cause of snacking (fruits are free snacks, as Nick is prone to saying).  But when I noticed that they were starting to go South I decided to make a cherry clafoutis.  This classic French dessert is often described as a thick, eggy pancake, but I’ve always considered it more of a custard.  The beauty of it, though, is in the simplicity.

Clafoutis batter

A batter of eggs, milk, sugar, flour, and almond meal is poured over fruit and baked.  Traditionally, the cherries aren’t even pitted, but seeing as I don’t care to break my teeth on my dessert, I chose to pit the cherries for my clafoutis, despite the fact that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  Let me tell you, halving and pitting 400 grams of cherries by hand is a messy undertaking.

Cherries for clafoutis

But that was the hardest part.

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Fun with Leftover Herbs

13 06 2008

It’s a question that has plagued cooks forever.  What to do with the leftover herbs?  You pay an arm and a leg for them, use a few sprigs, and the rest go to waste in the bottom of the vegetable drawer.  Herbs are much cheaper in France than they are in the US, but I still hate wasting food.  So I try to have a few projects in mind whenever I buy herbs. 

When we bought rosemary and olives for the eggplant thing, I already had it in my mind to make a loaf of olive-rosemary bread.  I used the no-knead technique that is quickly becoming one of my favorites, adding chopped olives and rosemary during the folding process.  Knead-less to say (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself) it was delicious.

No-Knead Rosemary-Olive Bread

But I still had some rosemary left over.  So I bought a cheap bottle of red wine vinegar and shoved the remaining rosemary inside.

Herbs + Vinegar = Gourmet Herb Vinegar  Oooh, fancy

But I was just getting started.

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Nick’s Provençal Eggplant

12 06 2008

Coming home after South of France day in the cafeteria, Nick had an idea for this eggplant dish.  He had seen it on his neighbor’s tray and wished he had chosen it himself, because he thought it looked particularly tasty.  He told me the basic ingredients: eggplant, olives, rosemary, and a bit of tomato sauce or paste.  I said I’d do what I could.

After procuring the necessary ingredients at the market, I had a pretty good idea of what to do – keep it simple.  Sauté some onion, garlic, and herbs, add eggplant (after a little salting and draining time).

Eggplant - raw

Let it cook down until tender and significantly reduced in volume, thusly:

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Chicken Chili Verde, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Lard

11 06 2008

We are getting pretty good at making Mexican food with French ingredients, if I do say so myself.  Having recently come into a glut of cheap chicken leg quarters, Nick decided to try his hand at some chicken chili verde.  Yet another braise.  It’s amazing how many different cuisines use this technique – but then who doesn’t love something you can put on the stove and forget about for a couple of hours?

Mise en place for chili verde
Nick found some gorgeous green chilis at the market, and chopped them up along with some onion and garlic.  After the chicken had been browned, into the Dutch oven they went.

You can almost SEE how good this smells!

You should know the drill by now.  Liquid, skinned chicken, simmer, yada yada.  What Nick did that was special, was that once the chicken was good and tender, he shredded it off the bones, returned it to the pot, and continued to cook it until the pot was almost dry.  This really concentrates the flavors and gives the meat a texture that is absolutely out of this world.  Unctuous, even.  Here it is about halfway done:

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The First Days of Stone Fruit

10 06 2008

Well, the stone fruits have finally arrived.  Not that I haven’t seen them in the market the past couple of weeks and been tempted, but they are finally affordable!  On Sunday we found some delicious cherries for 1.50 – 2 euros a kilo!  (Here’s how I do the math: 2/3 of the price per kilo in euros = price per pound in dollars.  It’s only approximate, but at least it gives me an idea.  In this case, we’re talking about $1.30/pound for cherries!)  On the way out of the market we stopped for some fruit – advertised as peaches, but with the smooth skin of nectarines – that was 3 euros for 2 kilos.  Whatever they were, they smelled great.  And at that price, we didn’t much care about the name of the fruit anyway.  They taste like peaches, so that’s what I’ll be calling them for the duration of this post.

So the obvious question as we amble home from the market is what to do with all this fruit?  Nick reminds me of a perennial favorite of ours in the summer months: rustic stone fruit tart.  That was easy.

Of course, when we get home and I jump onto for my trusty recipe, they are having some kind of technical difficulties (as they often are).  So I piece together a basic pie dough recipe off the top of my head and hope the proportions are right. 

Rolling out the dough

As far as workability, the dough is great.  I roll it out, place it on a sheet pan, and dump the fruit on top, having already pitted, sliced, and sugared a pound of peaches (no peeling required) and a quarter pound of cherries.

So juicy!  So sexy!

Then it’s a simple matter of folding the edges of the dough up around the fruit.  I also use the leftover juice in the bottom of the fruit bowl to brush the top of the tart and sprinkle it generously with cassonade.  It bakes for about an hour and comes out looking just as beautiful as I remember it.

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