Fennel Focaccia

29 09 2008

It kind of looks like an onion, with celery growing out the top, and dill instead of leaves.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley.  I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel.  The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked.  So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick.  He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.

Dimpled focaccia dough

I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack.  I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional.  It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too.  And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make.  Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.


For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel:  I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender.  I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven.  As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil.  And the cheese?  Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market.  It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.

So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me!  (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.)  Keep reading for the recipe…

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La Tourelle

26 09 2008

Tuesday nights, we’ve decided, are perfect for wandering around the art galleries in the 6th arrondissement.  A friend of ours was showing one of his paintings in a new gallery exhibition last week, and he invited Nick and me to the opening.  While searching for the place, we came across numerous galleries that also seemed to be having open houses.  “Is Tuesday gallery-opening day?” we wondered, and plan on further investigation in the near future.

On this particular evening, dressed in our Parisian art gallery opening finest (mostly black, with a scarf), we stumbled across a pub whose happy hour went until 9:00 pm, with what were probably the cheapest beers on the Left Bank, at two and a half euros a pint.  Needless to say, we ducked in for a quick one while I consulted my Pudlo guide to see if there were any affordable nearby restaurants.  Surprisingly, there were a handful.  We ended up choosing La Tourelle, which was described as “inexpensive, congenial and authentic.”

After making our way through the narrow side streets of St. Germain des Prés, we arrived at our destination.  As we walked in I noted that the building looked like it was going to fall over, but when we stepped inside, the place was cozy and reassuring.  The Most Efficient Waitress in Paris seated us promptly and brought us menus and a carafe of water almost immediately.  The menu, barely bigger than an index card, somehow managed to contain a large selection of tempting dishes.  After some deliberation, we made our decisions and placed our order (man, this woman is fast compared to standard Parisian service).

Soon, the starters arrived.  I had the salade de chèvre chaud, a salad topped with fried goat cheese.

Salade de Chèvre Chaud

It was delicious.  The warm chèvre had a thin, crispy coating which contrasted nicely withthe creamy cheese underneath.  It was served on a bed of fresh lettuce tossed with a mustardy house-made vinaigrette.

Nick got the house-cured salmon with fresh dill.

House cured salmon at La Tourelle

The salmon had a pleasant melt-in-your-mouth texture with just enough bite to let you know you were eating something.  The flavor was marvelous, the fresh dill complementing the full-bodied salmon beautifully.  Let it also be noted that the bread served here was better than average.

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Two Awards and a Tag

25 09 2008

I’ve got a bit of a backlog going on these days – so many eating adventures, so little time to write them all down!  I also seem to be hoarding tags, so today I’m going to take care of all of them in one fell swoop.

First off, about a week and a half ago, I was awarded the Brillante Weblog Award by Hope from Hopie’s Kitchen.

Thanks, Hope!

The rules for accepting this award seem to be nonexistent, but I’m going to follow Hope’s lead and award it to one old favorite and one new favorite blog.

The old favorite: Coffee Helps.  I am still loving every minute of the intrepid Hails’ travel escapades.

The new favorite: The Zest.  Trisha is an adventurous home cook with a penchant for fresh veggies, healthy recipes, and replicating decadent bakery desserts at home.

Moving on, Gloria at Cookbook Cuisine has bestowed upon me the I’m a Chocoholic Award.

Thanks, Gloria!

Instead of following protocol and awarding it to everyone who has left a comment (that would be a lot of people, and besides, a lot of my readers don’t have blogs) I’m going to pass it on in the form of links to two of the very best chocolate makers out there.

DeVries Chocolate, whose tagline is “100 years behind the times,” is run by Steve DeVriesin Colorado.  He spends several months a year traveling to cacao plantations in Central and South America and getting involved in the harvesting, fermenting, and roasting of the cacao beans for his chocolate.  The only thing he adds to the finished chocolate is a little bit of unrefined sugar, which results in an extremely unique molasses-y flavor complementing some of the richest, darkest chocolate you’ve ever tasted.

Patric Chocolate, based in Missouri, is the brainchild of one Alan McClure, whose chocolate obsession runs every bit as deep as DeVries’.  His single-origin, micro-batch chocolates are intended to be works of art and to be appreciated as one would a fine wine or Scotch.  I have not had the pleasure of actually tasting any Patric chocolate yet, but I have heard good things from some very reliable sources.

Also, look what I made this week!

They're filled with passionfruit ganache.  Not bad for my first ever attempt at molded chocolates!

* * *

And now for the tag.  I just got tagged with this quick, fun exercise this afternoon by Hope.  (Watch out, the link is in French!)  The rules are as follows: Il faut évoquer ici un livre que l’on a à portée de main, l’ouvrir à la page 123, trouver la cinquième phrase et citer les trois suivantes.  That is to say: Pick up a book, open it to page 123, find the fifth sentence and quote the following three.

Since I am a bit of a bookworm, I am going to do this with the two food-related books I am reading at the moment, one in French and one in English.

D’abord, Chocolat & Zucchini de Clotilde Dusoulier:

Épluchez le céleri-rave, coupez-le en six morceaux et râpez-les comme pour faire des carottes râpées.  (Ne laissez pas le céleri râpé reposer trop longtemps à l’air libre pour éviter qu’il s’oxyde.)  Mettez le céleri, le yaourt, la moutarde, le jus de citron, l’ail et l’aneth dans un grand saladier.  Salez, poivrez et mélangez le tout à la fourchette.

Next, Hungry for Paris by Alexander Lobrano: (Of which page 123 is mostly a picture, so I have quoted its entirety.)

Observing the culinary waltz here is, in fact, easily as much of a reward as the food you’ll find on your plate, although what it serves is perfectly respectable vielle France comfort food.  Or food you eat because you’re hungry.  Or not.  One way or another, it’s not food that’s meant to create a fuss.

Now I’m going to tag Andrea at Cooking Books, Dish at Hooked in Amsterdam, and Nererue at Lady Disdain.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Oops, I Did It Again

23 09 2008

And by “it,” I mean Philly Cheesesteaks.  There were, however, a couple of improvements this time around.  First, we had fresh peppers – both red and green – to add to the sautéed onions.

Look at all those healthy vegetables!

Second, we decided to dice the “cheese” and stir it into the steak and pepper mixture before piling it onto fresh baguettes.  And third, I made corn fritters to go with the cheesesteaks.  Remember that corn salsa I made for the torta salads?  Well, I stirred it up with some flour, baking powder, eggs, butter, and milk and dropped spoonfuls of the stuff into hot peanut oil.

Maybe the best frying action shot I've ever gotten.

When they came out of the oil, they looked like this:

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The Frenchie Fifteen

21 09 2008

Today I reached a milestone.  Seven months and three days after my first post, I have reached a total of 15,000 hits to my blog!  Not too shabby, considering the first 3 months I only got about 3,000.  So thank you all for reading and commenting and coming back to visit.  I really enjoy writing Croque-Camille, but it’s infinitely more gratifying when I know there are people out there who are enjoying the fruits of my labor.  (Not entirely unlike cooking, in that regard.)

To celebrate, I’m creating my own meme: The Frenchie Fifteen.  Fifteen foods that, to me, exemplify France and its rich culinary history.  Except it has 21 items, because it’s the 21st of September, and I just couldn’t whittle my list down any more. 

I had two sources of inspiration that led to this.  First, I went to a book reading on Thursday at WH Smith, one of the biggest English-language bookstores in Paris.  The author was Alexander Lobrano, and he was reading from his excellent book, Hungry for Paris.  It’s a restaurant guide, but rather than spare descriptions of the restaurants and their dishes, Lobrano invites us to dine with him, sharing anecdotes of memorable meals he’s had at each place.  Interspersed with the restaurant “portraits” are essays on French cuisine, restaurant culture, and a little autobiography for good measure.  It’s a great read.  Anyway, in the introduction, he discusses French food and what, specifically, that refers to.  The essay culminates in a list of 10 dishes Lobrano considers to be the answer to the question, “what is French food?”  His list differs from mine (there are, of course, some overlaps), mainly because it focuses on complete dishes, while I have chosen to include pastries, snacks, and drinks as well.

The second source of inspiration was the blog Joy of Desserts, where Joy celebrated her hundredth post by creating a meme called 100 for the Sweet Tooth.  (I played at home, but I find the rules a little unclear, so I’m not posting about it.)  Since I let my hundredth post go by without fanfare, I’m celebrating 15,000 hits instead.

So here’s my list of quintessential French foods, and the rules for playing along.  If you’re interested, I’ve listed some descriptions and reasoning behind my choices afterward.

But first, the rules:
– Copy/paste the list and rules into your blog, journal, or even a piece of paper.
– Put the foods you’ve had the pleasure of eating in bold. Elaborate and add stories as you see fit.
– If you’re so inclined, leave a comment on this post to let me know where to find your results.

The Frenchie Fifiteen

1. Croissant
2. Ratatouille
3. Lait cru cheese
4. Kir
5. Croque-Monsieur
6. Crème Caramel
7. Tartiflette
8. Pain Tradition
9. Cassoulet
10. Macarons
11. Aligot
12. Pissaladière
13. Pain de Campagne
14. Choucroute Garnie
15. Tarte Tatin
16. Pastis
17. Roast Chicken
18. Eclair
19. Lentil Salad
20. Entrecôte
21. Escargots

1. Croissant – Is there a single pastry with more French connotations than the buttery, flaky croissant?
2. Ratatouille – This provençal classic even got a movie named after it. Not being a big bell pepper fan, I usually riff on the idea in my own kitchen.
3. Lait cru cheese – One of the best things about living in France is the abundance of cheese and the ease of procuring cheeses made with raw milk. They are unfailingly more complex and delicious than their pasteurized counterparts. How ironic that it was a Frenchman who invented pasteurization in the first place.
4. Kir – When I first moved to France, right after college, I lived in a small town called Moulins-sur-Allier. The first week I was there, I had arranged to meet the other two Anglophones in town at a little brasserie called Bar Les Ducs. (I later learned that this was some kind of pun.) We asked the bartender to make us something French. He gave us Kir: a traditional apéritif made with white wine and a splash of crème de cassis.
5. Croque-Monsieur – The über-French ham sandwich with a gooey and crunchy cap of melted cheese on top. My co-workers eat these things like they’re going out of style. I also took the name for this blog from said sandwich.
6. Crème Caramel – Perhaps more commonly known as “flan,” this one is a classic. The shy, sophisticated sister of crème brûlée, This silky smooth custard is baked in a cup with caramel in the bottom so that when it’s unmolded, the dessert sauces itself.
7. Tartiflette – Potatoes, bacon, crème fraîche, onions, and cheese baked together, it’s a heart attack on a plate. One of Nick’s co-workers introduced me to this scrumptious and incredibly hearty dish, and I foresee a lot of variations on it happening this winter.
8. Pain Tradition – It looks like a baguette, but brother, it’s no ordinary baguette.
9. Cassoulet – May very well be the heaviest dish in France. There are three cities that lay claim to this slow-cooked bean-based delicacy: Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudry. Depending on who you ask, it can contain duck or goose confit, pork, sausage, bacon, lamb, or mutton. Pick three and throw some bread crumbs on top. An awesome winter dinner.
10. Macarons – Frankly, I don’t get it, but people can’t get enough of these little almond meringue cookies.
11. Aligot – A specialty of the Auvergne region, aligot really sticks to your ribs. Puréed potatoes mixed with enough Tomme de Laguiole cheese to render a smooth, stretchy take on mashed potatoes. Best prepared tableside, for maximum theatrical effect.
12. Pissaladière – Few things showcase the flavors of Provence as simply and eloquently as this humble tart of caramelized onions, anchovy, olives, and thyme.
13. Pain de Campagne – The antithesis of the baguette, this large, round, hearty bread is usually made with rye flour and keeps for a few days. Great for sandwiches.
14. Choucroute Garnie – This is what happens when the French take German food and run with it.
15. Tarte Tatin – Probably the world’s best use for apples.
16. Pastis – I think it’s against the law to play boules without some of this anise-flavored liqueur. Judging from the amount of shelf space it gets in stores, it may be illegal not to have a bottle in the house at all times.
17. Roast chicken – Homemade or bought fresh off the rotisserie, with roasted or mashed potatoes and a green salad, you can’t deny the pleasure of a succulent and satisfying roast chicken dinner. This is what French cooking is all about: great ingredients, simply prepared.
18. Eclair – I bet there isn’t a single bakery in all of France that doesn’t sell these.
19. Lentil Salad– the beautiful, green, caviar-like Puy lentils need little embellishment, but a little bacon, onion, parsley, and vinaigrette never hurt anyone.
20. Entrecôte – This thick beef steak is so omnipresent on Parisian restaurant menus that Nick coined a phrase to indicate one’s appetite: “entrecôte hungry.” As in, “I’m hungry, but not entrecôte hungry.”
21. Escargots – Really, how could I leave off snails?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Happiness is a Warm Doughnut

18 09 2008

So I was browsing Photograzing a little while ago and was attracted like a moth to a flame when I saw the photo of Buttermilk Doughnuts, courtesy of Stephan at This Engineer Can Bake.  You should know by now how much I love buttermilk, be it in fried chicken, chocolate cake, coleslaw, or pancakes.  I haven’t had a doughnut since I arrived in Paris in January, and I suddenly had to have one.  I present the rest of the story as a photo essay.

Very sticky doughnut dough.

Very sticky doughnut dough.

The lineup of potential doughnut cutters.

The lineup of potential doughnut cutters.

The winners and resulting doughnuts.

The winners and resulting doughnuts.

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Fourme d’Ambert

14 09 2008

La Fête du Fromage is a feature over at Chez Loulou, where she showcases a different French cheese every week.  Now she’s opened it up to the rest of the blogging world and I am excited to participate!

Fourme d'Ambert and homemade bread, taken outside my kitchen window.

I chose Fourme d’Ambert for my first Fête du Fromage.  One of France’s oldest – as in most historic, not most aged – cheeses, it has been produced since the time of the Gauls.  As you can see, it’s a round, veined cheese (also known as a blue cheese) made with pasteurized cow’s milk (also known as milk).  Despite its rather aggressive veining, it is surprisingly mild, with a creamy texture and mellow, earthy flavor.  It is a great cheese for snacking, by itself or spread on bread.  And it is quite versatile: I love it with pears and hazelnuts on a salad, but it would be equally at home in a quiche or an omelette (with bacon, bien sûr).

Bread and cheese

Why did I pick this particular cheese?  Well, it is made in the Auvergne region, which has been near and dear to my heart ever since my first séjour in France, when my post-college job as an assistante de langue landed me in Moulins-sur Allier, in the north of Auvergne.  A couple of years later, when I was working my first restaurant job, one of my assigned tasks was the cheese plate.  The first one I did featured Fourme d’Ambert, served with cute little wedges of roasted baby beets, micro cress, beet reduction, and yellow and red beet powders.  Almost certainly inspired by the French Laundry Cookbook.

Most recently, I found a wheel of Fourme d’Ambert for 2 euros and immediately snatched it up.  I had a fresh loaf of bread chez moi, and the rest is history.  We drank some Fitou wine with it, and it was a good pairing, but then, I like Fitou with just about everything.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Torta Salads

12 09 2008

In a previous life, Nick and I used to frequent a place called Tio’s Tortas.  I affectionately refer to it as “Uncle Sandwich,” which is a blatant and deliberate mistranslation (although I’m not sure “Uncle’s Sandwiches” is any less silly).  At any rate, this place made about 14 different kinds of tortas, or Mexican sandwiches, which were piled high with delicacies such as smoked sausage, refried black beans, and chiles rellenos.  Plus they had a great condiment bar filled with house made condiments.  These included chipotle ketchup, jalapeno mustard, roasted garlic, red onion confit, zucchini pickles, and a variety of mayonnaise-based sauces.  For 4 to 6 dollars you could get a substantial and satisfying meal, and beers were less than 2 bucks!

Anyway, one day we noticed that they had added an option to their torta menu: you could choose to have the ingredients of any torta served over rice or as a salad.  The salad idea took off in our house, where we would grill Hatch chili sausages and serve them over lettuce with leftover black beans, caramelized onions, and whatever else we had lying around (or had managed to sneak home from Tio’s).  Mmmm… sausage salad.

Well, we recently decided to revisit the Tio’s salad, when we were fortunate enough to be in possession of some delicious leftover beef chili verde and refried black beans.  We almost always have a head of lettuce in the crisper and a couple of tomatoes in the fruit basket, but I thought the salads needed something more.  Corn popped into my head and I headed to the store.  Malheureusement, the fresh corn here totally sucks.  It’s starchy and waxy and sticks to your teeth like paste.  So I bought a can.  Sue me.  I also picked up some gorgeous piquillo-looking peppers and some long green ones that I hoped would pack a punch.

I got home and set about putting together a corn salsa for the salads.  I drained the corn and dumped it into a bowl, followed by some diced onion.  I thought one of each pepper would look pretty as well as giving just the right amount of heat.  When I cut into the red pepper, I got a big surprise – no ribs or seeds!

Are they breeding seedless peppers now?

Nonetheless, the corn salsa looked great and tasted just as good.  It would actually stand on its own as a salad, but I had bigger ideas.

Corn Salsa/Salad

Indeed, it was even better sprinkled over a salad loaded with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tomatoes, crème fraîche, and chipotle vinaigrette.

What happens when you turn a torta into a salad?  Good things.

Apologies for doing two salad posts in one week, but I think this is miles away from Tuesday’s refined Mediterranean salad.  Don’t you?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Métro

11 09 2008

I had just gotten off work, and as such, was marginally sweaty and my clothes had spots of praline, chocolate, flour, sugar, and various types of mousse.  I had gone to the market during lunch, so I was carrying two bags: one filled with my dirty jacket, and the other brimming with fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheese.

I stepped outside to the sight of a garbage truck pulling up in the street, right where I wanted to cross.  While I was walking around it, one of the garbagemen hanging off the back of the truck started talking to me.

Bonjour, Mademoiselle.”

“Uh, bonjour.”  (And by the way, it’s madame.)

T’es charmante.”

Merci.”  (Seriously?  Other than the fact that I’m a woman, what exactly do I have going for me right now?)

He tried to continue the conversation as the truck slowly pulled away and I escaped to the other side of the street.  I guess anyone can look charming to a guy who’s been hauling garbage all day.  If my French was better I might have said something to that effect, but he probably would have interpreted it as flirting, so it’s probably better that I didn’t say anything.

I mean really.  Is the neon green and yellow uniform supposed to attract me?  The smell of hot garbage?  Do garbagemen often try to pick up women while on duty?

Dude, you’re riding on the back of a garbage truck.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Easy Tapenade Salad Dressing

9 09 2008

Who was it that said, “Sloth is the mother of all invention”?  I came up with this dressing sometime last week when I didn’t feel like chopping up a shallot for a vinaigrette.  Searching the kitchen for alternatives, my eyes landed on a recently acquired jar of black olive tapenade from Provence.  What if I just thinned it out a bit with some oil and vinegar?  I bet that would be good!

You know what?  It was.  So good, and so irresistibly easy, that I made it again a couple of nights ago for a salad that accompanied a gooey chorizo and mozzarella pizza.

Feuille de Chêne lettuce, tapenade dressing, and toasted pine nuts

Tapenade Dressing

This super-easy dressing will make even the most boring of lettuces feel decked out, but it would also be great on arugula, spinach, frisée, or just about any salad green.  Garnish with toasted pine nuts, tomatoes, and feta cheese for a more substantial salad.  Grilled or marinated vegetables would most certainly be welcome, as would any number of cured pork products.

2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. tapenade (You can make your own if you’re feeling adventurous, but a good jarred tapenade is perfectly acceptable.)
1 Tbsp. red wine, balsamic, or sherry vinegar (Rosemary-infused vinegar is a nice touch)
4 Tbsp. good olive oil

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk.
  2. Drizzle over salad greens of choice and toss before serving.
  3. Garnish as you see fit.

Makes enough to dress 4-6 salads.  Leftovers will keep several days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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