Worthwhile French Beers: 3 Monts

30 01 2009

So I had big plans for a detailed write-up of my gastronomic indulgence at Astier last weekend, but it’s Friday evening, and all I really want is a beer.  So we’ll cut the pear in two, as they say, and I’ll write about 3 Monts.

3 Monts in its natural habitat

3 Monts is a beer I first encountered on the last day of our Lille trip last November.  Nick and I were having a rather mediocre lunch in a restaurant near the train station.  Fortunately, the beer made up for it.  Smooth and malty with a nice bitter hop finish, 3 Monts was one of the highlights of a beer-filled weekend.

3 Monts with official glassware

3 Monts is brewed by the Brasserie de Saint Sylvestre, which is located in the commune of Saint Sylvestre Cappel.  It is right on the Belgian border, and, like many of the breweries in the region, evinces a Belgian approach to beer.  The French styles tend to be less sweet than their Belgian counterparts, but both have a predilection for deceptively strong beers.  3 Monts, for example, clocks in at 8.5% alcohol, which you will probably not notice until after your second or third glass (especially if you’re drinking it with a meal).

Somehow, the bottles we brought home from Lille managed to hide in the back of the cupboard until last week.  We unearthed one Sunday afternoon and enjoyed it over a game of cribbage.  When Nick poured it out into our non-official Leffe glasses, the thick, lacy head and the effervescent golden liquid beneath caused him to declare, “It’s beautiful, this beer.”

He’s absolutely right.  In fact, I may just open the other bottle right now.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Exploring France: Auvergne: Spring Water

28 01 2009

The volcanic terrain of Auvergne is home to a myriad of natural springs.  From pungent mineral-infused waters to pure, fresh-tasting naturally filtered waters, Auvergne is the source of many of France’s famous spring waters.

A trio of spring waters from Auvergne

Volvic is my personal favorite.  It is relatively low in minerals, so it tastes clean, like water should.  (It even tastes good at room temperature, which is the acid test for bottled water.)  The waters from Vichy are the polar opposite.  They are usually sparkling (as opposed to still), with flavors ranging from metallic to downright sulfurous.  The natural springs at Vichy have long been a tourist attraction and a destination for those seeking the supposed healing powers of the water.  (Hey, if your water stinks, just tell everyone it’s extra good for them!)  To this day, the waters from Vichy claim various health benefits: weight loss, clearer skin, improved digestion, invigorated humours… well, probably not that last one so much anymore.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Muffins aux Carottes

26 01 2009

I woke up on Sunday thinking about carrots.  I don’t know why.  As luck would have it, we happened to have some in the root cellar, courtesy of the CSA.  We had eaten a fabulously indulgent dinner the night before at Astier (more to come on that, I promise), so we weren’t particularly hungry, but I thought something healthy might help overcome the guilt that always seems to follow an especially gluttonous evening.

Carrot meets grater

Carrot muffins sounded like the perfect antidote.  I wanted crunchy nuts, rich molasses, and whole grains.  A glance through my bookmarked recipes yielded nothing like what I was looking for, but a molasses and whole wheat muffin recipe from Paul Prudhomme by way of Cooking Books and a zucchini bread from 101 Cookbooks via Hopie’s Kitchen looked like good starting points.  Of course, Prudhomme’s recipe had no carrots (nor eggs, which I found troubling, and what looks on paper like WAY too much baking powder), and the zucchini bread had no molasses, though I did like the idea of incorporating crystallized ginger into the mix.

Noisettes grillées

Flipping back and forth between the recipes trying to figure out the correct amounts of baking powder and soda was giving me a headache, and I was getting steadily hungrier.  Ultimately, I guessed at the leavening amounts since I was changing the recipes so drastically anyway.  Enough math and chemistry, it was time to start baking!  Neither recipe had as much whole grain as I wanted, so I threw in some rolled oats for their heart-healthy properties, and I thought that the sweet crunch of hazelnuts would compliment the carrots and ginger nicely (also, that’s what I had lying around).  While mixing up the batter, I realized I didn’t have any milk, so in a very WWPPD moment, I added cream.  And then a little more.

MacGyvered muffin cups

I don’t have a regular muffin pan, but I do have some silicone molds in about the same shape.  Trouble is, I hate the way things baked in silicone molds come out with weirdly rubbery exteriors.  (Custards are an exception, as are pudding cakes and their saucy ilk, but anything with more flour than liquid comes out strangely.)  Lacking muffin cups, I fashioned some out of squares of parchment paper, which worked better than I expected or even hoped.

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Endive Right In

23 01 2009

So Nick and I have finally managed to sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, for you non-hippies out there) in Paris! I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, for most of the fall, but it seems to have become very popular and the company/co-op that runs it had to stop taking new subscribers until they got more farms involved.  I checked their website daily and as soon as it became available, I signed up.  Now I stop by an office about a block from my apartment on Wednesday afternoons and pick up a large paper bag filled with organic fruits and vegetables.  It’s awesome.  The first one may have been the best because I had no idea what to expect, but I had planned on making a pizza with whatever was inside – excitement!

Fresh organic endives from the Loire valley

Turns out I got endives (and potatoes, onions, apples, and Brussels sprouts).  Now, I really like endives grilled.  They make an excellent warm salad, and if you have access to a grill, I highly recommend halving some endives lengthwise, drizzling them with olive oil, and slapping them cut-side down on a hot grill for a few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and serve with bacon vinaigrette.  I do not have access to a grill.  We often get endives at work to cook for the plat du jour.  They are boiled to within an inch of their life and left to drain on a rack over the sink.  Let me tell you, that mound of steaming, limp, grayish-green vegetables is wholly unappetizing.  Then they are combined with a cheesy sauce and served with some kind of roast meat, usually pork.  It’s not terrible, but I know endives can be so much better.

Endive pizza - before

Determined to forge ahead with my pizza plan, I hoped that oven-roasting would affect the endives in a way at least similar to grilling.  I rolled out my dough, scattered caramelized onions (what else?) over it, and then arranged halved endives, cut-side up, on top.  I sprinkled on some olive oil and popped it in the oven for 15 minutes.  As I had hoped, the endives had begun to caramelize by that time, so I topped them with a generous layer of Abondance (it just seemed appropriate) and returned the pizza to the oven to finish baking.

Endive pizza - after

The result?  Simple, delicious, and great with a glass of wine.  The best part?  Since the endives were already on the pizza, I didn’t even have to make a side salad!  I had another success later in the week, when I broiled the rest of the endives and served them (on Nick’s suggestion) napped with a creamy béchamel sauce.  Turns out I don’t need a grill to make endives taste good after all.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Housekeeping and Mystery Pods

21 01 2009

Don’t you just love it when you put on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in a while and find a 5 (or 10 or 20) dollar (or euro or whatever) bill in the pocket?  Well, last weekend I dusted off a purse I haven’t used in a while and found these inside:

Why yes, that is my super cute Freddy & Ma purse.  Thanks for asking!

They have the same feel as dried vanilla beans, and the one I broke open yielded some small black seeds and a mildly peppery smell.  The only other clue is this card that I most likely picked up on my last visit to l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.

It can't possibly have been almost 8 months since I've used this bag!

Anybody have any idea what they might be?

* * * * *

In other news (if you can call it that, considering how long I’ve taken to getting around to writing about it), I have been honored with two more awards!

First, from all the way back in November, The Yum-Yum Blog Award.

The Yum-Yum Blog Award

This was given to me by Hope, whose own blog is unfailingly yummy.  I have decided to pass it along to the blog with the most recently flagged recipe in my Google Reader.  And the award goes to…

For her homemade ricotta recipe, Apples and Butter!

Honorable mention goes to Chez Loulou, because I’m cooking this tonight.

More recently, though still almost a month ago, I received another Brillante Weblog award from the fabulous women of Where’s My Damn Answer?

Brillante Weblog Award

I want to give this to my friend Kat, who has just left on a year-long adventure in the South Seas.  She started a blog, Kat’ch Me If You Kan, to chronicle her travels.  It’s very new, but I’m certainly enjoying it so far, and I hope she keeps it up!

Speaking of housekeeping, I’d better get started on dinner.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

L’Ambassade d’Auvergne

19 01 2009

Last week, in honor of a friend’s birthday, a group of us had the pleasure of dining at one of my favorite restaurants in Paris: L’Ambassade d’Auvergne.  Having been there a couple of times before (I celebrated my own birthday there last year and Nick and I also went there on our honeymoon) I knew to expect great service, delicious regional cuisine, and a cozy, country-inn atmosphere.  Situated in an old house near the Centre Pompidou, which I’m sure it predates, the decor is homey and inviting.  Exposed beams embellish the ceiling while ham legs and copper pots adorn the walls.  We were seated at a large,  sturdy wooden table that would have been right at home in a grand farmhouse or rustic castle, beneath a portrait of an old man who the maître d’ claimed was his grandfather.  (He also told us that the painting was watching us to make sure we cleaned our plates.)

The apéritif menu has plenty of choices, but most of us couldn’t resist ordering the vin de rhubarbe.  It lived up to its intrigue.  Sweet-tart with the distinct aroma of fresh rhubarb, it made an excellent pre-dinner drink.  We ordered our appetizers, but before they arrived we were treated to a plate full of gougères made with Fourme d’Ambert.  They were good, but I think a stronger-flavored cheese might have made for a more impressive nibble.  I also selected a bottle of red Saint-Pourçain wine, which our waiter deemed an excellent choice.  Saint-Pourçain is a tiny wine-producing region in the northern part of Auvergne.  Currently it has V.D.Q.S. status, which means that if they can uphold the standards set so far by the region, they will be granted A.O.C. status in the future.  The wines tend to be light and fruity, which is a good foil to the rich, hearty cuisine of the region.

When the first course arrived, we realized that almost all of us had picked the same thing: the salade tiède de lentilles du Puy.

A heaping bowl of warm lentil salad

I have mentionedthis salad before, though I don’t think I explained that it is traditional Auvergnat dish and employs the famous lentille verte du Puy, which has A.O.C. status and its own official website!  They’re great in just about any preparation, but the salade tiède really emphasizes their unique texture and hearty flavor.  Combined with lardons, shallot, goose fat, and a wallop of Dijon mustard, the lentils at l’Ambassade d’Auvergne were met with enthusiasm by the whole table.  As a bonus, since the salad is mixed to order (they do it tableside if you’re a smaller group) they leave the bowl on the table so you can feel free to help yourself to seconds, as if the three enormous quenelles the waiter has already dolloped on your plate aren’t enough.  Anyone at the table who didn’t order it is encouraged to have some as well.

Vol-au-Vent of Duck Hearts

The lone holdout at our table was Nick, who, being an adventurous eater, wanted to try the special: feuilleté aux coeurs de canard.  Duck hearts in puff pastry.  I had a bite and it was quite tasty.  The hearts were meaty and full-flavored while the puff pastry was as buttery and flaky as any I’ve had.

Between the appetizers and the main courses, another freebie appeared before us.  This time it was house-made terrine de campagne, a rustic, chunky-textured take on pâté.  (When I’ve dined here before, I’ve never gotten the between-course snacks – must be a benefit of coming with a large group.)  For the main event, the table was split evenly among those who chose aligot with duck, those who  selected the aligot with sausage, and those who opted for the stuffed cabbage mille-feuilleAligot is one of my absolute favorite Auvergnat dishes.  Potatoes, cheese, and garlic, beaten to a smooth, stretchy purée, it is comfort food with a fun kick.

The famous aligot (pictured here with duck)

Normally when you order aligot at L’Ambassade d’Auvergne, they perform an elaborate tableside mixing-and-stretching routine, which we didn’t get to see a lot of this time.  I’m guessing that the large amount of potatoes required by our table was best left to the kitchen.  We still got a mini-demonstration from our waiter before it was artfully spooned out onto our plates.  I went with the duck breast this time, which came out perfectly medium-rare.  I’ve had the sausage, which is probably more traditional, on previous visits, and can attest to its meaty goodness.  Just like with the lentil salad, extra aligot is offered to everyone at the table.

As for the stuffed cabbage, it couldn’t have looked more different from my attempt a few weeks ago.

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Magical Transformations

16 01 2009

One of the things I love most about cooking is the seemingly magical way food can be transformed.  Take an onion, for example.  Cut open a raw one and your eyes begin to water.  Taking a bite will confirm its pungency and leave you with the breath to prove it.  But take that same onion, slice it, and cook it slowly in a fair amount of fat with a pinch of salt, and you end up with something entirely different.

Yep, another photo of caramelized onions

(Do you sense my never ending fascination with caramelized onions?)

A whole potimarron

Likewise, something as sturdy as a winter squash can be diced and roasted to produce sweet, yielding bites; puréed and made into soup, main dish, side, or even dessert – the only limit is your imagination.

Diced potimarron, ready for the oven

And don’t even get me started on cheese…

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Bleu d’Auvergne

14 01 2009

I learned from a comment on my last Auvergne post that Auvergne claims 5 local A.O.C. cheeses, more than any other region in France.  They are: Fourme d’Ambert, Cantal (scroll down, it’s the 4-year-old cheese at the bottom), Saint-Nectaire, Salers, and Bleu d’Auvergne.

 A really crappy picture of a wedge of bleu d'Auvergne

Bleu d’Auvergne has been one of my favorite cheeses since I “discovered” it while living in Moulins eight years ago (has it really been that long already?).  Simultaneously creamy and crumbly, its texture is equally suited to smearing on bread or sprinkling on salad (preferably a hefty one like this, maybe with some sliced apples for contrast).  Made from cow’s milk and traditionally inoculated with mold from rye bread (ergot, anyone?), the flavor of bleu d’Auvergne is rich and piquant.  It is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s Roquefort,” given their similarities in flavor and appearance, but I think bleu d’Auvergne is worth seeking out on its own merits.  It is best complimented by full-bodied red wines – Bordeaux is usually a good bet, but wines from the Languedoc will fit the bill nicely, too – or sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes or late-harvest Gewurztraminer.

 Bleu d'Auvergne slathered on pieces of fresh baguette

An interesting side note: in France, the category of cheeses we dub “blue” (or for the cheese snobs out there, “veined”)are called “persillé,” as in “fromage à pâte persillé.”  Literally translating to “parsleyed,” I think it’s a pretty apt description.  I mean, how many “blue” cheeses actually have blue veins?  Plus, the little pockets of mold can resemble flecks of chopped parsley, if you think about it.  Sounds a lot more appetizing, too.

fromage à pâte persillé

I’m submitting this to Chez Loulou for this month’s Fête du Fromage.  Look for the roundup there tomorrow!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Getting Some Culture

12 01 2009

It’s time for another round of Awesome Things You Can Find in a French Supermarket.  I love how so many products that are considered “gourmet” or even “health food” in the U.S. are everyday grocery items here.  Here are a couple of yogurts that I picked up on a recent trip to Casino.

Sheep's milk yogurt

Goat's milk yogurt

That’s right, sheep and goat yogurts.  I’m fairly certain you have to go to some kind of specialty shop to find anything like this in the States, but not in France.  Of course, given the sheer size of the yogurt section in most supermarkets here, I guess it’s not terribly surprising.  I prefer plain yogurt (which is what makes the sheep and goat yogurts such a fun change of pace – the goat’s has a mildly “goaty” flavor, and the sheep’s has a pleasant tang and rich texture) and I still have a myriad of choices.  Full fat or low fat?  (Um, full fat, please.)  Hand-churned or mass-produced?  Glass containers or plastic?  Active bacteria?  Sweetened?  Drinkable?  Organic?  Brand-name?  When you add in the fruit options, (strawberry? mango? blackcurrant? apple-apricot? coconut?) the combinations become mind-boggling.

Truly, France is a yogurt-lover’s paradise.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

And You Thought The Holidays Were Over

10 01 2009

In France, they keep it coming right on through January.  The holidays, I mean.

Galette des Rois

First, there’s Epiphany, on January 6th.  This is the traditional day to eat Galette des Rois, or Kings’ Cake.  So named for the three kings who supposedly arrived in Bethlehem a couple weeks late for Jesus’ birthday, the pastry itself is a simple but delicious round of puff pastry filled with almond cream (aka frangipane).  The top of the galette is scored in a decorative pattern (just ask me how!) and there is a “bean” (while it’s called a bean, it is usually some kind of ceramic figure or charm) hidden inside which gives the finder the privilege (or punishment) of wearing the little paper crown that comes wrapped around the galette.  I have recently learned that nowadays, instead of waiting for the actual date of Epiphany to roll around, the French celebrate with their galettes des rois on the first Sunday of the month, which explains why I spent 6 hours last Saturday making them.  You might think that the galette madness would be over by now, but it seems to be going strong and I am told that it continues through the whole month of January.

Check out all the flaky, buttery layers!

Speaking of January, the other important national “holiday” going on is Les Soldes – The Sales!  Twice a year, in January and June) French stores are allowed to reduce their prices as much as they want.  This is supposed to even the playing field between large companies and small businesses, but I’m not really sure how.  Nor do I much care, if it means I can afford to shop at Galeries Lafayette.  In terms of work, Les Soldes don’t affect me as much, although there is definitely an impact on my paycheck.  Heh.  It’s going to be another busy month.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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