When in Alsace…

23 02 2009

You absolutely MUST eat in at least one winstub.  This should not be a problem, given the sheer preponderance of them in the towns of the region.  I think we would have been hard pressed to eat three meals in Strasbourg without at least one of them being in a winstub.

The sign outside Chez Yvonne

We found ourselves ensconced in the cozy warmth of Chez Yvonneon Sunday night.  In business since 1873, the place was touted by our guidebook as a “classic among classics.”  Since we were looking for an authentic taste of Alsace, that sounded just about right.  Chez Yvonne is located at the end of a cute little side street (if the town seems to consist mainly of tiny side streets, do they cease to be side streets?), and, like many of the establishments we visited in Strasbourg, has a heavy curtain inside the door to keep out the cold.

Brains or brawn?  I choose brawn.

As we stepped in the door, I said something to Nick about how I hoped they had red-checked tablecloths (that being one of Alec Lobrano’s barometer readings indicating a good restaurant, and this seemed like the sort of place where they would be right at home).  They didn’t, but I think the brightly colored, ornately patterned linens were even better.  Upon being seated, the smiling waitress brought us a small dish of head cheese cubes.  They somehow managed to be both toothsome and tender enough to melt in your mouth.  Another hint that we would be dining well that night.  We ordered a couple of glasses of crémant d’Alsace (the local sparkling wine) as our apéritif, and toasted the meal to come.

When I saw foie gras crème brûlée on the menu, there was no question as to what I would be ordering for my first course.

Two of my very favorite things - foie gras and crème brûlée

It was served with a thick slice of fig and hazelnut bread, which complemented the rich, savory-sweet cream perfectly.  Nick went for the herring, which came napped in a delicate cream sauce.

Another classic of the Alsatian repertoire

He cleaned his plate and we eagerly anticipated our main courses, accompanied by a bottle of Sylvaner, a dry Alsatian white wine.  I couldn’t pass up the choucroute garnie, and my plate arrived piled high with some of the tastiest sauerkraut I’ve ever had, surrounded by half a dozen different pork products.  (They take their charcuterie seriously in Alsace.)

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Worthwhile French Beers: Strasbourg Edition

22 02 2009

One of the four "Carré d'Or" streets in Strasbourg

Like I mentioned last week, Nick and I spent a weekend in Strasbourg, the largest city in Alsace.  Alsace is France’s most important beer-producing region, and by “important” I mean that in terms of volume.  Kronenbourg and Fischer, two of the country’s largest breweries, are based in Alsace, the former being the biggest-selling brewer in France.  We tried unsuccessfully to get a tour of the Kronenbourg brewery, located just outside Strasbourg, but we were probably better off hunting down the local microbreweries anyway.

The bar at La Lanterne

Copper tanks at La Lanterne

Finding La Lanterne was a bit of a challenge.  The place is tucked away on a side street of a side street, and from the outside looks like a complete dive.  Inside, though, it’s inviting, and the beer is freshly brewed on the premises.  It was a real treat to sit in a brewpub and sip a tasty beer while enjoying the ambiance.

The Kohler-Rehm Brewery, on the other hand, is centrally located with a grandiose façade that belies the generic interior.

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Happy Blogday To Me

18 02 2009

So It’s Come To This: A Croque-Camille Clip Show

That’s right, folks, today is the first anniversary of the birth of Croque-Camille(the blog, not the woman behind it).  (Incidentally, my actual birthday is only a few days before my blog’s birthday – I haven’t posted yet this week because I went on a birthday trip to Strasbourg with Nick.  It was wonderful to have some time alone together, and we ate really well, too!  Reports are forthcoming, as soon as I manage to sort out my thoughts and pictures.)

To celebrate, I thought I’d list some highlights of the past year, by way of my favorite post from each month.

February 2008:  It was all so new and exciting, still finding my way around Paris, figuring out where to get various “exotic” ingredients, and cooking in the same room where I slept!  This chicken and bok choy stir-fry was simple, cheap, healthy, and tasty.  I should make it more often.

March 2008:  Spring started to peek its head around the corner, and my fava bean and goat cheese pasta was a hit.

April 2008:  We moved into our new (and current) apartment in a new neigborhood.  We had a great time (and still do!) exploring and finding new restaurants, butchers, and Asian markets.  It was in April that we first tried Les Fernandises, which remains a neighborhood favorite.

May 2008: Canalside picnics and breadbaking at home are great, but the best meal I had in May was at the Atelier Robuchon.  (Thanks again, Pete and Erin!)

June 2008:  Clafoutis and crumbles and salads, oh, my!  The cat learned how to catch birds on the roof, and I started working again, finally, but I think we can all agree that the highlight of the month was the Formation Civique.

July 2008:  I got my first blog award, committed my pizza dough recipe to the page, and celebrated Bastille Day in style.  That bacon-onion dip is our go-to recipe whenever we’re having company.  Or have some extra crème fraîche lying around.

August 2008:  After 6 weeks of work, I got a well-earned vacation.  Bulgaria, here we come!

September 2008:  Back to work again, and I start to learn the art of chocolaterie.  At home, we’re a little more lowbrow.

October 2008:  I started my hunt for French craft beers, and Nick brought me a block of Tillamook cheddar from the States, but mostly, this month was about Winter squash.  The pine nut-sage brittle I made to go with a squash crème caramel was out of this world.  Seriously.

November 2008:  We took a weekend to guzzle beer in Lille and did a lot of prep for Thanksgiving, including a bike ride to the market in the first snowfall of the season!  My favorite post, though, has got to be this one, in which Nick takes the sexiest picture ever.  Of a tuna melt.

December 2008:  I cooked up some awesome fresh scallops and met Joël Robuchon.  And then the season hit.  Cold, flu and Christmas season, that is.  What better way to warm your spirits than a steaming mug of Cognac hot chocolate?

January 2009:  Not out of the woods yet, the holiday season continued with galettes des rois aplenty.  I started my tour of regional French cuisine with Auvergne, and wrote my most popular post to date.

It’s been a good year!  Thanks to all of you for reading – it means so much to me that people take time out of their busy days to read my ramblings.  Now, it’s time for me to get cooking.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

THE Cheese from Alsace: Munster

13 02 2009

If you Google “Alsace cheese” or something along those lines, one name comes up repeatedly: Munster.  Browsing the cheese displays of most French supermarkets will yield the same results.  Considering this is a major, AOC-class French cheese, there is surprisingly little information about it available on the interwebs, at least in English.  (For one of the most poorly written Wikipedia articles I’ve ever seen, click here.)

What I have been able to determine is that it is an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a fat content of 45%.  It is aged 10 weeks or so, and during that time the rind is washed with a saltwater solution.

Munster photo by Nick

What I learned from bringing half a cheese home with me is that Munster stinks.  This is normal, and to be expected with washed-rind cheeses, but this one is particularly pungent.  Nick went so far as to call the smell “bathroom-y” while I prefer the slightly more appetizing description, “barnyard-y.”  As in, perhaps, stables that haven’t been cleaned in a while.  The smell notwithstanding, the cheese is delicious.  The creamy pâte is loaded with earthy flavors, mushroomy and herbaceous, bordering on meaty.  The rind is edible, though strong enough that I prefer to cut off a bit of it so as to better appreciate the subtlety of the cheese inside.

We’d better eat the rest of it soon, because I think the eggs are starting to have an identity crisis – you would, too, if you woke up smelling like that.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

I’ve Been Published!!!

11 02 2009

By someone other than myself and the lovely people at WordPress, that is.

Check it out!

Brownies Are So Hot Right Now

10 02 2009

I know that the combination of chocolate and chili is old news.  (Hey, they were doing it in Mexico before the Europeans came along and insisted it be sweetened.)  But that doesn’t stop these from being some of the most seductive brownies I’ve ever made.  It was Super Bowl Sunday and I needed something Mexican to bring to the party we were attending.  Nick was busy stewing beef and making corn tortillas (!!!), and I perused the cupboards, looking for some inspiration.  I had quite a bit of chocolate, and four kinds of chili powder, and chocolate-chili brownies were starting to sound pretty good.

With a little help from Dorie Greenspan, Mark Bittman, and David Lebovitz, I figured out the basic proportions I wanted to use and went from there.  For the chili powder, I used half guajillo and half chile de arbol, which I thought would give a nice, mellow heat with distinctive chili flavor.  Once the brownies were baked and cooled, it was time for the taste test.  (You don’t think I’d serve something I hadn’t tasted, do you?)  The first bite was soft and deliciously chocolaty.  I was worried that I hadn’t put in enough chili powder, but then the spice stole up from behind a grain of salt, and I knew I had hit just the right balance.

In other chocolate-related news, I have finally found an artisan chocolate producer in France!  I’m talking small operation, with lots of single origin chocolate bars to choose from.

Single-origin chocolate bars, produced in Le Mans, France

Chocolaterie Béline is located in Le Mans, in the Loire Valley.  I found their stand at a salon a few months ago, and was excited about the high cacao percentages and single-origin bars.  Luckily, I was not disappointed.  The chocolate is smooth, with deep, nuanced chocolate flavor.  I hope to see them at a future salon, but in the meantime, I can order bars online when I run out.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the brownie recipe!  Click through and do try this one at home.

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Regional French Cuisine: Alsace: Flammekueche

6 02 2009

I bet you’ve all been wondering when I was going to announce the featured region for February, right?  Well, here we are, at the end of the first week, and I give you: Alsace.

Alsace is a small (the smallest in metropolitan France, which is akin to the lower 48, if you know what that means) region in northeastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland.  The region has bobbled back and forth between France and Germany for most of its history, but has rested with France since 1945.  These days, most Alsatians (people, not dogs) speak French, but the German influence remains prominent in the cuisine of the region.  Pork and charcuterie are a cornerstone of the traditional dishes, and the Germanic history is evident in the wine varietals used and in the high concentration of regional breweries.

Choucroute and flammekueche are the beacons of Alsatian cuisine, and since I’ve already written about choucroute for this blog, I thought I’d try my hand at a flammekueche.  Comprising a thin bread dough spread with crème fraîcheand topped with bacon and onions, flammekueche was traditionally baked among the expiring coals of the day’s bread-baking, giving it a characteristic char on the edges.  Not being fortunate enough to own my own wood-fired oven (someday…), I made do with my stand-by pizza dough, and turning my little oven up as high as it goes.  I also substituted leeks for the onions, since we had just received another lovely batch in the CSA panier.  Simply sweating them in rendered bacon fat before plopping it all onto a round of dough smeared thickly with crème fraîche and topping it with a smattering of grated comté cheese rewarded us with a scrumptious flatbread tart.

Flammekueche, fresh from the oven

I served it with a mâche salad (also from the panier) with a quick vinaigrette.  Looks like those French-Germans know what they’re doing when it comes to hearty winter meals.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

A Panier Improv That Worked

5 02 2009

I was very excited last week when we got two HUGE parsnips in our CSA panier

Tasty winter produce

I had never once tasted a parsnip before I spent Christmas in England a few years back, but it was love at first bite.  Roasted crisp with carrots and potatoes, I loved their crunchy caramelized outsides and subtly sweet, tender insides.  I am such a fan of roasted parsnips that I have rarely strayed from the straightforward recipe I first fell in love with.

But the panier encourages experimentation.  Ever since we started getting it, we’ve been long on apples.  It’s a different kind every week, from sweet goldens to the tart, perfectly-sized-to-fit-in-your-palm snacking apples we got yesterday.  But still, that’s a lot of apples.  I’m trying to come up with new ways to use them, so when I got out the parsnips and noticed the giant (we’re talking softball-sized) apples reposing next to them, I thought, why not?

And a new favorite Winter side dish was born.

Roast Parsnips and Apples


This is a delicious, simple side dish that is fantastic with roast chicken.  For something a little more substantial, you could make it into a gratin by crumbling some blue cheese on top after the parsnip is tender, and baking until the cheese has melted a bit.  A little bacon in there would definitely not suck.


2 very large parsnips (or about 4-5 medium or 6-8 small)

1 large apple

Leaves picked from one stem of rosemary

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C / 375 F.
  2. Peel the parsnips and cut into bite-size pieces.  Dice the apple, but don’t worry about peeling it.
  3. Spread the parsnips evenly on a baking sheet or in a small roasting pan.  Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. 
  4. Roast for 20 minutes, then add the apple and stir.  Continue roasting another 20-25 minutes, until the parsnip is tender and beginning to brown at the edges.  Serve hot.


Serves 2 hungry people as a side dish.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


2 02 2009

Now I’m glad I waited.  This dreary, rainy afternoon feels like the perfect time to write about the homey, comforting, and delicious meal I enjoyed at Astier.

The pleasingly old-school tablecloth at Astier

On a cold night (although not as cold as last night, when we walked home in the snow after the Super Bowl) last weekend, Nick and I had the pleasure of eating our first meal at Astier.  It won’t be our last.  Entering the crowded restaurant through the velvet curtains, we were greeted promptly and enthusiastically by the host, who directed us to a tiny table in a corner near the kitchen.  Nick noted that all the two-tops seemed to be in the least romantic spots, although the chances of a quiet, intimate meal à deux looked to be slim.  No matter.  As we were soon to find out, the food makes up for it and the place has a comfortable feeling that you don’t get in a quieter, less bustling restaurant.

We both ordered the menu, a deal at 33 euros for 4 courses, including the much-lauded cheese tray.  Everything on the carte looked great, but I was quite hungry, so I let my stomach guide me to some quick decisions.  I started with the poached egg in cream of celeriac soup, while Nick chose the salad with Lyonnaise sausage.

First courses at Astier
1. Poached Egg in Cream of Celeriac Soup, 2. Sausage Salad, French-Style

The egg was poached to perfection and the soup was silky and rich.  Nick’s salad disappeared with alarming speed, but not before I managed to get a bite of the meaty, rustic-textured sausage.

When it came to the main courses, it was definitely a braise night.  I selected the poulet fermier in beer, and Nick opted for the paleron of beef.

Braised dishes at Astier
1. Chicken Fricasée, 2. Paleron of Beef with Marrow

My chicken was tender and flavorful, but I was most impressed by the broth in which it was served: it was as clear and full-bodied as a good comsommé!  The accompanying vegetables (broccoli and two colors of carrot – could explain this) were brightly colored and non-mushy, a treat when many restaurants tend to overcook their vegetables.  Nick’s beef was equally skillfully cooked, and the marrow, well, you know how I feel about that.

The highlight of an already significantly above-average meal came in the form of the well-stocked cheese tray we had seen flitting around the dining room as we ate.  We couldn’t wait for the lengthy descriptions and dove right in, sampling just about every cheese available.

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