Cidres Normands

31 07 2009

In addition to dairy products and seafood, Normandy is known for its apples.  Naturally, the people of Normandy figured out long ago how to make their abundant apple crop into a fermented beverage.  (I’m sure this had everything to do with preservation, and nothing to do with inebriation.)  There is even a 40 km “Cider Route” for tourists and enthusiasts.  These days, a majority of the cider in France comes from Normandy, though it turned out to be distinctly hard to track down in Rouen.  Nick and I asked for local cider in most of the restaurants and bars we visited, and only two poured it!  Considering that both served the same brand, Le P’tit Rouennais, and that we enjoyed it quite a bit, we hoped we would be able to find some in a shop before leaving town.  No such luck.  Of course it didn’t help that it was a holiday weekend and just about everything was closed, but we were hoping for a Lille-style jackpot in the local Monoprix.

A fairly typical cider from Normandy

After spending several hours wandering the town in search of local ciders to purchase, we ended up in a souvenir shop of sorts.  We bought three different ciders which, upon further inspection, were all from the same producer: Les Vergers de la Morinière.  It’s a family business that has been making cider and stronger apple-based spirits for 150 years.  We were curious to taste the difference between the styles, and to see if it was detectable.  Over the next few days, we tasted the three ciders, and I dutifully took notes.  First, L’Atypique.  This may not have been the best one to start with, seeing as Nick and I were unfamiliar with the “typical” Norman cider, but there it was.

L’Atypique was extremely effervescent, with a foamy white head that quickly dissolved.  The cloudy, golden color was reminiscent of nonalcoholic apple cider.  On the palate, the cider was rather dry, with a significant yeastiness.  Nick noted, “You can tell it used to be sweet.”

Cidre du Pays d'Auge

Next up was the AOC Cidre Pays d’Auge.  If there does exist a typical cider from Normandy, this one is it.  Super fizzy (again) and dry with a hint of fermented yeast character.  Compared to L’Atypique, the Cidre Pays d’Auge had a slightly darker amber color and tasted sweeter and more apple-y.  A very straightforward cider.

Cidre Fermier

Finally, we tried the Cidre Fermier.  I’m glad we saved this one for last, as it was probably my favorite of the lot.  It definitely smelled of apple, and still had a remarkable amount of fizz.  Cloudier and just darker in color than the Cidre Pays d’Auge, the Cidre Fermier had a rustic quality to it that really appealed to me.  The flavor was fuller and more complex than the other two, just edging on barnyardy, but in a good way.  (We had a cider that was barnyardy in a bad way shortly after moving to Paris… kind of had us wondering if we were going to get food poisoning, and put us off cider for a while.)  Anyway, now I know what to ask for the next time I’m in Normandy: Cidre Fermier.  If I can find a bar serving it, that is.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Put the Lime in the Coconut…

29 07 2009

Reservoir Dogs Pie

This dessert started life as a mock key lime tart.  “Mock” because have you ever tried to find key limes in France?  And then juice them?  So I was using juice from regular limes (with a splash of lemon juice, as suggested by Jenni, who is to be blamed– or thanked – for my key lime craving).  I also hadn’t really planned on writing about it, until inspiration struck while I was at work doing something completely unrelated and the ungarnished tart was sitting helplessly at home in the fridge.

“COCONUT!!!” The dessert center of my brain screamed.  Put the lime in the coconut!  And then that songwas stuck in my head for the rest of the day.  I’d already decided to go with a meringue topping, as Jenni suggested, because I was dubious as to the quantity and age of the cream I had on hand.  And toasted meringue makes me happy.

Coconut-key lime pie, pre-toast

Topping it off with a sprinkling of unsweetened coconut sounded like the right thing to do.  And as you can see, the tart turned out to be very photogenic.  (Delicious, too, obviously.)  The pictures came out so well, in fact, that no sooner had I posted them to my Flickr photostream than I received a threatening email demanding that I post the recipe at once.

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Fromages de Normandie

27 07 2009

Livarot and Neufchâtel

The fabulous meal that Nick and I enjoyed at the site of Julia Child’s culinary epiphanyincluded a cheese course.  It featured four of Normandy’s most famous cheeses: Pont l’Évêque, Camembert, Neufchâtel, and Livarot.  Naturally, we got a hunk of each, and all were wonderful.  Upon returning to Paris, I decided to hunt down a couple of them for further photographing (and eating, bien sur!) purposes.  While killing time waiting for my butcher to return from his lunch break, I strolled down to the rue de Bretagne where stands the aromatic Fromagerie Jouannault.  I picked up a cute heart-shaped Neufchâtel and a pungent wedge of Livarot.

Neufchâtel, which tastes like a slightly milder Camembert, has a slightly grainy texture and a thin, very edible rind (this coming from someone who often eats around the rind – I know I probably shouldn’t admit that – la honte!).  While the one we tasted at the restaurant had a full, mushroomy flavor, this one was slightly underripe and so had a hint of chalkiness and a bit of a tangy bite.  Still, we managed to put half of it away in one sitting!  (Speaking of things I shouldn’t admit…)  Neufchâtel is also the most historic Normand cheese, its production dating back at least as far as the Middle Ages.  As for the whimsical heart shape, fromagères made them like that as a way of flirting with British soldiers during the Hundred Years’ War, so the story goes.

I first heard of Livarot when I read Peter Mayle’s French Lessons.  One of the most memorable chapters was dedicated to a cheese-eating contest in Normandy.  The contestants had a time limit and were to eat as much Livarot as they could, with only local cider to wash it down.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, though.  At any rate, the next time I was in France, I made a point of finding some Livarot, which it turns out I love.  It is another very smelly washed-rind cheese, and it is wrapped with five bands of grass to help it keep its shape once ripe, which give it the nickname “The Colonel.”  The rind is crumbly, sticky, and not very enjoyable, but the golden yellow cheese inside is smooth, creamy, and full-bodied with a hint of pepperiness.

Both cheeses are made from cow’s milk, as the cow reigns supreme in this region.  La Normande, the local breed of cow, is revered both for its protein-rich milk and for its meat.  The cream and butter produced in Normandy are considered some of the best in France.  In fact, one of the towers of Rouen’s cathedral is called the “Tour de Beurre,” or butter tower, because it was paid for entirely by selling indulgences so that the local bourgeoisie wouldn’t have to give up their beloved butter during Lent.  Not surprisingly, it is the more ornate of the two towers on the cathedral’s facade.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Potatoes or Green Beans?

23 07 2009

Does this ever happen to you?  You’re going through your workday, thinking about dinner, picturing the oven fried fish and homemade tartar sauce you have planned, but when it comes to the side dish, you’re stumped.  On one hand, you have some lovely little haricots verts rapidly going south in the fridge, and on the other, you have some freshly dug new potatoes doing the same in the cupboard.  A quick green bean sauté sounds easy and virtuous, but maybe steamed potatoes in an herby vinaigrette would be better.  You remember that there are no fresh herbs in your kitchen, but now you really want those potatoes.  It would really be a shame to see those green beans go to waste.  Potatoes or green beans?  Green beans or potatoes?

What if...?

So there I was, with the great potatoes-or-green beans debate waging on in my head, when lunchtime rolls around.  After the 10 minutes it takes me to eat my sandwich, I have the better part of an hour to kill.  I decide to check my email on my phone (ah, the wonders of technology!) and lo and behold, a friend has sent me a link for a peach pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  I’m sure it was mouthwatering, but what immediately caught my attention was the link at the top of the page to the previous recipe, entitled, “arugula, potato and green bean salad.”  Wait!  Of course!  I can use both!  Why didn’t I think of that before?  I loved the idea of a yogurt-based dressing – it sounded so fresh and healthy (which is good, seeing as I’m still struggling a bit with that vacation weight), as well as creamy, tangy, and malleable to my palate’s desires.  And what my palate desired was tarragon.  I remembered it working so well with the yogurt in my French coleslaw recipe, and fortunately, I almost always have tarragon vinegarin the cupboard.  Yay!  With some shallots, Dijon mustard, and hazelnut oil, maybe some toasted almonds… can you tell I was getting excited?  After work I hurried home to get cooking. 

It looks like mayo, but brother, it ain't mayo.

The resulting salad was just what I was looking for.  I am absolutely making this one again.  Repeatedly.

French Potato and Green Bean Salad 

Never again succumb to the starch-or-vegetable dilemma!  This salad marries them beautifully.  The yogurty dressing looks rich, but tastes light – an excellent summer side dish.  As for the title, something about the combination of tarragon and nuts strikes me as so French.

For the dressing:

125 g / 4½ oz. plain yogurt
1 medium shallot, minced
2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. hazelnut oil

  1. Combine the yogurt, shallot, vinegar, and mustard in a small bowl.  Whisk in the oil and season to taste.

For the salad:

200 g / 7 oz. haricots verts (or thin green beans), washed and broken in half if long
360 g / 13 oz. small, waxy potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into rounds 65 mm / ¼” thick
50 g / ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Place the green beans in a strainer or pasta insert and cook 2-3 minutes, until bright green and crisp tender.  Remove them from the pot and give them a quick rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Drain.  (You may need to do this in two batches if your strainer is small like mine.)
  2. Add the potatoes to the pot, return to a boil, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer potatoes until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.  (No need to save the water this time.)
  3. Transfer the hot potatoes to a salad bowl and toss with the green beans and the dressing.  Allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes.  Just before serving, sprinkle in the almonds and stir to distribute.  Serve at room temperature.

Serves 3 as a side dish.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Le Rouennais

20 07 2009

In the limited planning time I had for the Rouen trip, I didn’t make it to the library for guidebooks as I normally would have done.  But in the research I was able to do, one restaurant kept coming up, no matter where I was looking.  And that restaurant was Le Rouennais.  I called before we left Paris to see if they would be open on the holiday weekend, and impulsively made a reservation for lunch on Bastille Day. 

Lunchtime Apéro

Since it was a holiday, we figured it would be ok to start our lunch with a celebratory cocktail.  (A quick hilarious story, if you don’t mind: last Thursday Nick and I went to the Musée d’Orsay.  We met on the bridge that joins the Tuileries to the Left Bank, where there are naturally loads of tourists.  I overheard a miffed-sounding American woman telling a companion that she had gone all the way over to the Place de La Bastille, and “No Bastille!”  I just about died laughing, once I was out of earshot, of course.  For those of you not in the know, the Bastille prison was completely demolished very shortly after its famous storming, and, in an ironic twist, the stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde, one bridge over from the one on which we were standing.)  So I ordered a kir violette, and Nick was talked into the “Cocktail Maison.”  With our drinks came a little plate of apéro nibbles: puff pastry-based cheesy poofs and seafood canapés.  It seems that this is fairly common practice in restaurants in Rouen, but it’s such a nice touch.

We each got a two-course menu, as we do, and Nick got the meal started with the trio de saumon.

Salmon, Three Ways

Silky house-smoked salmon, a wedge of mousse-like salmon terrine, and a very finely minced salmon tartare were equally delicious and beautifully complimented by a dollop of citrusy crème fraîche.  Luckily for me, Nick was generous enough to share a few bites.  The seafood in Normandy is some of the best and freshest in France, and regional chefs proudly highlight it on their menus.  So for my main course I chose the marmite de pêcheur, expecting some kind of mixed seafood stew.

More like seafood pot pie!

What I got was this adorable little tureen topped with flaky puff pastry (and a pointless rosemary garnish).  Underneath the golden crust was my stew – big chunks of salmon and some kind of white fish along with tiny mussels and shrimp swimming in a rich seafood velouté.  I enjoyed every bite, mopping up the last of the sauce with bits of bread, sticking my hand into the bowl in what was certainly an undignified manner.

As for Nick, he chose the magret de canard, and was very pleased with the rosy, perfectly medium rare meat on his plate.

Canard à l'orange

It was served with a classic orange sauce, triangles of underwhelming polenta, and a portion of delicious tomato confit soufflé.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he neglected to photograph the rather unremarkable moelleux au chocolat I had for dessert.

Our bellies full and our palates satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the mostly deserted streets of Rouen – it was a holiday, after all – before hopping on the train home.  We arrived in Paris in time to watch the fireworks from a vantage point high on the hill above Belleville.  Not a bad way to spend a Fête Nationale.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Bienvenue en Normandie

16 07 2009

As it turned out, I got a three-day “weekend” for Bastille Day.  I put “weekend” in quotes because the three days were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  But no matter.  I found this out on Saturday, and by the time I got home from work, Nick was already researching last-minute getaways.  (Isn’t he the best?)

Can anyone guess where we went?

We found ourselves in Rouen Monday morning.  Rouen is known for its cathedral, which was the subject of a large series of paintings by Claude Monet.  Rouen is also famous for being the site of the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc.  (Incidentally, she was born in Orléans, where I went for a weekend last summer.  I swear I’m not doing the Joan of Arc tour on purpose!)


Rouen is located in France’s Normandy region, and since I haven’t written any Regional French Cuisine posts yet this month, it seemed like a good idea to name July Normandy Month.  (I was originally saving Normandy for September, seeing as it’s famous for its apples, but there we were, so I went with it.)  After finding our way to our hotel and getting a couple of maps from the tourist office, Nick and I set out in search of some lunch.  And by “set out,” I mean “got some beers at a café and made some phone calls.”  Holiday weekends can be tough in France, and a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays anyway, so I wanted to make sure we’d have somewhere to go before hitting the cobblestone streets.  An affirmative response from Le P’tit Bec, which specializes in traditional cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal products, and we were off to the incredibly charming Rue Eau de Robec.

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Tarte au Ganache Cassis

13 07 2009

The CSA panier that I get usually contains about 5 types of vegetables and 1 fruit every week.  And every week there is at least one surprise, which is one of my favorite things about it.  I love the challenge of coming up with recipes for things I don’t think I like, or new ways to use things I’m getting tired of, and especially playing with new (to me) ingredients.  Picking up my first delivery after coming back from vacation, I was expecting a bag brimming with luscious summer produce – tomatoes (check), zucchini (check), eggplant (not yet), stone fruits and berries (no dice).  The first fruit I got (of which I got a double ration) was cassis.

Definitely not blueberries

At first glance I thought they were blueberries, which excited me greatly.  Further inspection revealed two pints of blackcurrants (cassis in French).  Tart and seedy, they didn’t lend themselves to out-of-hand eating, so I set about finding something to do with them.  A search of my Frenchie-est cookbooks came up fruitless (rimshot).  Desperate for some inspiration, I opened up Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat (which, regrettably, doesn’t seem to exist in English, at least not on Amazon) and found one recipe using cassis.  It was a ridiculously complicated chocolate and cassis entremet, with multiple layers of cake, ganache, syrup, and glaze.  Way fussier than anything I want to do outside of work.  I did, however, think that the ganache portion of the dessert had potential.  A cassis ganache tart sounded terribly sophisticated, and easy, too.  So I threw together a quick batch of my favorite sweet crust and baked it to a crisp golden brown.

The ganache itself was quite simple.  Minimalist, even.  I buzzed the fresh cassis with my immersion blender and was delighted by the rich burgundy color.

What do you get when you put cassis in a blender?

I pushed this mush through a fine-mesh strainer and was rewarded with an impossibly shiny, jewel-toned purée.

Mesmerizingly shiny cassis purée

I combined the purée with some water, sugar, and crème de cassis liqueur and brought the mixture to a boil.  As soon as it was hot, I poured it over some chopped chocolate (70%, from Madagascar, because chocolate from there tends to be fruity and I thought it would be a harmonious pairing), let it sit for a minute to soften the chocolate, then stirred until the ganache was silky smooth.  Hermé’s recipe called for as much butter as chocolate, but I was afraid that would dull the flavors.  So I whisked in a teaspoon or two of butter and called it good.  While it was still warm, I poured the ganache into the cooled tart shell and carefully set it in the fridge to set up.  There was a little extra ganache, so Nick and I dipped strawberries and apricots into it to get our chocolate fix for the evening.  I’m pleased to report it was delicious.

The next night, I removed the tart from the pan and cut a couple of thin slices.  They looked lonely all alone on their spare white plates, so I strewed a few fresh cassis over them and called it dessert.

Chocolate-Cassis Ganache Tart

Every bit as elegant as I had hoped, the ganache was the perfect consistency: firm enough to hold its shape when sliced, yet soft enough to melt upon contact with the tongue.  The chocolate and cassis made great friends, too, the bittersweet chocolate taming the puckery cassis while allowing it to keep its personality.  Which makes me wonder… why aren’t there more chocolate-cassis recipes out there?  And what would you do with fresh cassis?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Manger Comme Un(e) Français(e)

10 07 2009

After all that vacation-time excess, I returned home to Paris only to discover that most of my jeans had mysteriously shrunk.  It was time to start eating vegetables again.  (Not that I didn’t have any in the States, but the portions were always small in comparison to the hunks of juicy meat they were served with.)  So Nick and I headed down to the market to find fodder for some vegetable-laden meals.  Among other things, we came back with some gorgeous spinach and some bright red “Corne” peppers.  (Not sure if they’re the same as “Corne de Boeuf.”  Anyone?)  We decided to combine them in a quiche, which may not sound like the Lightest of All Possible Dinners, but hey, you have to ease into these things.

Ah, fire-roasted peppers.
1. Corne Peppers, Post-Char, 2. Pepper Braid

Plus, I used a new favorite whole wheat crust recipe.  Clotilde posted it on Chocolate & Zucchini several weeks ago, and I am as enthusiastic about it as she is.  Who ever thought a healthy tart crust could taste so good?  I love that it is full of whole grain goodness (while she suggests using light whole wheat flour or half white, half whole wheat, I have made it twice with all whole wheat flour, and have no complaints) and the olive oil is not only a healthier fat than butter, it’s also easier to work with, especially on warm summer afternoons.  Plus, the amount fits perfectly into my big ceramic tart dish.

Spinach, roasted peppers, and whole wheat crust

But back to the quiche.  After studding the spinach and pepper-filled crust with little cubes of feta, I filled in the gaps with a lighter version of my usual quiche custard (replacing one of the yolks with a whole egg and using more milk, less cream).  We played a round of cribbage while it baked, and when it was done we were treated to a tasty vegetarian supper.

This is as health food as I get.

As expected, the lighter custard, once baked, was firmer and less luxurious than the standard, but in this case, given that we’d kind of had our fill of rich, fatty food for the time being, that was just fine.  What we didn’t expect was the pepper to be as spicy as it was.  We were expecting piquillo-like smokiness, which was there, but the first bite with some real heat was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. 

Later in the week we got a double panier from the CSA, the first of four additional paniers we will be getting to make up for the ones we missed while on vacation.  They were full of zucchini, garlic, and tomatoes, which fortunately are great together and serve as a basis for all kinds of light meals.  My jeans should fit again in no time.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Eat Like An American

6 07 2009

This is meant for one person?

Somehow I have let another week get by without posting anything.  I wanted to put up this pictorial ode to the Excessiveness of American Eating before the 4th, so that we could all revel in it together, but then I went back to work and had forgotten how tiring it can be.  And then the cat disappeared for a day (don’t worry, she’s back home now, and has lost her roof privileges), and then 3-euro movie week was ending and we had to go see the new Woody Allen film and all of a sudden it was time to throw together some snacks for a 4th of July picnic in the Parc Floral at the Bois de Vincennes.

The point I’m eventually trying to get to is: Wow, food in America is big!  Check out the sandwich above.  It’s called The Big Pittsburgh, and it’s served at The Jolly Roger Taproom in Seattle.  That bread was at least an inch thick, and piled high with beef, ham, salami, cheese, coleslaw, tomatoes, and fries.  Yes, you read that right, there are fries on the sandwich.

The Big Pittsburgh, angle 2

When ordering the sandwich, you are given the choice of fries or salad.  Nick wisely chose salad, considering there were already plenty of fries.  I neglected to photograph the mountain of enormous smoked onion rings, for which my friend suggested I should have my food blogger’s license revoked.  Trust me when I tell you that they were everything I had hoped for.  I mean, come on.  Thick circles of smoked onion, battered and deep fried?  You would have forgotten about taking pictures, too.

A trip to the West Coast would be incomplete without a visit (or two) to the world’s best fast-food chain. I am referring, of course, to…

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