2013: The Highs Get Higher, The Lows Get Lower

1 01 2014

The second half of 2013 went by in a flash. It was a real rollercoaster. Nick quipped sometime in the early fall that it seemed as we get older, our highs were getting higher, and the lows lower. It’s kind of become our motto for the past several months.

So beautiful and delicious!

The highlights of the year:

  • More traveling. In May we went to Corsica for a long weekend before jetting off to the US for a couple of weeks to visit family and friends. In August we went to London, where I fell in love with Ottolenghi (see the picture above for one reason why) and continued my infatuation with St. John Bread & Wine. And just last week e spent Christmas in Rome. It was beautiful, delicious, moving and maddening as only Italy can be.
  • I got a new job that I love. The work at Frenchie To Go continues to be challenging and interesting, but maybe more importantly, my colleagues have become my friends. It’s been a very long time since I got to work with a group of people I like this much, and that makes me feel so fortunate. The very talented Mickaël Bandassak recently spent a week photographing us at work, and the resulting pictures are a great little peek into what our working days are like. You can find them all at his tumblr, Behind the Food.
  • Media attention is usually pretty validating, but never more than when it comes from people whose work you respect and admire. In addition to a fun interview about classic American bakery treats I did with the charming Caroline Mignot for Cuisine Actuelle Pâtisserie, she also wrote about my sticky bun on her blog, Table à Découvert. Speaking of my sticky bun,  over at Chocolate and Zucchini, Clotilde has posted a perfect photo of it as her desktop calendar for January 2014! And I got a shout-out from David Lebovitz in his post about the Rue du Nil, the food-lover’s paradise where I now get to go to work every day. Last but not least, I was delighted to find my name in the acknowledgements of Ann Mah‘s lovely memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, and I couldn’t stop smiling reading the story of how we met from her perspective.
  • And I realize I should probably have posted this before today, but I was invited by Qooq.com to film a New Year’s celebration menu. I spent a very fun day at their studio, cooking and baking up a storm. My buffet menu includes Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Spinach Dip with Bleu d’Auvergne, Crab Bisque, Savory Cake with Chicken, Caramelized Onion, and Pink Peppercorns, and a Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart. You can watch it here.

New Year's Buffet

But there were lowlights, too. We lost our apartment, yet a-freaking-gain. (For those of you just joining us here, Nick and I have lived in no fewer than five apartments since moving to Paris a little less than six years ago.) The last apartment hunt was so frustrating, discouraging, and time-consuming, that this time Nick and I just took the easiest apartment available, a former neighbor’s, which we like, but since the place is furnished, we had to get rid of all our furniture which makes it a little harder to feel like the place is really ours.

We’ve both had some troubles on the professional front, too. I can’t say much more about those, in the interest of maintaining Nick’s privacy and my own legal rights.

Looking spry

But the big downer, and it’s really really big, is that we lost our dear cat Snoopy to kidney failure in November. She was young, but we just didn’t catch the disease in time. I’ve been wanting to write a whole post for her, but every time I start looking through pictures of her I just want to curl up into a ball and cry. She didn’t have a big presence on this blog, but that little cat was a huge part of my life. It’s been about six weeks, and I think I’m only just now coming to terms with the fact that she’s not coming back, that I’m going to miss her every day for the rest of my life. On Christmas Day, I lit a candle for her in the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Rome. When we left the church, a cat walked right up to me and Nick, let us scratch its head, and continued on its way. I like to think it was Snoopy’s spirit, coming to let us know she’s ok.

So as not to end on such a sad note, and to offer some cheer and hope for the new year, I want to share with you a very simple, very wonderful cheese recipe I got from my good friend Jennifer of Chez Loulou.

Oh, yeah.

It is so easy and so fabulous, it’s sure to become a staple of our fall and winter repertoire. Here’s what you do: Take a wheel of Camembert and slice it in half so you have two circles of cheese. Place each cheese half, rind-side down, into a half of the box it came in (or, if you’re lucky like me to have found the perfect camembert-sized ceramic dish, by all means use that). Slice up a shallot or two and start sautéeing in a tablespoon or so of butter. Meanwhile, slice a large apple (or two smaller ones) into thin wedges. When the shallots are starting to brown, add the apples and sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of sugar. Season with salt and crushed szechuan peppercorns. Cook until the apples are softened and starting to brown. Finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Spoon this mixture on top of the cheese and bake 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and just a little bubbly. Serve warm with slices of baguette or other crusty bread. Nick and I find that one half serves the two of us perfectly as a starter or snack, and the other half will keep, unbaked, until the next time we need it, though I admit we’ve never been able to wait more than a day for a repeat performance.

Here’s to 2014, may it be long on joyous occasions!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Easy Cheesy

27 02 2013

Like we did last year, Nick and I have again given up cooking meat at home for Lent.  Since all Catholics know that fish isn’t meat, our omega-3 levels are rising as we incorporate more fish into our diet.  But what is a meatless couple supposed to do with a jar of homemade olive salad, leftover from a Mardi Gras party?  In a flash of brilliance it hit me.

before the oozing mess

Olive salad tuna melts!  I ran to the shop downstairs for supplies, picking up cans of tuna, two kinds of cheese (emmenthal and mozzarella) and Poilâne bread.  The beauty of using olive salad in your tuna is that you don’t even need to chop an onion, and you can use a lot less mayonnaise than usual.  I made these twice last week, and I expect to see them on the regular weeknight rotation for a while.  But truly, I would eat this no matter the dietary restriction, because a hot, crunchy, melty sandwich with tangy, savory bits of olive inside appeals year-round.

On this day in 2008: Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Valençay

1 11 2011

Valençay

Valençay is one of my favorite goat cheeses.  I picked up a gorgeous one at the market last weekend, and when Nick decided to take some lovely photos of it, I realized it was high time I gave this flat-topped pyramid a moment in the spotlight.

This cheese, which is named for the Loire Valley town in which it is produced, earned AOC status in 1998, making Valençay the first place in France to have AOCs for both their wine and their cheese.  Legend has it that Napoleon, upon returning from a particularly unsuccessful business trip to Egypt, stopped at the château in Valençay and flew into a rage upon seeing the local cheese in the shape of a pyramid.  He lopped off the top with his sword, thus giving the cheese its current signature shape.

Stories aside, Valençay is made using only raw goat’s milk.  It’s rubbed with salted ashes and left to mature for about 3 weeks, during which time a thin, bloomy gray rind develops.  Just underneath the mellow, earthy rind lies the firm yet creamy interior.  It has a pleasant citrusy tang, and is only mildly goaty.  Even though it may look intimidating to cheese newbies (I myself used to shy away from ashed or ashy-looking cheeses), Valençay is not at all challenging.  Which is not to say that die-hard cheese lovers don’t appreciate it.  On the contrary, I think this is one that just about anyone can enjoy.

I bought this particular cheese from the very friendly proprietor of La Ferme de la Prairie (known in some circles as the UCG – Ultimate Cheese Guy), who sells only goat cheeses, and for very reasonable prices.  While a typical Valençay might cost 7 or 8 euros, his comes in at 5 and change.  He also provides samples of several of his cheeses, with a liberal tasting policy – knives and cheeses are placed on top of the counter, it’s up to you to cut your own tastes.  He’ll ask how aged or fresh you’d like your cheese, and if you’re not sure, he’s happy to give his opinion.  A visit to his stand is a must if I’m at the Grenelle market on Sunday morning.

On this day in 2010: Chartres

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Interlude: Saint-Malo

18 06 2011

I don’t know about you, but it seems like these days the weekends are even busier than the weekdays. While I enjoy having a full social calendar, sometimes I just want some time to sit and do nothing. Last night we had a last-minute cancellation, freeing up the evening to do some clean-out-the-fridge cooking (cheese raviolis in leftover tomato sauce, zucchini baked with breadcrumbs and jamòn iberico) and some good old lounging on the couch with a beer and a movie. It was just the kind of Friday night I needed after a hectic week.

A few weeks ago, Nick and I spent the weekend in Saint-Malo with a group of his colleagues.  It was a nice getaway, but there was a fair amount of running around – trying to make it to our lunch reservation on time, figuring out when the buses to Mont St. Michel were, coordinating schedules with 16 other people, and then there was my insistence on making pilgrimages to both of Jean-Yves Bordier’s shops.  I mean, why buy butter at the cheese shop when you can buy it at the butter shop?

Bordier cheese shop

Since the cheese shop was closer to our hotel, we went there first (following a little postprandial nap on the beach).

Goat cheeses at Bordier

Firm, mountain cheeses at Bordier

We were planning to have a little picnic on the train home the next day, and we were sharing with another couple, so we got to indulge and bought about seven different cheeses, including a Trois-Cornes d’Aunis, which I’d been dying to taste, and a Breton specialty cheese with seaweed in it, which tasted much better than it sounds.  We watched as the saleswomen lopped portions of fresh butter from the large slabs sitting on the marble and then used a special set of paddles to beat it into rustic rectangles before wrapping it up in waxed paper.  We didn’t buy any butter, though, because I really wanted to see the mothership butter shop, somewhere in the tangle of streets intramuros.  (The historic center of Saint-Malo is a walled medieval city, now filled with mostly touristy stuff, but there’s still plenty worth visiting.)

On our way there, we passed by the Larnicol pastry and chocolate shop.  And we couldn’t help but to stop.

Read the rest of this entry »





Mustard in the Custard

2 05 2011

Longtime readers of this blog may remember my penchant for making breakfast strata on Easter.  And other times.  This year was no different.  Again looking to the contents of my fridge for inspiration, ham and cheddar sounded like a delightfully sandwich-y take on the strata.

Speaking of sandwiches, wouldn’t a little mustard be the perfect spice for eggy brunch sandwiches?  Monte Cristo breakfast casserole?  Ok, none of that sounds appetizing.  Let’s just say I put the mustard in the custard and get on with it.

mustard in the custard!

Layers: bread, caramelized onions (I seem to be incapable of making a strata without them), strips of ham, shredded Tillamook cheddar.  Repeat, finish with bread.  Custard: four eggs, two cups of milk, salt, pepper, a big spoonful each of grainy mustard and Dijon, and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Let it soak for at least half an hour, bake at 350F for an hour or so, and eat.  Champagne and Bloody Marys make perfect accompaniments.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it was so good.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Around Paris: 4th: La Reserve de Quasimodo

15 02 2011

Yes, it sits in the shadow of Notre Dame, one of Paris’ biggest tourist draws.  And yes, the chalkboard menus are in English as well as French.  But don’t let either of those usually deterrent factors stop you from paying a visit to La Reserve de Quasimodo, one of Paris’ most affordable, least pretentious, and – dare I say it – off-the-beaten-path wine bars.

La Reserve de Quasimodo

Wine bar can be a tricky term.  Some fit the description well: bars that serve a larger-than-usual variety of wines, and maybe some nibbles to go with them (Le Baron Rouge and Tombé du Ciel are two good examples).  Others are really more like restaurants, requiring reservations and serving full-on meals (think Le Verre Volé or Chapeau Melon).  Often food purchases are required, due to liquor license intricacies.  Many operate as wine shops during non-meal hours.

So what kind of wine bar is La Reserve de Quasimodo?  Well, it has a wine cellar, from which you can buy wines by the bottle.  You can either take them away and do as you see fit (Nick and I are looking forward to summer, when we can stroll in, pick up a nice bottle of something chilled, and then take it to the river bank to sip), or you can enjoy them in the dining room.  The droit de bouchon, or corkage fee, is a mere six euros – probably the cheapest in Paris.  It is one of those places where eating something is required, but if you aren’t in the mood for a full meal, they offer cheese and charcuterie plates to share.

Cheese plate at La Reserve de Quasimodo

I have yet to try the charcuterie, but I’ve had the cheeses twice.  A little round of aged chèvre, a slab of piquant bleu d’Auvergne, a hunk of earthy Saint Nectaire, and a quarter-wheel of creamy Camembert.  The Camembert is the standout, but all are good, and a little variety is important, no?  On an unrelated note, did you know that a pie chart in French is called a Camembert?  I find that hilarious and awesome.

Duck and foie gras salad

Making up a large part of the menu are salads and tartines.  The salads are big enough for a meal, the selection of hearty toppings ranging from duck prosciutto and foie gras terrine (pictured above) to jambonneau with Puy lentils (below).

Jambonneau and Lentil salad

The tartines are of the open-faced sandwich family, as opposed to the bread smeared with butter and jam ilk, and are piled high with goodies like cheese, tomatoes, and anchovies.

For those hungry for something warmer and stodgier, there are hot menu items as well, though I can’t vouch for them as I haven’t tried any.  Yet.

The space itself is worth a visit.  Steeped in history, it’s been operating since the 12th century, and among other things, once served a s a hangout for the infamous Cartouche, Paris’ most notorious criminal of the early 18th century. But you can read all about that, and other historical tidbits, on the signs out front.  Inside, the front room is like a glass-enclosed patio which offers great views over the Seine of the Hôtel de Ville, while the back room feels much older with its exposed beams of dark wood.  The toilet is, just as they claim, “atypical.”

Door

La Reserve de Quasimodo serves both lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, and the wine shop is open continuously from 10:45 am.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Pepper Jack in Paris?

30 01 2011

The search ended this morning.

Raclette au piment

Aw, yeah.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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