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.

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Central Market Hall, Budapest

2 03 2011

I could have entitled this post “Központi Vásárcsarnok,” but I was afraid that might have been a little off-putting.  To quote from my phrasebook, “Hungarian, or Magyar, is distantly related to Finnish and Estonian, but is utterly unlike the languages of the other main linguistic groups of Europe.”  No kidding.  What that means in real life is that if your main language experiences have been with, say, Romance or Germanic languages, none of the words in Hungarian will look even remotely familiar.  Which made the long weekend Nick and I recently spent in Budapest something of an adventure.

Budapest's Central Market Hall

Budapest was once two towns, Buda on the hilly West bank of the Danube River, and Pest on the flat East side.  We stayed in Pest, in the Józsefváros neighborhood, which seemed to have a pretty good dining scene as well as plenty of cool bars for later on.  There was a bit of trouble with the hotel we had originally booked, but since it resulted in a free upgrade to the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, we weren’t complaining.  The first night we dined in a nearby restaurant, Alföldi Kisvendéglö, which served inexpensive, old-school Hungarian classics like paprikás csirke (chicken paprikash – chicken braised in a paprika-laced gravy) and töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage).  The food was hearty and flavorful, though less than photogenic.  We washed it down with a bottle of Hungarian red wine, which was surprisingly good, especially considering the price – about $18 US.

Tiled market roof

The next morning, I was itching to check out the Central Market Hall, conveniently located only ten minutes’ walk from our hotel.  (I swear I didn’t plan it that way, I just got lucky.)  It’s an impressive building, with elaborate patterns in the bricks and a colorful tiled roof.  Inside, the market spans three levels.

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Spring is Here!

3 04 2009

Not that you’d know it from the weather today, but trust me, there have been more sunny days than not this week in Paris.  And last Sunday at the market I bought asparagus, peas, and sweet strawberries!

To celebrate the arrival of spring, I made this risotto with the asparagus and peas.

Early Spring Vegetable Risotto

It tasted as good as it looks.  I also made a fresh fruit tart with the strawberries and the kiwis that I got in my CSA panier (who knew kiwis grew in the Loire valley?).  The meal was a lovely first taste of spring, and made me hungry for more.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Must Be Scallop Season

5 12 2008

I love seeing the piles of whole in-shell scallops in the market.  Partly because scallops in this form are very difficult to find in the States, so my experience with them is extremely limited, and I do appreciate a challenge.  And partly because I love scallops so much.

Three whole scallops

Also, I know that when I buy them alive (as these were right up to the point where I cut their writhing adductors from their shells), they haven’t been frozen or treated with that stuff to make them retain water and weigh more.  These are scallops as nature intended. 

Now, I don’t need much prompting to order scallops in a restaurant, but cooking them at home is another matter.  I want that golden-seared crunch on the ends while the center is rare as rare can be, without being cold.  I’m happy to say that I’ve never had a total scallop disaster in my kitchen (In fact, my first-ever attempt at scallop cookery in culinary school was praised by a very-tough-to-please chef instructor), but I’m always slightly trepidatious that I’m going to ruin such a delectable, expensive ingredient.  But when I saw this post with glazed diver scallops and fried prosciutto, I had to run out and get some scallops of my own.  By the way, I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s statement that “nothing goes better with scallops than some fried pork.”

Look at all those juicy goods!

Except possibly vanilla.  In my first (maybe only) true VIP dining experience, one of the off-the-menu courses served was seared scallops on wilted spinach with vanilla butter sauce.  It still sticks in my mind, five years later, as a standout dish in an all-around incredible meal (in which we also ate a bowl of steamed cockles, a whole roasted branzini, and a rack of lamb). 

As luck would have it, the first vendor I saw at the market the day I went to buy scallops was a guy selling Bourbon vanilla beans.  I got five for two euros – not bad at all!  So vanilla beurre blanc was definitely going on the plate.  Since October through January is pretty much a neverending winter squashfest in our house, I ended up with a beautiful organic Butternut squash in my shopping bag, figuring I’d make a purée using crème fraîche and molasses to enrich and intensify its nutty sweetness.  Picturing the plate in my head, I knew I needed something green.  Sadly, the Parisian markets seem to be lacking in the leafy greens category.  There are tons of lettuces, but I have yet to see mustard greens or kale.  If you want to get your dark green leafy vegetable fix, you have the choice between spinach and Swiss chard.  That’s about it.  Bored of spinach and thinking that Swiss chard wasn’t quite right, I wandered through the stalls in hope of finding something different.  A large stack of bundled watercress jumped out at me, and it joined the scallops, vanilla beans, and squash in my bag.  I was about to head home when I realized I hadn’t picked up any pork products!  Enter the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese specialty stand.  I splurged on four slices of Serrano ham, and made my way home with an empty wallet and an exciting dinner just waiting to be realized.

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Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin

2 12 2008

Celebrating holidays in a foreign country means making certain sacrifices.  As a case in point, I have yet to see anything resembling a fresh cranberry in Paris.  The various American épiceries are fully stocked with jars and cans of cranberry sauce, but if you want to make your own (like I always do) you’re out of luck.  However, as you can probably imagine, the markets of Paris offer up an incredible bounty from which to devise seasonal dishes from locally-grown ingredients.

Naked Chestnut Squash

Like this potimarron.  I forgot to get a picture of it before I stripped it bare, but there’s a good before photo herePotimarron is one of the more commonly seen winter squashes in the Parisian markets, yet somehow I had yet to cook one.  A little research turned up some interesting facts about the potimarron: the thin skin is edible, the name is derived from the French words for “pumpkin” and “chestnut,” and it apparently increases in sweetness and vitamin content the longer you store it (to a point, I’m sure).

Potimarron insides, with paring knife for scale

I purchased the cute little squash about a week before Thanksgiving without any real plan regarding what to do with it.  The same market trip yielded a bag of fingerling potatoes, another impulse buy.  A few days later, when I realized it was high time I start getting my Thanksgiving menu in order, the two supremely seasonal vegetables jumped out at me.

*Peeling not required

Recalling a butternut squash gratin I have made in years past to generally good reviews, I thought I’d riff on the idea, working potatoes into the mix.  The potimarron, taking after its namesake nut, is one of the starchier winter squashes out there.  While this makes it able to hold its own when combined with potatoes, I didn’t want the dish to be too heavy (this was for Thanksgiving, after all).  I figured the tangy sweetness of leeks simmered in hard cider would offset the richness of the squash and potatoes.  Top it all off with my favorite fresh chèvre, and I had just the gratin I was looking for.  I may not have had sweet potatoes as usual, (ed. note: except that I did, on this salad) but it didn’t feel like I was sacrificing a thing. 

Click through for the recipe and Nick’s gorgeous photo.

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Thanksgiving in Pictures

1 12 2008

My Thanksgiving week in 12 pictures

1. Supermarket Spoils, 2. Steaming Chestnuts, 3. Mushrooms at the Market, 4. Fresh Porcini!, 5. Potimarron Peels, 6. Washed Fingerlings, 7. Exploded Garlic, 8. Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding, 9. Buttered Turkey, 10. Nick’s Mad Carving Skills, 11. Potimarron-Fingerling Gratin, (recipe here) 12. Candlelight Crisp

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Duck Dinner, Revisited

7 11 2008

Now that the weather has turned decisively cold, I find myself craving duck again.  Since I was so pleased with the results of my Winter Duck Dinner, and because Nick was so excited to see Brussels sprouts reappear at the market, I thought I’d do a rehash for Autumn.

Yet another photo of caramelized onions

On the same market trip, I found a guy selling baskets of red onions for a euro a pop.  For some reason, red onions are normally about three times the price of their less-stunningly colored relatives, so I jumped on the deal.  Once the onions have been caramelized, I’m not sure if there’s that much of a flavor difference between varieties, but Iove the color of deeply caramelized red onions.

Come here, you tasty little cabbages!

As before, the Brussels sprouts were seared over high heat in duck fat and combined with caramelized onions.  I added the last of the fresh sage, mainly just to use it up, but it turned out to complement the sprouts beautifully.  I’ve decided this recipe is too good to keep to myself, so look for it after the photo.

Rounded out with an apricot-based pan sauce and a pile of roasted potatoes and carrots, the Fall take on the Duck Dinner was every bit as fulfilling as the Winter version.

Fall Duck Dinner - photo by Nick

Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions

 

Even if you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, give this recipe a try.  Allowing them to brown a bit deepens their flavor, which is enhanced by sweet-and-savory caramelized onions.  Sage brings autumnal warmth to the dish and embellishes the earthiness of the sprouts, but the dish is equally good without it.  You could serve this with duck or game, and it may even be a surprise hit on the holiday dinner table.

 

2 Tbsp. butter

3 small red onions, thinly sliced (White or yellow onions will also work.)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp. sherry vinegar

2 Tbsp. duck fat (Bacon fat would be good, too.  Olive oil is acceptable in a pinch.)

500 g/1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 Tbsp. fresh sage, thinly sliced (optional)

 

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are deeply caramelized, about an hour or so.  Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar and scrape the onions out into a bowl.  Set aside.  (This can be done ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.)
  2. While the onions are cooking, trim the root ends from the Brussels sprouts and chop them (the sprouts, not the ends) into small pieces.
  3. Wipe out the pan and add the duck fat.  Heat over high heat and throw in the chopped Brussels sprouts.  Let them sit still a few minutes to brown, then season with salt and pepper and stir.  Allow a few more minutes of browning time, add the caramelized onions and sage (if you’re using it) and toss to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until heated through.  Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

 Serves 4.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Courgettes aux Herbes de Provence

5 08 2008

Last week I made good on a dinner invite I had extended to Hails of Coffee Helps.  I decided to revisit the pork roast that had been such a hit a few months back, but couldn’t decide on an appropriate vegetable side dish.  I’ll admit I sometimes feel befuddled in the Summer regarding what to do with the bounty of gorgeous vegetables available at the market.  It’s hard to strike a balance when you want to do something new and interesting but don’t want to mess up the perfection that is a ripe tomato, zucchini, or what-have-you. 

So I thought I’d do a simple summer squash sauté with a little garlic and lemon – nothing to overpower the freshness of the squash or compete with the apricot glaze on the pork.  And then, on my way out of the market, I saw these:

Cute little bundles of fresh Herbes de Provence

Fresh herbes de Provence!  Obviously, I had to buy them.  I just knew they would be fantastic with the zucchini I had picked up earlier, not to mention a lovely counterpoint to the fruity pork glaze.  And naturally, I neglected to take any photos.  (Sorry.)  But rest assured the end result was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I made a quiche using the same ingredients later in the week.  Using my usual recipe, with garlicky sautéed zucchini in place of the onions, I seasoned the custard with lemon zest and chopped fresh sage, thyme, lavender, and parsley.

You'll notice I finally got a round baking dish

After the quiche came out of the oven, I realized I had forgotten to put the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into the custard as intended.  D’oh!  Nevertheless, grating it directly over the top of the baked quiche isn’t a bad way to go.

Provençal Zucchini Quiche

The quiche was fantastic – the herbs and lemon gave the whole thing a feeling of lightness not usually associated with the buttery, eggy, cheesy goodness that is a typical quiche.  Served with a glass of chilled rosé, it made a refreshing summer supper.  It’s amazing how one simple ingredient (in this case, the fresh herbes de Provence) can inspire you to look at your cooking in a new way.  And who knows what it will be next?  I’ll just have to wait and see what the market has in store for me.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





The First Days of Stone Fruit

10 06 2008

Well, the stone fruits have finally arrived.  Not that I haven’t seen them in the market the past couple of weeks and been tempted, but they are finally affordable!  On Sunday we found some delicious cherries for 1.50 – 2 euros a kilo!  (Here’s how I do the math: 2/3 of the price per kilo in euros = price per pound in dollars.  It’s only approximate, but at least it gives me an idea.  In this case, we’re talking about $1.30/pound for cherries!)  On the way out of the market we stopped for some fruit – advertised as peaches, but with the smooth skin of nectarines – that was 3 euros for 2 kilos.  Whatever they were, they smelled great.  And at that price, we didn’t much care about the name of the fruit anyway.  They taste like peaches, so that’s what I’ll be calling them for the duration of this post.

So the obvious question as we amble home from the market is what to do with all this fruit?  Nick reminds me of a perennial favorite of ours in the summer months: rustic stone fruit tart.  That was easy.

Of course, when we get home and I jump onto cooksillustrated.com for my trusty recipe, they are having some kind of technical difficulties (as they often are).  So I piece together a basic pie dough recipe off the top of my head and hope the proportions are right. 

Rolling out the dough

As far as workability, the dough is great.  I roll it out, place it on a sheet pan, and dump the fruit on top, having already pitted, sliced, and sugared a pound of peaches (no peeling required) and a quarter pound of cherries.

So juicy!  So sexy!

Then it’s a simple matter of folding the edges of the dough up around the fruit.  I also use the leftover juice in the bottom of the fruit bowl to brush the top of the tart and sprinkle it generously with cassonade.  It bakes for about an hour and comes out looking just as beautiful as I remember it.

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Fish Stock Use #2: Trout with Polenta

29 04 2008

We woke up on Sunday to a gloriously sunny morning, perfect for hunting and gathering at the market.  When we got down there, Nick spotted some trout and decided that was what he wanted for dinner.  We learned the French word for “gutted” or “cleaned”in reference to a fish: vidé, as in “emptied.”  Good to know.  But how to prepare it?  Sometimes I find it hard to make decisions like these at the market, with so much going on around me.  All the smells and sights and sounds cause me to go into sensory overload, and my brain kind of shuts down.  The only cure is to find a wine booth that gives out samples. 

Eventually, after wandering the aisles and perusing the wares, we came up with a goat cheese and piquillo pepper stuffed trout, served with fish stock polenta and tomato salad.  We thought the piquillo peppers would be easy to find at one of the Spanish/Portuguese specialty booths, but we were wrong.  At the first one, the conversation went something like this: (translations my own)

Me: (pointing to a bin of roasted peppers) Ces sont quel type de poivron? (What kind of peppers are these?)

Girl at counter: Buh… rouge.  (What are you color blind?  Red!)

Me: Ummm… je cherche les poivrons “piquillo.” Je ne connais pas le mot en français, je connais le mot espagnol. (I’m looking for piquillo peppers, I don’t know the French word, just the Spanish one.)

Guy at counter: Doyouspeakenglish?  English?

Me: Oui, mais… I’m looking for piquillo peppers.

Guy at counter: Hablas español? (Do you speak Spanish?)

Me: No.

And it went on like that.  Red is not a variety, people!  Anyway, we did end up finding some beautiful fresh peppers at one of the produce stands.  They smelled great, so we bought those to roast at home.  What were they called?  “Poivrons Rouges Espagnols.”  “Red Spanish Peppers.”   Arrrrgh!

Fresh roasted piquillo peppers

The tomatoes were no problem, as almost every stand had gorgeous coeur de boeuf  (beef heart) tomatoes.  Goat cheese was, of course, plentiful, but by the time we got around to looking for it, many of the booths had begun to close down.  We were turned down at one fromagier, where the woman told us the goat cheese was already put away.  End of story.  But we persevered, and found a nice little ball of fresh goat cheese at the Auvergnat cheese stand.

Coeurs de Boeuf

After all that, actually cooking the meal was a piece of cake.  I started with the tomato salad.  This is one of the easiest, tastiest things you can do with a tomato.  The better the tomato, the better the salad.  Just dice up some tomatoes, add sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a minced shallot, and some chopped fresh parsley.  Drizzle with good olive oil, toss, and serve at room temperature.

Easy, delicious tomato salad

On to the fish…

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