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.

Happy 4th of July!

8 07 2008

OK, so I’m a little behind the times, but better late than never, right?  For the 4th last Friday Nick invited some students who are doing a Summer program in Paris over for some good old-fashioned cheeseburgers.  He bought freshly ground beef from the butcher while I procured potatoes and appetizer fixins.

When I got home from work I started a batch of brioche dough with which to make hamburger buns.  Nick made his famous potato salad – with a few changes.  Usually he uses Russet potatoes, but starchy-type potatoes are thin on the ground over here, so this time they were red.  We also made the mayonnaise from scratch, and the sweet pickle relish that often goes into the salad was absent.  But it tasted like home nonetheless. 

For the apéro, I decided that onion dip would be suitably Classic American Cookout to serve at our 4th of July party.  My friend Pete recently told me about his onion dip, made with bacon, caramelized onions, and sour cream.  I loved the idea, so I did just that, with the minor substitution of crème fraîche for sour cream.  No one complained.  In fact, the entire batch (500 g crème fraîche, 4 small onions, and a few ounces of bacon) was gone by the end of the night.  We will definitely be making that one again.

Having found a fairly reliable source for cheddar, we knew exactly what to put on our burgers.  That, along with some sliced tomato, red onion, and lettuce leaves, and we were in business.  (We realized just slightly too late that we had neglected to purchase ketchup – d’oh!)

Cheeseburger and potato salad

And of course, we washed it down with some All-American beer.  (Although these particular beers were brewed in Spain and they have to shorten the name in Europe because some Czech brewery got the name first…)

Budweiser, King of Beers

Happy 4th, everyone!  (Or 8th, or whatever.)

How to Roast a Chicken (alternate version)

28 05 2008

Yes, roasting a chicken is very easy.  But do you know what’s even easier?  Buying a fresh rotisserie chicken hot from the oven.  And some potatoes from the bottom of the rotisserie, where they’ve been soaking up chickeny goodness most of the day.

The ubiquitous parisian rotisserie

This picture was taken at the butcher that is closest to my apartment, but almost every butcher in town has one of these outside his shop.  I do not recommend walking down the street hungry in Paris, as you will be assaulted at least every 3 minutes with the delicious aroma of roasting chickens.  I believe I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  the chickens here in France are just plain tastier than their American brethren.  Chalk it up to farming practices or whatever, all I know is that I won’t touch a pre-roasted chicken in the States, and here I eat them at least twice a month.  (Apologies to my American readers.)

Note the price (if you can decipher that crazy French handwriting, that is): 5 euros.  The sign says 2 euros for potatoes, but sometimes they’ll just throw a handful into the bag with the chicken for free.  Throw together a salad and you’ve got dinner for 2-3 people in no time, for pocket change.

Vive la France!

Comfort Food

15 04 2008

A little while ago, I was browsing the forums on DallasFood and came upon a story about fried chicken.  It was a very cold and nasty Sunday afternoon, and I was suddenly hit with a wave of homesickness and the desire for some chicken-fried deliciousness from Lucky’s or Allgood brought tears to my eyes.

I began thinking about how to replicate the ever-so-comforting chicken fried steak (henceforward to be referred to as CFS), researching breading/battering methods, cooking oils, and so on.  It didn’t occur to me until several days later that the French steak haché may be just what I need to get the right cut-it-with-a-fork tenderness that only cubesteak can provide.  Upon inspection, however, it really looked more like fancy molded hamburger than anything.  Luckily, there were some thin steaks next to it on the shelf, which had clearly been cut across the grain, and looked as though they may have been tenderized as well.  I picked them up and went home, hungry with anticipation.

As for the recipe, I decided to base mine on the one from Cook’s Illustrated, as they are my go-to source for recipes, especially of the Americana variety.  I set up my breading station with meat, seasoned flour, and a thin batter made from egg, buttermilk (well, milk and lemon juice), baking powder, and baking soda.

Breading set-up for CFS

Meanwhile, I was heating up a large pan of peanut oil on the gas stove.  (Have I mentioned how psyched I am about the gas stove?  This is the first time in about 6 years I’ve had one at home!)  Anyway, when the oil was nice and hot, I dredged the steaks in flour, dipped them in the batter, and carefully placed them in the pan.

Putting the \'fried\' in chicken-fried steak

As you can see, the batter was a little thin.  Not the perfect CFS, but not bad for a first attempt.*  Once it was smothered in cream gravy (which, let’s face it, is just countrified béchamel sauce – France strikes again!) and joined by a heap of buttery mashed potatoes and roasted green beans, I had no complaints.

CFS dinner - the perfect comfort food?

* For those of you who must know, it was more in the style of Allgood than Lucky’s – very thin, crispy breading with a tendency to fall off.

Sufferin’ Succotash

12 03 2008

Saturdays tend to involve a certain amount of desperation in the shopping department.  Since everything is closed on Sundays (except the market, which everyone seems to forget about until late Sunday morning), there’s a bit of a better-stock-up-for-the-weekend mentality.  As a result, after a relaxing Saturday afternoon at the Musée Carnavalet, Nick and I found ourselves short on time and lacking in ingredients to make a proper dinner.  A trip to the store was in order, but early Saturday evening, the pickins can be slim.  Considering what food we did have, I had decided to make succotash to use up the vegetables in the fridge before they went south on me.  Pork roast sounded like it would go perfectly, but our efforts to find a suitable hunk of pork for roasting were thwarted at every turn.  Obviously, the copious Halal butchers were out, and the offerings at the supermarket were seriously picked over.  So we ended up buying a chicken instead, as well as some potatoes.

We got home and set straight to work.  I dealt with dicing the potatoes while Nick prepared the chicken.  Luckily, this particular chicken was sold without its head, feet, and innards – not always a given over here.  I tossed the potatoes in olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread them in the bottom of the baking dish to act as a makeshift roasting rack.  As a bonus, I expected them to soak up the delicious chicken drippings.  Nick rubbed the chicken all over with a thin layer of olive oil and seasoned it, inside and out, with salt and pepper.  We stuffed some thyme, bay leaves and garlic into the cavity, and set the bird on top of the potatoes, breast side down to avoid overcooking.

Chicken and potatoes - before

Into the oven it went, and we busied ourselves with a game of cards while we waited.  After 30 or 40 minutes, I flipped the chicken breast side up to continue cooking and improve the browning.  Then I started on the succotash.  I cleaned green beans and broke them in halves, chopped up a (poblano?) pepper, and sliced some garlic.  I heated some olive oil in a pan and added the peppers.  When the seared peppers were making us cough uncontrollably, I added the green beans.  I cooked the green beans until brown spots began to appear, then added the garlic, followed shortly thereafter by a can of corn.  (Yes, I used canned corn.  It’s not in season, sue me.)  A little salt to season it, and my succotash was ready.


The chicken was starting to look good when we realized that we had no thermometer, no way of knowing if it was fully cooked.  We jiggled the leg a bit and guessed it must be done. 

 Chicken and potatoes - after

We took it out of the dish and put it on a plate to rest.  Meanwhile, I stirred the potatoes and returned them to the oven to brown further.  After 15 or 20 minutes, Nick carved the chicken – it was perfect!  The potatoes were deliciously golden brown, so we plated it up.  Not too shabby for a desperate Saturday dinner.

Chicken, potatoes, and succotash

To Market, To Market…

25 02 2008

To buy a fat pig.

Home again, home again,

With a rack of his ribs.  (Or something like that.)

Seafood at the market

So we went to the marché again this weekend.  Sunday really seems to be the best day for it, and the earlier you go, the better the pickins.  One of the things I love most about the market is how you can find something new almost every time you go.  For example, I hadn’t seen a boulangerie counter before:

Bread at the market 

This one had some fabulous artisan breads, priced by the kilo.  We bought some pain au levain and went across the way to a cheesemonger’s booth.  We chose a hunk of gouda and a wedge of saint-nectaire to go with our bread.

Moving on to the produce – this is where the marché really shines.  The stuff is top quality and dirt cheap.  We saw these lettuces and had to have one.

De la salade

 We also picked up some Brussels sprouts, leeks, clementines, and strawberries. (I know, I know, strawberries in February?  All I can say is I could smell them from 3 feet away and that tends to be a good sign.)  Having done our homework, we have determined that eggs cost about half as much at the market as they do in the store, which isn’t so much to say that eggs are cheap at the market as that they are ridiculously expensive at the store.  No matter where you get them, though, they are fresher than any I’ve seen in any store in the States, which is nice.

And then we came across this:

Olives at the market

I was pleasantly surprised to see the olive display – another first.  After tasting a few we took home half a kilo of the ones on the right.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder what exactly we would be doing with all of this food we had just bought.  Salad with Brussels sprouts?  And olives?  What about the clementines?  And the eggs?  Leek omelettes?  We need some meat.  So we headed back through the crowd towards the butcher.  It was getting to be about the time when the vendors start packing up to leave, so there was a huge line for the rotisserie chickens (which, by the way, smelled fantastic).  We got in line and when we got to the front, noticed something that looked like a pork tenderloin sitting alone among the chicken scraps.  I asked the butcher what it was.  “Travers du porc,” came the reply.  Ok, can I have half of it?  He flipped it over to reveal that it was, in fact, a rack of pork ribs, much to Nick’s and my delight.

Well, we brought it all home and had a well-earned snack of bread and cheese.  We took a few nibbles of the ribs, just to make sure they would be ok for dinner.  Now, this may horrify any barbeque aficionados out there, but these ribs didn’t have a hint of smoke.  They were simply salted, slow roasted, chicken-fat basted (does that make them Kosher?) ribs.  And boy, were they good.  Quite a departure from what we were used to back home, though.

Dinner was a simple affair.  We were tired from watching Six Nations rugby on Saturday, but luckily the rotisserie had done most of the work for us.  Nick diced up some potatoes we found in the cupboard, tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil, and roasted them.

Roast potato prep

When they were almost done, he put the ribs on top to warm through while I got the salad ready.  Wash and tear the lettuce, drizzle with a simple vinaigrette, and top with olives.  Voilà!  Dinner is served:

Mmmmm… ribs

Dessert was, in a very Alice Waters moment, perfectly sweet clementines.

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