Picture a Pita

Fly me to the Moon

I have been on a bit of a bread-making kick lately.  As of now, I have not whipped up anything to give the four boulangeries on my block a run for their money.  Most everything has been a bit doughy and heavy-handed like all amateur homemade bread.  However, I came across a terrific recipe for pita on one of my favorite foodie sites, Gilt Taste.  (Check it out here at http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/4806-make-perfect-pita).  ‘Pita, you say?  How granola of you to make,’ you must be thinking.  ‘You might as well start making your own Windex and growing your own flaxseeds.”  But at the end of the day, it’s something a bit less traditional to mess up, right?  To my chagrin, it’s more or less the same recipe as pizza dough.  But with the dough, there is more rolling than the Harlem Globetrotter-twirling pizza treatment.

And what’s the greatest part about homemade pita?  Although there is no instant gratification in bread-making, there will be instant gratification when it hits the table.  And I can attest for a lot of friends who have minimal NYC and/or twenty-something kitchens.  Pita can be cooked either in an oven or in a skillet.  Alongside some store-bought hummus, tabbouleh, and other Mediterranean accoutrement, it’s an instant party!

HAPPY JOUR DE MACARON! HAPPY SPRING! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Flowers from our petit jardin. Spring has sprung!

Today is my birthday!  And the first day of Spring!  And it also happens to be the ‘jour de macaron’!  I was born on a good day.  Free macarons!  Thanks http://parisbymouth.com/ for sharing this.  If you’ve never tried a macaron before, they are the semi-precious confectionary jewel of certain French patisseries.  Crisp on the outside, unctuously intense on the inside.  Although the macaron trend is going strong in the States, I’ve never wasted my time finding an American equivalent.   (Have you found any good macarons in the USA yet?)  So shortly after I started planning my trick-or-treat-style macaron conquest, I realized that France doesn’t follow the same ‘demand and supply’ criteria as Halloween or that happy, happy day when Ben & Jerry’s gives out a free scoop in the States.  Eloquence is key to getting anything done in France.  Everything needs to be stated precisely and efficiently.  So I strutted into Dalloyau, a local participant.  I inquired ever-so politely in my most proper French, “Good day, dear sir.  Do you happen to be participating in this joyous day of macaron?”  Pause.  “Yes, in fact we are.  If you happen to participate in a tasting, you are certainly welcome.”  “Uhhh, yeeaah!…I mean, if you please.  I will take a vanilla, kind sir”  A little coercing for a small treat.  I should have mentioned my birthday first thing.

Take advantage of the beautiful day.  And a macaron too, if you please.

La Rentrée

And we’re back.  Phew!  The worst part about all the vacations in France is the constant ‘rentree’ or begrudgingly going to back to reality.  I can always sense the day of the rentree.  Parisiens walk the streets grumbling with their heads held lower.  I can hear more crying babies in the distance.  The Paris sky is a little bit more grey than usual.  Chatter is instantly consumed with talk of  the next vacation.  And ‘watch your step’ refers rather to the deposits of naughty dogs than to Alpine ice.

But Spring is about to put all the grey days to rest!  The trees are on the verge of blooming.  And the 5 bank holidays in May will swiftly bring the summer vacation.  Oh, and there’s the two-week Easter vacation somewhere in between, too.

What Me Hungry?

I’m still in the French Alps.  Remember I mentioned eating 5-course meals gracefully?  Well, I thought raclette, being a single-course and all, would be a good breather.  Mind you, it was my first time.  But alas, at the end of the day, it’s just a glob of melted cheese.  Poured on top of potatoes, accompanied with charcuterie, it is hearty, mountain food at its best.  But I feel like I really should have skied or chopped wood beforehand to truly enjoy it.  It’s a good thing we did not order a cheese fondue for the first course.  After 4 days of eating 3 courses (onion tarte, boeuf bourguignon, caramel tarte) at lunch and 5 courses at dinner (veloute de cepes, escargot, filet de lotte, fromage, royal chocolat) my moderation is finally sinking in.  Does this mean I’m becoming more French?

Anyway, I love a multi-course meal.  It’s always been treat since I first discovered the soup, salad, entree, jello/rice pudding option at the local Chicago Greek diners of my youth.  However, after 5-courses, I am usually on the brink of explosion.  And what’s a proud member of the clean-plate/waste-not club to do?  But here is what I have learned from experience.   Although everybody loves a generous plateau of Alpine cheeses to choose from, choose either cheese or dessert.  Or eat a small portion of each.  Incorporate vegetables when possible, if given a choice.  Stay hydrated during the day.  And move around as much as possible.  I’m starting to feel a bit of empathy for food critics…

Les Vacances.

Bridget Bardot, my snow bunny inspiration. theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com

The first weeks of March, all the French people I know flock to the French Alps for the obligatory February ski trip.  Luckily, I am a part of the majority this week; it’s a family tradition of my new in-laws.  Bonjour, French Alps!  Bonjour, Mother-in-Law!  We are in Meribel, a favorite ski station of Bridget Bardot.  Unfortunately, I do not ski or snowboard.  And I have not found a good snow sport compatible with my two left feet.  Any recommendations?  In the meantime, I’m trying out the snow bunny look and learning to eat 5-course meals gracefully.  More on that soon…

P.S.  Sorry I forgot my camera!  I will let Bardot do the talking.

Les Marchés Parisiens

After eating lentils all week, I often lose track of what day of the week it is!  Not that you should not try the delicious aforementioned recipe.  However, it very well could be just a side effect of freelancing; any day could be Saturday.  But what always keeps me on track is the local market, every Thursday and Sunday morning.  In Paris, there are several markets in every neighborhood, twice a week.  And it takes a tremendous amount of effort and resources.  Sanitation workers set up a row of metal frames and tarps are rolled out to commence the market.  Everything is promptly cleaned up and hosed down without a trace of the bustling, haggling, crate-strewn bi-weekly tradition.  The only trace is the fruit and veg seen in the still life above. 

The tremendous joy of food shopping in France is unparalleled in the States.  Although there are supermarkets and aptly titled ‘hypermarches’ to make a weekly grocery run, just looking at the streets of Paris will give you a clue of the sensibilities of shoppers.  On my short walk to the Metro from chez moi, there is a boucher, a fish shop, four boulangeries, a cheese shop, two Kosher sushi places, four sandwich shops, a honey boutique, and a handful of grocery stores.  I cannot tell if the French are just completely obsessed with food or they just value the craft of their neighborhood artisans.  To faire le course, the mundane task of food shopping, can take several stops.  Although it would be more efficient to stock up  (American-style) at the grocery just once a week, our fridge is half the size of those which can accommodate a proper trip to Kroger.  This is precisely why I love the market; twice a week, I can stock up on the freshest products that I need in just one place.  Take a look at these quick tips.

Tips 

1. If you are visiting Paris, click here (http://marche.equipement.paris.fr/tousleshoraires) to find a market near you.  Spring is just around the corner. And there is no better way to assemble a fabulous picnic.

2. Shop around.  There is something for everybody and a booth for everything: bouchers, chicken specialists, fish mongers, Greek specialties, eggs, cheese.  Prices and quality vary with each vendor.  In general, the deeper into the market, the less expensive.  Often times, prices are cheaper than the grocery stores and the quality is superior

3.  If PRODUCTEUR is advertised in a stall, the fruit and vegetables are coming directly from the source.  Although the produce may not be as impeccable-looking as neighboring booths, its freshness is top.  

4.  Say hello to your vendors.  I have been going to the same bargain booth for years now.  And the venders recognize my loyalty.  They call me princess and give me free avocados.  And they don’t give me a hard time when I beg them not to use plastic bags.  Hypermarche be damned!
Although the farmers market trend is going strong in the States, the bi-weekly market is a simple pleasure, deeply engrained into everyday life.  So you can have your still life and eat it, too.



Lentils Continued…

Yes, here is the recipe for lentils I promised you a few weeks back!  Oh, Lentils.  The mighty, high-protein, highly-economic standby food!  Like all simple foods in France, they get the VIP treatment.  Lentils are always dressed up with bits of foie gras or smoked salmon.  However, considering we just bought an apartment, they rest unadorned, but nonetheless delicious.

Sadly, my husband is opposed to spice.  He will find ways to eat around herbs.  As I heard so eloquently said recently (in David Lebovitz’s blog), Americans are into fireworks when eating.  However, the French prefer something truly simple and well-made. It goes to show that my own personal style is to throw a handful of cilantro on everything.  Needless to say, the following recipe is tasty whether you choose to dress it down for dinner for two, served with some baked potatoes and grilled sausages.  Or in my case, incorporate some chopped ginger, garam masala, creme fraiche and a handful of cilantro for lunch!

Compromise be gone!

Lentils for one and all (or 8 people)

1 ½ Cup Green Lentils, soaked for several hours or overnight

2 leeks, finely chopped

3 small onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

2 carrots, shredded

3 plum tomatoes, grated

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. olive oil

6 cups water, more if needed

1.)  In a heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the leeks and onions over medium/low heat until soft and translucent.  Add bay leaves, carrots, garlic, pepper and tomato.  Cook until softened and lightly caramelized

2.)  Add the drained lentils and cover mixture with water

3.)  Cook for 30 minutes until the lentils are soft and stewy.  Add salt

4.)  Enjoy!

Spring a Leek!

By George, I’ve sprung a leek! Excuse the unforgivable pun; at least it’s a tad bit more sophisticated than ‘taking a leek’.  Eh? Eh?  Whenever I speak to my parents about one of the lesser-known members of the onion family, it’s the first thing out of their mouths.  Hence, proving my point that Americans are sadly unfamiliar with the said vegetable!  However, it is one of the first things I noticed  in French markets and menus: braised leeks, a light potato and leek potage, and the principle cure of obesity in Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat.  The secret to not plumping up in these conditions is a magical leek soup which allows the occasional taste of wine and cheese with the promise of looking as svelte as one of Godard’s gals.  So I encourage you to take a liking to leeks, too!

When the tough, green leaves are cut off of the leeks, they can be subtle addition to soups, stews, and even salads.  However, I learned the following recipe from an Italian transplant in Paris, which explains the parmesan cheese.  However, you could replace the parmesan with emmental or swiss or simply omit it.  Either way, the leek is the star here !  So enjoy as a light lunch with a green salad.  And according to Mlle Guilano, because you are eating leeks, you are permitted to a little wine and cheese, too.

TARTE AUX POIREAUX Leek Tarte

Any kind of savory pie crust will work here, but homemade is always better.  The egg yolk in the dough makes it both tender and cracker-like.

Pastry :

1 1/4 Cups Flour

4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into ½’’ pieces

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg yolk, beaten

2-4 tablespoons ice water, more if needed

Filling :

2 large leeks, green tops cut off, white portion cut into 1/4’’ rounds

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup creme fraiche or sour cream

¼ cup milk

4 eggs

¼ cup parmesan, emmental, or any flavorful cheese

1 tablespoon chopped chives

salt & pepper to taste

1.)  Mix flour, salt, and chilled butter.  Using a pastry cutter, two small knives, your hands, or a food processor, cut the butter into the flour until the butter resembles small, pea-sized pieces.  Add the egg yolk.  Add ice water one tablespoon at a time until a soft dough forms, being careful not to overmix.

2.) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and kneed several times until the dough is smooth.

3.) Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

4.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4.) In a saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté leeks in olive oil until soft and caramelized, about 7 minutes.  Let cool slightly.

5.) In a bowl, mix the eggs, crème fraiche, eggs, salt and pepper.

6.)  Roll out the pastry dough to 1/8’’ and spread carefully in a pie pan.  Add the prepared leeks.  Pour in the egg mixture.  Sprinkle on the cheese, it will nice caramelize in the oven.

7.)  Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top.  Enjoy!

Even thought the winters in Paris are a moderate step up from the brutal winters I have known in Chicago and New York, there is still nothing more comforting than a hearty bowl of soup.  This is one of the things my mom always whipped up on weeknights when I was a kid.  A leftover chicken would make a rich tortilla soup.  Or a few pantry basics would inspire an avgolemono. Even if the soups were quick, she would always steal a few moments to make her famous cheese muffins.  Turns out the trusty recipe was found in the recipe booklet of our avocado green blender.  Or we would quickly whip up some baking powder biscuits together.  My American friend Catherine just returned from the States gifting me with a jar of apple butter.  This brought me back to the Midwestern winters of my childhood.  With no further haste or nostalgia, I had to make biscuits and an accompanying soup.

C is convinced that soup is strictly an appetizer.  But if I dress it up with some homemade quick bread, he doesn’t complain.  I can see why he feels this way though; I’ve noticed that soup in France is usually pureed.  We don’t have a blender, one of the wedding gifts that never transpired.  So I have to dig back into my mental archives for other ideas.  I never ate much lentils growing up.  But when slowly stewed with leeks, celery, and garlic, they could have easily been in my mom’s soup repertoire.   Recipe to come… Bisou!

C has tapped the secret of scrambled eggs.  Not even just the secret of making them, but the secret revelation of what they can be.   I have never had the best pastime of scrambled eggs.  They have always been a bit lost.  Somehow the rich sensuousness of the yolk is lost in the technique.  The dowdy other-half to bacon.  More of a showcase of salt and pepper.  I have become arrogant in my omelet abilities and have always attempted scrambled eggs with the same high-heat, pan-moving treatment.  However, they are always too dry and half of the final product gets lost to the pan.  I love the instant gratification of eggs, but sometimes a little added technique and patience can reintroduce something so simple and satisfying!

Low and slow is the way to go!  Turn on the stovetop to its lowest setting.  Beat best-quality eggs with a splash of milk, a small drizzle of water, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Throw a hearty nob of butter into the pan, about one teaspoon per egg, pour in the eggs, and be prepared to stir!  Much like a risotto, these eggs need both affection and attention.  Keep stirring

Cooking the eggs at the lowest temperature creates smaller, silkier curds and a creamier, velvety final product. Once you can draw a smiley face on the bottom of the pan, BRAVO!  You are almost there.

Depending on the temperature of your stove, it can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes.  Keep stirring until they are just barely set.  When done right, they will have a a custard-like texture.  Serve with chopped chives and crème fraiche, or with a tranche of smoked salmon.  Serve them however you would normally serve scrambled eggs.  However, they do not need much more than a sprinkle of sel de fleur and a piece or two of toast to sop up all the delicious creaminess.  Or reunite these made-over scrambled eggs with their other-half, bacon.