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.

Twee for Truffe

In France, instead of calling something cute, choux (or cabbage, respectively) is a term of endearment of choice.  Does this have anything to do with the unfortunate invention of the Cabbage Patch doll?
 
And mind you, baguette refers to not only to the staple of my ex-patriotic diet, but also to magic wands and chopsticks.
 
And dogs noses are affectionately given the name of truffe.  Or the 2000 euro/per kilo mushroom. What could be more precious? Shameless plug for my pending birthday present….darling, if you are reading this, a german short-haired pointer is much less expensive than a kilo of truffles!
 
 
 

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.



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!

Carottes Râpées

Photo by Jessie Kanelos

Oh, carottes râpées!  One of the few ways to eat raw vegetables in this crazy town.  Other than an obligatory green salad, the French prefer their vegetables cooked to death.   But when I need to eat something on the lighter side (meaning I have less than 2 weeks to slim down to the size of my vegan NYC days in which I bought my wedding gown.  Lay off the fromage, Jessie!), this quick recipe is as satisfying as it is simple.  I love carrots, but chewing them can be a bit tedious sometimes.  So this is a happy medium between carrot sticks and carrot juice.  Just grate fresh carrots on a box grater.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Easy.  I have tried dressing this up with glug of white wine vinegar, lemon juice, chopped garlic, or even maple syrup.  But at the end of the day, if the carrots are fresh, there really is no need to dress them with anything.  Maybe just a little bit of olive oil for some added sheen.  Hmmm, this might not be a far-off plot to slim down like a French woman….

Tricheur’s Apple Tarte

One of the joys of living in the food-obsessed culture of France, is learning all the cheater’s secrets.  For one, I’ve learned the French are guilty of takeout and the prepared foods isle of the supermarche.  Have a handful of friends stopping by for an aperitif?  Why not swing over to the local Picard (the sterile neighborhood frozen foods shop) for a handful of delicacies (shrimp toasts, savory cakes, molten chocolate cakes) to pull out of the oven when guests arrive?  Or why not run to the local Italian traiteur to create a spread of  beautiful cheeses, preserved tomatoes, and Italian charcuterie.  Secondly, there are plenty of ready-made products in the grocery store.  Who has time to cook, when quinoa, lentils, and rice are ready to be zapped onto the table?  Another supermarket favorite of mine is the ready-made puff pastry and pie crusts which make quiches and tartes a cinch to whip up.  The little girl I babysit for explained the simplest and easiest apple tarte she makes with her father.  A thin layer of apple sauce is spread onto a prepared pie crust.  Sliced apples are fanned on top to give it the touch of the boulanger.   Voila.  To my chagrin, it happened to be vegan and perfectly timed for a luncheon for some vegan friends from Brooklyn who were in town!  Enjoy.

Illustration by Jessie Kanelos

Fig season has arrived in France!  The daintier, sweeter variety indigenous to France are at their peak although the larger imports from Greece and Turkey are not a bad snack either.  I’ve been waiting months to test out a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef for months now.  ‘Tis the season!  It’s a sensually simple salad of figs, buffalo mozzarella, and prosciutto di parma.  I slit an x on the top of the figs and gently squeezed them to reveal their velvety flesh.  Arrange on a platter with sliced buffalo mozzarella.  Next, a few ribbons of jambon du parma were weaved organically between the figs.  A nice handful of basil thrown on top, a drizzle of best quality extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.  And there you have a sensationally seasonal first course.

Waiting for Anton Part 2


So the 48 hours after my last posting were a continuous panic attack.  What could I possibly scrounge up for a 3-star Masterchef to eat?  Sure this would be a great story to tell, but at the moment it was far from funny.  Although it was the first thing C had to share with everyone we crossed paths with last week.  And everyone sure thought is was hilarious!  And an unlimited budget and creative freedom only made the scenario a bit more daunting.

Although it has been over a month since I have been back in France, I am still relearning my tools of moderation.  My day usually revolves around my daily treat, which usually is product of a trip to the boulangerie, or I happen to be in the neighborhood of Laduree, or a something else that involves a helpless pastry.  Needless to say, because I’m surrounded by decadent, comforting foods, I am starting to crave things spicy and fragrant things that remind my life out West (meaning NYC and the 31 flavors of takeout).  Speaking of which, I’ve been on a bit of a curry kick the past few weeks.  And I was confident enough in my technique to pull it off elegantly for the big dinner.

I made a special trip to Passage Brady in the 10eme for some authentic spices at sensational prices.  I fried up some onions and ginger with my spices (fenugreek, tumeric, mustard seeds, and divinely aromatic curry leaves) and added the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.  I hit it with some coconut milk for some richness.  I carefully threw my curry sauce through a sieve to give it a touch of refinement for French tastes.  And from there, I used the sauce to slowly poach a few chicken breasts.  Paired with basmati rice with lemon zest and curry leaves, it was a simple, but special dinner for a very special guest.

The real star was my first course: empanadas of espinacas catalan.  I did a quick sautee of garlic, baby spinach, chickpeas, pinenuts, and golden raisins.  I hit it generously with salt, pepper, and lemon juice and wrapped it all up in puff pastry.  A tasty first course full of surprises.

Following the dinner party, I got a text from the host exclaiming it was a hit and the food was ‘supergood’.  Bon!  Success!  Does this mean that I, Jessie Kanelos from the Midwest USA, might have a chance at becoming a French Masterchef via reality tv simply by cooking a humble chicken curry for the big judge?  Sure enough, the guest star of the evening was caught up at work and did not attend.  Here I am, feeling played like Stanley Tucci in a Big Night that I did not even attend.  Although Frederic Anton could not enjoy my empanadas, maybe you will!…

Espinacas Catalan Empanadas makes 4

1 sheet puff pastry

6 cups baby spinach

1/4 cup pinenuts, gently toasted

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup chickpeas, drained

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 egg white

zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt & pepper

1.) Preheat oven to 400 f.

2.) Heat olive oil over low heat and cook garlic for several minutes until fragrant, but not brown.  Add golden raisins.  Start adding spinach one handful at a time.  When it has wilted, add more until all cooked.  Add chickpeas.  Place mixture in bowl and let cool.

3.) Roll out pastry dough and cut into 4 parts.  Add a handful of the spinach mixture on one side of the parts and fold over.  Crimp edges to close the triangle.  Poke a few holes on top of the empanada.  Brush with egg white for a pretty sheen.

4.) Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Serve as light lunch with a green salad.  Or as a first course at a very important dinner party…