Catch my Florence recap here.
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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!
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….
There’s nothing like a soon-to-be mother-in-law! Fortunately, as of now, I’ve only good things to tell. When I moved to France, I quickly learned that Sunday was the ultimate day of relaxation. I mean a ‘watching 3 movies, not moving the couch’ type of Sunday. And thanks to France, I was finally able to train myself to do this without feeling a drop of guilt. When I started seeing C, I learned Sunday was the ultimate day of family, too. Whenever we weren’t glued to the couch or scavenging for food after noon, we were more than likely on our way to his parent’s place in the 15th arrondisement. C’s mother is a very striking beauty. She’s impeccably preserved with radiant, olive skin and dark tresses. Only her slow walk gives away the fact she’s in her early 70s. She’s a retired primary school teacher. Thankfully, she speaks clearly and simply enough for both a 4h grader and a barely bilingual Americaine like me to understand. And she just adores her son. She beams when she sees him and buys him a chocolate basset hounds every Easter and is quick to pull out his childhood photos. But I knew she finally warmed up to me when she whipped out the vegetables just for me! And plenty of them! Carotte rappe with just a touch of olive olive, cucumbers simply dressed with vinegar, and the most beautifully sumptuous red pepper and tomato salad/confiture/thing you must try at home!
So, it’s just a kilo of tomatoes and a kilo of red peppers. It’s that easy. They are scorched on either an open flame or in the broiler until their skins are completely black and pull away from the flesh. From there, wrap them in a papertowel and wrap in a plastic bag until they cooled. Remove the skins and slice into strips. From there, place the sliced peppers and tomatoes into a skillet with some olive oil and let them slowly concentrate until they morph into their own sauce. Add a little water here and there to keep them from sticking to the pan and to continue the caramelizing. After about 45 minutes-1 hour, you are left with is just the silkiest and smokiest thing that has ever come out of 2 kilos of vegetables. The sweetness of the peppers mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes brilliantly. With the necessary addition of baguette, you’re set for a terrifically light lunch or first course. Or reserve a little for your omelet the day after. Or place on top of a crostini with a little goat cheese for an elegant hors d’oeurves. But from my experience, the salad won’t last long enough to consider sharing.
From this day on, I still haven’t seen this little salad anywhere else! Unlike the Thai chicken wraps or the Mexican tortilla soup my family has adopted as our own family recipes from the supermarket periodical aisle, I can assume this recipe is one of those time-treasured Marseillaise recipes made in C’s family for at least a couple of generations. And nothing can taste as good! Not even a molten chocolate Martha Stewart recipe from my family recipe vault. Enjoy.
Continuing my post-France cleanse, I’m still attempting to be a vegan as much as possible, give or take the Girl Scout cookies that have miraciously popped-up in New York City these days. Nevertheless, being a veggie has not been as restricting as I have always imagined…although I do get a few groans from friends when making dinner plans. Although I often lack the discipline to resist those delectable afternoon Tagalongs, being a vegetarian has challenged me to explore new ingredients and think creatively about all those stockpiled beans and whole grains in my cupboard. Needless to say, let’s talk about barley! Plus or minus the mushroom barley soup of my childhood, the grain was more or less foreign to me. I picked up a Goya bag of it from the market, cooked it up, and was hooked. It can be mixed with soymilk milk and sugar for breakfast, mixed in with soups, or as a perfect addition to a chopped salad. And it’s a nutritional powerhouse! Amino acids! Fiber! Antioxidants! And let’s not forget that it has a similar texture of pasta! What’s not to love?
This afternoon, I had planned to do my own take on the classic mushroom and barley medley by just cooking the barley as instructed and giving it depth by adding sautéed mushrooms. I started by sautéing the mushrooms with shallots and onions. In the meantime, I had some homemade vegetable stock simmering away next to me. To my chagrin, I had all the components of a risotto at my fingertips. Since barley has the same rounded shape as Arborio rice, why not give it a try as a risotto? I threw the barley in with the nicely caramelized vegetables and added a half-cup of broth. I stirred the bubbling barley mixture until the liquid evaporated then added another half-cup of the broth. Continue stirring in the broth one half-cup at a time until the barley plumps up and the risotto begins to develop a creamy texture. But be prepared to stir; elbow grease is the only fool-proof ingredient added to risotto. I added a splash of red wine to give it a touch of depth and sweetness. And added a little brightness with a handful of chopped parsley and a small squeeze of lemon juice. And top it off with a handful of parmesan cheese (controversial for a vegan, but necessary for a risotto) and a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. And voila! Your accidental dinner is done!
So I am back in NYC after a two-week trip to Butterville. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I have the ability to pick up and return to France whenever I can. But after returning to New York from my hiatus vacation to Paris, my bod is barking for some detox. Mind you, I strive for clean living and eating in my homeland. I have subsided off of a lentil-heavy, poverty-inspired diet over the past few months in New York. But as soon as my feet touch the ground and are accessible to a boulangerie, there is no turning back. But this time around, there was a bit of a change…
C, Monsieur Meat & Potatoes himself, recently picked up on the organic, pro-veg trend. Halleluiah, I say! I am not a vegetarian, but I strive to be. A presque-etarian, if you will. But there were countless dinners for C where I would shellac, layer, and roast vegetables in all their seasonal glory only to hear post-dinner about his need for meat. The ultimate expression of his transformation was when he suggested we try out a macrobiotic restaurant, which was recommended to him by a friend. Now I don’t know much about macrobiotics, but I do know it’s crunchy and something Gwenyth discusses in Instyle Magazine. From the limited menu, we both ordered the veggie bowl. It arrived as a sephia color wheel of lentils, vegetable porridge, seaweeds, and grain cakes. Sadly, it lacked texture and all the color and life that make vegetables so exciting for me to prepare and enjoy. C so generously spooned most of his dinner onto my plate and I knew that this dinner’s final destination would be McDonald’s. Sure enough, we wrapped up the evening sitting side-by-side as I enviously watched him happily eating his McNuggets wishing I hadn’t filled up on millet cake. Nevertheless, we are taking small steps towards culinary compatibility!