We bid adieu to 2008 today. I love the end of a year.
It offers a rich opportunity for reflection.*
It offers another chance to link potential and possibility...
with experience and wisdom.*
In France, it is bad luck to wish someone a "happy new year" before the year has actually arrived. Once the horns have blasted and the firecrackers have been spent and champagne kisses have been shared to welcome in the new, you can wish friends and loved ones Happy New Year for the entire month of January and still be cool!
In keeping with that spirit, I'll wish you all a "bonne fin d'année" (Happy End of The Year). May you reflect gently upon the year that has passed and look to the mystery that is the year ahead with a sense of hope.
*These two photos are not from Provence but from my life at the edge of the Pacific. Part of my reflection on this New Year's Eve is around the changes that have taken place as my life in Provence took on form and substance. That life in California holds a special place in my heart and the people - no matter the distance, no matter the location on the planet as their own lives have taken on new form and substance - yup...still precious.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
A savory tart for you today, dear readers.
Something to sidle up alongside a roasted pork loin on a new year's brunch table lit with tea candles...or pulled out of a wicker picnic basket and served on a favorite old quilt along with a roasted chicken and a thermos of squash soup in the middle of a vineyard on a sun drenched winter day.
That kind of savory tart!
Dress it up or down or serve it with a green salad and just call it lunch, I think this will please you on whatever stage you ask it to appear.
It doesn't mind not being the star of the meal. Not at all. I sense that this lovely bundle of warm apples and savory/sweet shallots snuggled into a cider cream knows it will receive attention...even as a side dish.
As for after dinner, if you're like me and you enjoy having your palate tickled with chocolate chip cookies and potato chips for that salty/sweet combo or you are simply more adventurous and like to push the envelope, then you won't mind seeing a few golden slices of shallot poking up from a bed of soft apples on a dessert plate. Hit it with a dollop of that crème fraîche that you slid into it while it was still in the pan and you've got apple pie's patient understudy making a debut on the scene! (Hold your applause...at least until after you've tasted this!)
TARTE AUX POMMES ET AUX ÉCHALOTES (Apple and Shallot Tart)
1 pâte à tart feuilletée (tart pastry)
3 red apples (Fuji or Pink Lady)
2 golden or green apples (Granny Smith or Pippin)
2 shallots (They're a bit larger here - double this if you find the smaller sized shallots in your markets...or increase to taste.)
1 cup cider
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 425º
2. Peel and cut shallots into rounds. In a pan with hot olive oil, gently cook the shallots until soft and transluscent over a low heat - about 10 minutes.
3. Peel and dice the apples. Add to the pan with the shallots then add the cider. Let it all cook together until the liquids have been completely absorbed then add the crème fraiche. Let it cook about 2 minutes more.
4. Roll out the tart pastry and place it in a tart pan. Put the cooked apples and shallot mixture into the tart pan and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.
Friday, December 26, 2008
I hope you enjoyed a lovely holiday. This post is a day late. I was kind of...errr...busy.
Busy, that is, enjoying a velvety pumpkin soup, fois gras on toasted sweet brioche and a roasted canette (female duck) with orange and port sauce accompanied by roasted potatoes and carrots. Friends are here from London and as if it is not special enough that they are here, they invited me in to share Christmas lunch. What a lucky girl!
If duck wasn't on your menu and you happen to have a meaty ham bone on this day-after, toss it in a pot with an onion studded with cloves and a couple of handfuls of these beauties...
...the French green du Puy lentils.
In French cooking, the lentilles du Puy are smaller and offer a beautiful palette of colors ranging from light green to slate. They turn a rich mahogany-brown, however, when they are cooked.
The result of your effort (although I use the word effort quite loosely here) will be this delicious potage* to satisfy, especially if you've spent the previous day navigating a rich and varied holiday menu.
If you are tucking in and cutting corners to prepare for a new year that seems to promise a bit more financial instability before things begin to even out, then a pot of lentils would be a good way to stretch your dollar/euro/peso or whatever currency you are counting and stretching. What's more, according to Mediterranean tradition, cooking the green du Puy lentil on the first day of the year, brings wealth all year long. If we all start 2009 with a pot of lentils, just think of the possibilities!
A sweet whole wheat (organic, of course!) chunk of bread to dig into this stewy bowlful with a salad of mâche and a bit of sliced endive tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and you'll be putting your feet up and grabbing that new book that was in your stocking with a full belly to face the night (and temperature) as it falls.
LENTILLES AU PETIT SALÉ (Lentils with Salt Pork)
(Adapted from French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David)
Put 1 cup of French green du Puy lentils, rinsed and picked through for anything that isn't a lentil, one onion halved lengthwise, peeled and studded with whole cloves (2-5 in each half, to taste), one bouquet garni, one clove of garlic crushed and a ham hock in a soup pot to which you then add 2 pints of water. Simmer for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours covered. Uncover and take the meat off the bone and take out the onions, bouquet garni and garlic clove (unless it has cooked down...all the better!). By this time the liquid should be starting to be absorbed into a thick consistency and the lentils quite tender. Simmer another hour or more (I had this on a low simmer for the better part of the afternoon). When the meat is shredable-tender and the water has all been absorbed, shred the meat in or out of the pot (if out, return it to the pot). Taste the lentils for seasoning and add a touch of sea salt if needed. Serve in soup bowls with a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like. Garnish with a bit of parsley...and let everybody know that "Soup's on!"
*The French have three separate words for soup. Consommé is a clear, thin broth. Soupe refers to a thick, hearty mélange with chunks of food. Potage falls somewhere between the first two in texture and thickness. A potage is usually puréed and is often thickened slightly with cream or egg yolks. Today, the words soupe and potage are often used interchangeably.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Did I mention that my bicycle had been stolen? No? Happened right under my nose. There it was, locked up to my beautiful hand-made iron staircase on a Saturday night when I took out the poubelle (trash - sounds so much nicer in French, doesn't it?) and on Sunday morning when I descended the very same stairs - poof! It was nowhere in sight! Not a trace of the bicycle nor the lock and chain that had kept it in place.
The good news is that now I know how to file a police report. I guess that's good news...it's all part of the learning curve, non? Next is the insurance but that will have to wait.
In other good news, it seems only fair to update you on the case of the missing spectacles. The fellow that sent them from California to France with no insurance is going to replace them for me. New cool frames and all. It pays to have worked with someone for close to 30 years...and I suppose his response to this is a part of why I've stayed with him for so long. Now that, my friends, is customer service!
Enjoy your Christmas Eve - in whatever manner you celebrate.
Monday, December 22, 2008
That soup really hit a spot with many of my readers! Thanks for your email messages. How was your soup?!
I promised dessert and I've saved it for today. It deserves a place all its own.
A unique spin on the apple tart, we'll call it Apple Pizza. It would be another delicious option to slide out of the oven and into your holiday tradition.
A veritable mandala of apples, this. A kaleidoscope of the world's most famous fruit for seduction, I suspect this simple little tart has its roots in Italy as it was the previously mentioned displaced Italian soul who brought this to the table...after that soup.
The bulk of the work is in the apple prep. It would certainly be made easier with the apple corer/peeler/slicer that I have - err...stored in my boxes of stuff at my sister's house. (Note to self: next trip out, bring back apple corer/peeler/slicer.)
I tried to save a bit of time using my French food processor. I'm thinking that the French know food, this is true, but they don't know food processor efficacy if my little machine is any example. It cut thin slices but I couldn't manage the position of the apples well so their shape left a lot to be desired. It may be just as easy to slice by hand if you're quick and nimble. Next time, I'll pull out my industrial mandolin. (The French seem to still have a corner on the market of manually run slicers and dicers...I'll give them that!)
Once the work is done, you have only to enjoy the apple slices baking to a golden brown; soft in the body of the slice and a touch of extra sweetness in the caramelized edges. As the pâte brisée is baked in a pizza pan, it crisps up more like a cracker...or thin crust pizza, for that matter!
Serve this warm so you can enjoy the full effect of the perfume of warm apples and honey. I used demi-sel butter with fleur de sel (little sea salt crystals). It worked for me as I like that sweet/salty combo. But if you want to toss the salt, use sweet butter and enjoy the bass note that it adds to the mélange of scents. Though this is not swimming in butter, the flavor really comes through. Your taste buds will be saying, "Oh yeah, baby, butter with a capital 'B'!" And with a crust covered edge to edge with fruit, I'm guessing that there will be no dry edges left on the plates of crust-haters.
I can't really decide if this is a bit more refined than the jumble of apples that fill a good old American apple pie or more simple an expression. Whatever it is, the apple-ness comes singing through without having to push through a blast of cinnamon. What a way to get your apple-a-day in!
Start with the basics and dress it up or down with anything that speaks to you in your apple fantasies. While it was still warm, I gave this a drizzle of French honey then hit it with a flurry of powdered sugar before serving just to make it seem like a party. Get it to the table while it's still warm and dig in - fork and knife in choreographed moves from plate to mouth or treat it like the pizza that it is and just pick it up aiming the longest corner toward your mouth for the first bite. Yeah...that's it. See?!
Where will yours make its appearance? (Keep this recipe handy. After it introduces itself on your holiday table, it will be just as fitting - and impressive - on your summer table to end a dinner al fresco some summer day in your 2009!)
One pâte brisée (recipe below)
4-6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced very thin - 1/4 inch
3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
Roll out pâte brisée to 9 inches and place on a flat pizza pan. Brush with butter and begin along the outer edge laying the apple slices perpendicular to the edge of the pan and overlapping, one on the other. Work to the center with a pretty windmill design completing your tart.
Brush lightly with butter and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until apples and crust are golden brown.
Remove from oven and while it is still warm, drizzle with honey.
Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar on the plate.
(adapted from French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David)
4 oz. plain flour
2 oz. butter
1 fresh egg
Make a well in the sieved flour, put the butter cut in small pieces, the egg and a good pinch of salt in the middle. Blend quickly and lightly but thoroughly, with the fingertips. Add a very little water, just enough to make the dough moist, but it should come cleanly away from the bowl or board. Place the ball of dough on a floured board and with the heel of your palm gradually stretch the pate out, bit by bit, until it is a flat but rather ragged-looking sheet. Gather it up again, and repeat the process. It should all be done lightly and expeditiously, and is extremely simple although it sounds complicated written down. Roll it into a ball, wrap it in greaseproof paper and leave it to rest in a cold larder or refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours, so that it loses all elasticity and will not shrink or lose its shape during the baking.
This is one version of the pâte brisée or pâte à foncer used for most open tarts in French cookery. Without being as rich or as complicated as puff pastry, it is light and crisp.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Thursdays are in still in the “design stages” here at La Fourchette but I thought I'd stick with the intended schedule just the same.
We've entered the season for soup. One of my dear readers made a soup request…errr…last year...and although I had every intention of posting some soups to fill her bowl, I...uhhh.... got distracted with this whole "change-your-country/make-a-life" thing going on.
So...ahem, "Soup, you say?" Try this:
From the kitchen of a displaced Mediterranean soul (Italian, to be exact), this is a belly-warming bowlful for some rainy/snowy/sleety evening in the weeks ahead...or if you just need something quick to whip up for drop-in guests who want to hang out like family during the holiday season. That's how it was when I first tasted it.
I was the guest of a friend who is a regular at the aforementioned Mediterranean soul's kitchen. We had been invited in for a mid-week dinner during my recent visit to Vermont.
It was simple. And simply lovely.
We "ooohed" and "aaaahed" over this soup as if we were tasting this surprising delicacy called "soup" for the very first time. We filled our bowls with seconds and thirds. We took the warmth of the soup and the evening out into the frosty night air and never felt the chill.
So here it is for you, dear readers. A crusty baguette and a tossed green salad will round it out nicely.
And for dessert? You'll have to come back for dessert - it's worth a post all to itself!
As for this soup: Oh! You are going to like this one!
CHICK PEA SOUP or PASTA ET FAGIOLI (Pasta and Bean Soup)
(This recipe makes enough for 2 for dinner along with salad and a baguette. Only make as much as you and your group will eat as it is not something I'd save for the next day.)
1 cup cooked chick peas, drained
garlic, finely chopped (to taste - I used a lot!)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Fresh rosemary, minced (Lots! Lots and lots! I used good handful fresh from the terrace garden.)
2 cups water
1/2 cup (or a bit more - to your taste) cooked pasta, drained
In a soup pot, heat olive oil and saute chopped onion until soft and barely golden. Add the garlic and saute until soft and fragrant. Add chopped rosemary, the chick peas and the water. Heat through to blend flavors, cooking until the beans begin to break down. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. (Meanwhile, put the water on for the pasta.)
Take the soup off of the heat and take out half of the chick peas and set aside. Puree what's left in the pot in a food processor (or using a stick blender. What are those called anyway?! I love mine...but I never have to call it by name.)
Return the pureed soup to the soup pot and return the chick peas that you set aside. Add the pasta. (Add the pasta a bit at a time to determine how much you want in your soup.)
Simmer to heat through. Serve in heated bowls, drizzling a good olive oil over the top and hitting it with some freshly cracked pepper before digging in.
It is to a French morning as a shot of milky pastis is to a French afternoon. (For some hearty French livers that is...a remarkably potent potion that pastis!)
My French days begin with a "bon café". I like the way a strong French roast makes my little kitchen smell. I like that first warm sip...I even like the last gritty drop after it's cooled as I've read the morning's news.
But with a squeaky clean system thanks to modern medicine, I've decided to take this opportunity to go off the stuff...again. I do this every once in a while. At some point, there is a good chance that I'll be seduced by the irresistible aroma of some sneaky bean in the future - but for now, I'm taking a break.
Usually the Wednesday post is a photo-only type of deal but a friend of mine was kind enough to share his chai tea recipe with me in the Lovely Comments of a previous post. I just thought I'd put it out there for all to have.
You don't even have to turn your back on coffee to enjoy it!
p.s. Many thanks to Bubba's Person for sharing his secrets!
YOGI TEA (which can be altered to your preferences):
2 quarts water
15 whole cloves
20 black peppercorns
3 sticks of cinnamon
20 whole cardamom pods (split the pods first)
8 fresh ginger slices (1/4" thick, no need to peel)
After all the above is cooked, add 1/2 teaspoon regular or decaf black tea leaves (approximately 1 tea bag)
Dairy or soy milk and honey or maple syrup or succanat to taste
Bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add cloves and boil one minute. Add cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and ginger. Cover and boil for 30 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for two to three hours. Remove from heat, add black tea, and let cool. Strain and store in the refrigerator. Reheat when you want a cup and add milk and honey or succanat to taste. (Bubba’s Person’s note: Personally, I like a lot more ginger.)
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I’ve been a fan of tarts for, well, ever. If you’ve been a guest chez La Fourchette, you’ve had a tart…or two…or more. One set of visiting friends even suggested that I consider offering tart classes. Perhaps a polite hint during what was probably at least a two-tart visit.
This love affair stretches back into another lifetime, also known as the 80’s. I collected quiche recipes. (Was it that Real Men did or did not eat quiche?! Hmmm…the fact that I have to ask explains a lot about my dating experiences back in the day!)
In those days, I worked from the bottom up with a standard pâte brisée, switching from a shortening to a butter crust when Martha Stewart hit the scene.
These days, I must admit, I cheat a bit.
Available to me here are rolls of biologique, (organic) pâte feuilletée. (A basic flaky pastry.) It's pretty much my staple these days for tart crusts. In the US, you’ll find something similar in taste and texture - well…you know what I mean - but rectangular in shape: the frozen puff pastry. (Perhaps the selection has improved since I left. If so, do share!)
With the crust being a no-brainer, I can get pretty creative with the fillings. And believe me, I do!
In fact, how about an entire day each week devoted to the tart/quiche/pie?
I’m thinking that on Tuesdays around here we'll break it out with a new tart recipe weekly – I’ll share the results of goofing around with what's at hand or some recipe ripped from the inside of those packages of the prepared pâte or whatever caught my fancy as I walked through the morning market.
Pull out your tart dish - or grab a pie pan - slap a pastry in it and fill 'er up! Let's get started. It's Queen of Tarts Tuesday!
We're going to start with the mother of all tarts...okay, quiches: Quiche Lorraine.
While you’re unwrapping gifts next week, you might want to consider whipping up a Quiche Lorraine to wrap your tastebuds around on Christmas morning! As the fragrance of warm Gruyère cheese wafts past your nose, your tongue wraps around the soft soufflé-custard then hits a chunk of salty, smoky bacon. I'm telling you, people! Close your eyes for a minute. Where are you? Perhaps a ski lodge in some little village in the French Alps. In front of the ancient stone fireplace, each warm bite prepares you for the first run of the day. The fire that warms your toes through your woolen socks (the ones with reindeer, of course. How stylish of you!) crackles and pops and you open your eyes…oh my! See?! This is great stuff!
No cinnamon buns for me as the tinsel shimmers on the tree. This is like sticking my fork into bacon and eggs wrapped in a croissant! Give me Quiche Lorraine! And then pour me a strong cup of coffee and, uh...could you put a few slices of fresh orange on my plate because This.Is.Rich.
Rich as in: make-it-a-celebration-and-serve-it-in-small-slices rich. It’s not the least bit shy about calling for a supporting cast to soften its unctuous wallop!
How about a coupe de champagne? Now we’re talking Bonnes Fêtes, people!
I’m not kidding about this being experiential eating! Tell us where it takes you on the first bite.
My favorite Quiche Lorraine - and as simple as can be - is the recipe from Joy of Cooking. (Irma still rocks.)
Preheat oven to 375º
Prepare a 9-inch pie shell of:
Pâte Brisée or any rich pie dough (see what I mean?!)
Brush it with:
The white of an egg
and prick it well. Chop into 1-inch lengths:
1/4 lb. sliced bacon
Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet, stirring constantly, until the fat is almost rendered out, but the bacon is not yet crisp. Drain on paper toweling. (Watch this! The liquid and fat that will be released into your quiche during baking will depend to a great degree on the quality of bacon/lardons used. Go to a good butcher for this one and get a meaty cut - with NO added water shot into it! I tend to render it on the crisper side. I think that's a matter of taste - play with that one.)
Scald to hasten the cooking time: (I don’t scald this…I just whip it gently together with the eggs and seasonings)
2 cups milk or cream (Oh puhleeze. Go ahead and make it with cream! You’ve got a whole week ahead to plan any dietary resolutions for 2009.))
Cool slightly, then beat together with:
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
A fresh grind of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh chives
Sprinkle in the bottom of the pie shell the bacon and:
1/2 cup diced Swiss cheese. (Gruyere...I prefer the sharper nutty taste of Gruyère…and I prefer it grated to diced.)
Pour the custard mixture over it. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. For doneness, you may test as for custard. (In other words, “Stick a knife in it!”)
You’ll see in the photo that the top of mine is a bit, ahem, browned this time. Sometimes that happens in the EZ Bake oven that is the workhorse of my little cuisine…I really have to watch it in those final few minutes. This time it just added a lovely dimension of deeper nutty flavor. Still simply delish.
Monday, December 15, 2008
The foreshadowing of the last post says it all: "Comforted by the fountain down the street."
I wasn't even consciously aware that I was in need of comfort at that point. In hindsight, the barely perceptible chill on the first day that had my sweet little nose running like that comforting fountain on the second, and had put a drag in my step by the third, had me down for the count for 12 days of Christmas.
I've been sick. Sick enough to have been wearing my flannel baggy pajama pants when I shot that last shot posted on 3 December.
Not even sunset yet. Flannel.Pajama.Pants.
Sick, I'm telling you.
But now, after a full (and disciplined, thank you very much) regimen of kick-ass antibiotics, an expectorant (Too much information? Sorry.), cough syrup and a short run of cortisone to assist with that thing most of us know as "breathing", I must say, I’m feeling much better. Thank you.
And here’s the thing: As I began to stir from what felt like a Rip Van Winkle-type of sleeping pattern during those twelve days, I was a little clearer - on many levels.
I've been hinting at a transition for this blog for weeks now but have been feeling quite caught. A change was called for but nothing was making itself known to me. I'm not easy to discourage but this catch had me paralyzed.
Actually La Fourchette was started as a draft of sorts. A receptacle for the stories in my little French life that had been accumulating. One day the posts would stack up and look like a book in the spirit of Susan Hermann Loomis' On Rue Tatin or Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun. Recipes incorporated into my story just as they are into my life. But really, as I looked around, it's been done.
It's still being done. At this point, the genre is so done it’s looking kind of crispy around the edges. So there was that.
Then there’s this public aspect of a blog. I mean really?! Who puts their draft out for the world to see while it's in process?!
I was going to have to rethink this whole thing.
As I made the freefall into the state of transition, I entertained the idea of a more political bent à la Slow Food. Perhaps a comparison of sorts between what's going on in the US and France, with regard to good, clean, fair food. (God knows, we've really got to start paying attention to this one, people.) But did I want to step into that?
No. Too much flannel. (I don’t know what it is with me and flannel.)
During some fevered bout of discouragement, I even considered hanging up a "Gone Fishin' " sign over the oven.
And then, I tell you, there was this clearing as I was returning to a healthy state that just happened. The "up-at-4-in-the-morning-to-draft-a-post" kind of "happened".
I'll roll the plan out a bit at a time and by January a schedule should begin to emerge. I hope to be able to stick to it. We shall see. No promises. There's plenty of other stuff that got clear that needs my attention, too. I'll do my best.
So, welcome to The Transition. (Seems to be the season for such things. I’m in good company, doncha think?!)
For the faithful peeps who have been showing up - n'importe quoi (no matter what) - week after week: Wow! Thank you. I could get all Sally Fields about it but I'll leave it there: Thank you. Not to worry with these changes. You'll still get your recipes, photos, reports from the 'hood. I'm cracking it all open and seeing what's been forming in spite of my intentions.
Join the tribe and, if you feel so inclined, make yourself known with a "Lovely Comment".
I want to know who you are.
I want to know what you eat.
I want to know why you read this blog.
If your interest is piqued, subscribe and follow along. I'm thinking it's going to be kind of fun. I sense there's something cookin' here! We'll figure it out together.