French in a Flash: Niçoise Tuna Melts

RECIPE: Niçoise Tuna Melts
Niçoise Tuna Melt

Niçoise Tuna Melt

The Niçoise salad is such a classic, I can’t seem to stop reinventing it.  I was actually inspired to make this sandwich while thumbing through Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, and reading about her tuna melt history at Jackson Hole—a chain of diners with which every New Yorker will be very familiar.  On the back of her book is a picture of a Niçoise salad, and the light bulb above my head went off.

I start with a good crusty, chewy baguette, charred on the grill, and rubbed with the number one ingredient of Provence: garlic.  Then, a black olive tartare sauce, made from mayonnaise (of course), tapenade, Dijon mustard, vinegar, anchovy paste and chunks of cornichons, Niçoise olives, shallots, and parsley.  On top of that, handfuls of arugula and sweet-tart oven-roasted tomatoes.  The crowning glory is sliced herbes de Provence-rubbed rare-seared tuna steak, covered in a blanket of melted Gruyère cheese.  What could be better?  I think nothing.

Excerpted from my weekly column “French in a Flash” on Serious Eats.  Click HERE for this post.

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Franglais: Crispy Fried Boursin Cheese Balls

RECIPE: Crispy Fried Boursin Cheese Balls
Boursin Balls 2

Crispy Fried Boursin Cheese Balls

I was hungry and grumpy (when are those two ever seen apart?) at the Nice airport a few weeks ago.  I couldn’t find a McDonald’s, so I figured it was high time I tried the other fast food in France: Quick.

I scanned the menu for something different.  I didn’t come all the way to France to eat the same ol’ chicken nuggets I’ve been eating since I was five.  I spied something on the menu: Boursin balls, crispy fried little nuggets of creamy cheese.  Like a mozzarella stick, but round, and instead of stringy, mild cheese, Boursin is creamy and fiery with garlic and herbs.  Of course, they were dangerously addictive.  The Boursin was so full of flavor, I needed a toothbrush for my flight.  The outside crust of breadcrumbs was crisp, and like an eggshell, it cracked to let the warm, soft cheese ooze out into my mouth.  Hungry and Grumpy were banished back to wherever they came from, not to be seen or heard from again.  Until I touched down in Toulouse, and spotted the cassoulet.

When I was a little girl in school, when the other little girls would copy each other, and one would shout, “Copycat!”, the other would turn very calm and mature and recite, “Copying is the most sincere form of flattery.”  So, I am flattering Quick.  This is my version of Crispy Fried Boursin Balls, a smash up of Garlic and Fines Herbes Boursin, that you buy at the supermarket, shredded mozzarella, for gooeyness, and cream cheese, to bind everything together in creamy deliciousness.  I roll the balls in egg white and fine bread crumbs, and fry them for just a minute.  They are crisp, soft, and so flavorful from that Boursin.  I made 15, and it took far fewer than 15 minutes for them to get devoured.  These are perfect for cocktails, or for watching a game, or for a grown-up “after school” snack.  Bon app.

Boursin Balls 1

Mozzarella sticks, beware!

Excerpted from my weekly column “Franglais” on The Huffington Post.  Click HERE for this post.

Crispy Fried Boursin Cheese Balls
makes 15

Boursin Balls 2INGREDIENTS

  • 1 5.2-ounce box of Boursin cheese, garlic and herbs flavor, room temperature
  • ½ cup grated part-skim mozzarella
  • 1 ounce cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
  • Canola oil, for frying
  • Kosher salt, for seasoning

Procedure

In a medium bowl, smash together the Boursin, mozzarella, and cream cheese.  Use a 1 ¼-inch ice cream scoop to shape out little rounds of the cheese mixture, and place them on a small rimmed baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Freeze for 45 minutes to an hour.

Fill a small pot with at least 3 inches of canola oil, and heat the oil to 360°F.  While the oil is heating, bread the cheese balls.  Place the flour, egg white and water mixture, and crumbs in three separate small bowls.  Dredge each ball lightly in flour, lightly in eggwash, and finally lightly in bread crumbs.  Set aside.

Once the oil has reached 360°F, fry the cheese balls, 3 at a time, for about 1 minutes, until the outside crumbs are golden brown and crisp, and the cheese is just starting to melt and break through.  Drain on a paper towel.  Repeat with the remaining cheese balls.  Sprinkle the whole lot lightly with salt, and serve piping hot and oozing.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, Franglais, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

Avocado and Tomato “Canapé” Toasts

RECIPE: Avocado and Tomato "Canapé" Toasts
Avocado and Tomato Toasts

Avocado and Tomato Toasts

I just made these for dinner from some scraps lurking in my fridge.  So good and buttery and summery fresh.  Perfect with pinot grigio.  Delish.

Avocado and Tomato "Canapé" Toasts
makes 9

Avocado and Tomato ToastsINGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 baguette, sliced in 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 Haas avocado, small diced
  • 20 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1/8 lemon
  • Salt and pepper

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until crisp--8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together the avocado, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Pile the salad on the baguette toasts, and serve!  Done and done.

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Carla-Bayle

CARLA BAYLE View 1

This is what you see driving up...

CARLA BAYLE View 2CARLA BAYLE View 3

CARLA BAYLE View 4

And this is what you see when you get there...

CARLA BAYLE View 5CARLA BAYLE View 6CARLA BAYLE View 7Carla-Bayle is one of those places that is way better than it should be.  A tiny hilltop town, with a weird name.  I didn’t even want to go.  But neighbors had said it was fantastic, and I lost my say in the matter.

The town is one street, on top of a mountain.  It is gorgeous.  The views in every direction reveal the rolling hills that you only think are beautiful from the roads.  A great lake.  A sunset as to steal your breath away.

CARLA BAYLE House

CARLA BAYLE Food Truck

The taco truck

CARLA BAYLE Night Lights

The town is one little stony cobbled street, with medieval buildings, and a string of bulbs running the length, lightly it up brightly.  Every little home has an artist’s studio.  There was a food truck–pretty avant garde for a medieval town–that sold tacos.  And one restaurant.  With one of the best meals I’d ever had.  It started with oysters, gratined with creamy leeks.  Sea bream, soaked in pine nuts and nut oil.  Cheeses, and pistachio ice cream.  And a gorgeous rosé from the area.  The sunset was so bright, I had to keep my sunglasses on even though we were inside.

CARLA BAYLE Oysters

Gratined oysters with creamed leeks and tomato skin cracklin'

CARLA BAYLE Foie Gras

Foie Gras

CARLA BAYLE Sea Bream with Pinenuts

Sea Bream with Pinenuts

CARLA BAYLE Fish with Crustacean Sauce

Crispy Fish with Crustacean Sauce

CARLA BAYLE Pistachio Ice Cream

Pistachio Ice Cream

CARLA BAYLE Earl Grey Macaron with Violet Syrup

Earl Grey Macarons with Violet Syrup

The restaurant is called Auberge Pierre Bayle.

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The Recipe for the Perfect Labor Day Picnic

RECIPE: Crispy Soft-Shell Crab Sandwiches
Soft-shell Crab Sandwiches

Soft-Shell Crab Sandwiches with Tarragon, Avocado, and Tomato

Admittedly, I did mine a day early, which I why I have the recipes to show you.  My best friend and her fiancé and my parents and I all sat out on our terrace before heading out into the torrid Florida heat and hitting the beach.  Down here, anyway, I cannot imagine grilling anything.  Just being outside feels like you’re searing yourself.  So, I went with sandwiches.  If it’s hot by you, try this Labor Day picnic for 5.  It was so good, I had to write about it.

The Spread

Sandwiches stuffed with crispy-fried soft-shell crabs, tarragon mayonnaise, avocado, green heirloom tomatoes, and butter lettuce.  The legs of the crab are so crispy, and the center, so meaty.  I’ve just recently grown to love them, but what a love it is!

And with that, a riff on Ina Garten’s corn salad.

Some watermelon.

And lavender iced tea.

What could be better than all that?  Special, delicious.  A treat.

Corn Salad

Corn Salad, with Tomatoes, Basil, and Red Onion

Watermeon Balls

Watermeon Balls

Lavender Iced Tea

Black Unsweetened Lavender Iced Tea

Putting It All Together

My Whole Foods sells pre-fried soft-shell crabs for about $4 a piece.  Seafood shops do the same.  Get some for this sandwich.  It’s Labor Day.  You don’t want extra work!  Then, follow the recipe below.

For the corn salad recipe, click HERE.  My notes and changes: I added 30 halved grape tomatoes, I used 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar instead of 3, and I boiled the corn for 5 minutes instead of 3 minutes.

For the ice tea, bring a big pot of water just to a boil.  Shut off the heat, add two bags of black tea and a tablespoon of edible dried lavender flowers.  Let the tea steep and come to room temperature, pour into a pitcher, and stick it in the fridge.

Buy a quarter of a watermelon, and use a melon baller to scoop it into little balls.  It’s just fun to eat it like that every once in a while.

Bon app!

Crispy Soft-Shell Crab Sandwiches
makes 5

Soft-shell Crab SandwichesINGREDIENTS

  • 5 pre-fried crispy soft-shell crabs
  • Salt
  • ½ cup mayonnaise (preferably good French or homemade)
  • 1 packed tablespoon roughly chopped fresh tarragon
  • 10 slices white bread, lightly toasted and cooled
  • 10 leaves of Bibb or Boston or Butter lettuce
  • ½ Haas avocado, sliced very thinly*
  • 1 green heirloom tomato, cored and sliced very thinly
  • 1 lemon*

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Lay the crabs in a single layer on a baking sheet, and warm and crisp for about 8 minutes.  Sprinkle the crabs lightly with salt.  Even though you will let them come to room temperature again, this revives and crisps them.

*When I slice the avocado, I drizzle it with the juice of ½ the lemon.

Stir together the mayonnaise and tarragon.  Slather one side of each piece of toast with tarragon mayonnaise.  Place a lettuce leaf on each mayonnaised sliced of bread.

Then, place the room temperature crabs on half of the bread slices.  Top with avocado slices, and then tomato slices.  Top with a lettuce-and-mayo slice of toast, the lettuce and mayo facing into the sandwich, obviously.

Serve with lemon wedges.

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French in a Flash: Provençal Sablés

RECIPE: Provençal Sablés
Provençal Sablés

Provençal Sablés

When I took Air France’s navette shuttle plane from Nice to Paris last month, I was enchanted. The male flight attendant paid me almost medieval-level chivalrous courtesies. Women traveled with dogs on leashes and in the laps, as they ate little crumbs from their fingers. And when they came through the aisle offering drinks, they also offered shortbread, with the simple question: “Sucré ou salé?” Sweet, or savory? I said sweet, but my accent’s not perfect, and the savory somehow landed next to my sparkling mineral water on my tray table.

I took a bite of a salty shortbread cookie, known as a sablé in French, studded with fennel seeds. They were so good that I thought perhaps my knight of a flight attendant had purposefully misheard me and offered me the better choice. They were sophisticated, simple, and satisfying, with the (albeit beloved) greasiness of chips. Here is my version done with salty, nutty Parmesan, and earthy rosemary and thyme. These flavors of Provence go perfectly as an apéro along with a bottle (or two) of Côtes de Provence rosé. Bon app. Continue reading

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Carcassonne and Castelnaudary

I want to finish telling you all about my trip to Toulouse before I forget it all.  One day, we drove to Carcassonne.  It was a pretty far drive, but driving there is a bit like the main event.  The hills are rolling–so rolling and gentle that I finally saw why hills are called rolling.  They were covered in a carpet of sunflowers, that spun along in their little bonnets, watching the sun up from the east and down to the west.  In the distance were little wooly specks that could only have been sheep, and up close, the black and white patches of milk cows.  The countryside outside of Toulouse is, for lack of a better word, darling.

Sunflower Field Saverdun

Rolling Hills Saverdun

The hills really roll!

And Carcassonne completed the fairytale.  You could see it from the road.  An old medieval castle, with long upside-down cones for turrets, like a damsel’s hat.  Gray stone, massive.  Gothic dome gateways, crooked cobbled streets, and a million slits from which to loose arrows.  As I got closer, I walked up the main causeway that feet must have marched up for a thousand years, or more.  I saw giant gates, huge outer walls.  It was breathtaking.  And tragically brimming with extremely annoying tourists.  Such a shame, because I had never seen a more beautiful or enchanting castle.  And M. Français says it’s even more majestic lit up from the roadway at night.

Carcassonne 1Carcassonne 2Carcassonne 3 Continue reading

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