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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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches
 

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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Categories: Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Bakery, Bread & Butter, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

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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Categories: Restaurants, Toulouse, Voyages
 

Franglais: My French Filet-Of-Fish

RECIPE: My French Filet O Fish
French Filet O Fish Closed

My Renovated Filet O Fish

I love burgers.  But I hate myself afterwards.  What feels good in the act always leaves me feeling sick, full, and out of control.  So I consider my love of fish sandwiches, fish burgers, I call them, to be a badge of maturity.  They are semi-responsible, quasi-high brow fast food.  And I love them.  I love the crispy edges of the fish.  And the way the salty mayonnaise from the tartare sauce melts and pools in the ravines of the flaky fish flesh.  I love the soft bun.  And the way it inevitably gets soggy and falls apart.  Why do I always think I need bad boy burgers?  This is my love letter to fish sandwiches.  Because, after all, fish sandwiches are kind of like choosing to have a one-night stand with the right person.  Maturity that leads to love, rolled into one perfectly wax paper-wrapped package.

This recipe is a testament that good habits can be far more fun than the bad ones.  I noticed last week that French McDonald’s offers not one, but two, incarnations of the famed Filet-O-Fish.  And, I thought, I can make this better.  A burger alternative that I can feel good eating, and feel good about afterwards.  This is my Frenchified version of a classic fish sandwich.  It’s simple.  I dust a good, flat fish lightly in flour and a mixture of dried fines herbes: chervil, parsley, chives, and tarragon.  The almost sweet, licorice quality of these particular herbs pair beautifully and delicately with the almost sweet, barely salty aspect of the fish.  It’s lovely.  I shallow fry the fish until the edges are crisp as fries, and the fish is golden all over.  Then, I pile the fish with leaves of romaine on toasted baguette, and slather it with a homemade tartare sauce that uses fresh fines herbes to the same sweet, delicate effect, and French cornichon pickles for salt and crunch.  It has all the familiar aspects, the mayonnaise and pickles from the tartare sauce, the bread, the fish.  But I like this delicate version.  Without breading, you can really taste the beautiful fish, and the tarragon and chervil add such a simple, but different, aroma and flavor.  The baguette is crusty, and hearty, in contrast to the almost lacy flavors from the rest of the sandwich.  McDo, take note.  Chances are one bite just might turn this one-dinner stand into a long, loving, and monogamous relationship.

French Filet O Fish Open

An Insider's Peek

This recipe is from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.  Click HERE for this post.

My French Filet O Fish
serves 2

French Filet O Fish ClosedINGREDIENTS

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 7 to 8-ounce fillets of think white fish, like plaice, boneless and skinless
  • ½ tablespoons dried fines herbes (a mix of dried parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ a baguette
  • ⅓ cup good French mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced cornichons
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped chervil (if you can’t find chervil, use parsley)
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon roughly snipped chives
  • 4 leaves of Romaine lettuce

PROCEDURE

Preheat the broiler.  Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat.

Season the fish with salt, pepper, and the dried fines herbes.  Dredge the fish in flour, and shake off the excess.  Dip a wooden spoon in the hot oil; if bubbles form around the wood, the oil is hot enough to fry.  Fry the fish 5 to 6 minutes on the first side, then turn over with a fish spatula, and fry another 2 to 3 minutes.  The fish should be crispy and golden on both sides.  Drain on paper towel.

Cut the half baguette in half horizontally, and then in half vertically.  Place the cut bread pieces, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and toast under the broiler until golden.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, cornichons, and fresh herbs, and season with salt and pepper.  Smear all the pieces of bread with the tartare sauce.  Stack the sandwich with lettuce and crispy fish.  Serve right away.

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The Secret Ingredient (Dijon Mustard) Part 3: Filet Mignon with Mustard Butter

RECIPE: Filet Mignon with Mustard Butter
Steak with Mustard Butter

Filet Mignon with Mustard Butter

I think, since Dijon mustard is a French invention, that it’s only appropriate to use it in a French preparation.  Steak with butter.  Genius.  Tender, but firm, meat, dripping in rivulets of melting cream-sweet, soft butter, that contrasts but complements the meat in flavor and texture.  Heart stopping in more ways than one.

French steaks are often seared in butter, and one way to serve them is with Beurre Maître d’Hôtel: coins of cold butter, flavored with garlic, parsley, and lemon, left to melt on top of hot seared steaks.  I can’t tell you how simple but perfect it is.  I tried flavoring the butter with mustard, instead of herbs and garlic, and the result is a steak that is flavored not only with the sweet cream of butter, but also with the tangy bite of white wine, and the acidic, spicy whip of both Dijon and whole grain mustards.  Again, simple, but heart stopping.  Maybe even better than the prototype.  I like to serve two little round medallions of tenderloin per person, with simple steamed new potatoes to soak up the butter and the juices that escape from the meat.  Carnally satisfying. Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient
 

French in a Flash: Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar

RECIPE: Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar
Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar

Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar

One thing (one of the many things) I love about France is the way the French Frenchify everything that they can’t already lay claim to.  Last week on my blog, I wrote about how the French have even managed to Frenchify McDonald’s into the one and only McDo.  But aside from colonizing American fast food, the French have a funny little way of smuggling pasta away from the Italians and turning it decidedly French.

In the South of France, pasta is on every menu.  And not surprisingly.  When I was in Menton a few weeks ago, I could walk to Italy.  The Southerners have a huge predilection for tagliatelle, tossed with, truly, very French sauces.  No marinara or pomodoro in sight.  I saw tagliatelle tossed with Roquefort and cream, with mushrooms, with Provençal red pistou instead of the Italian pesto—which inspired my tagliatelle with yellow zucchini flower pistou.  I had penne topped with a huge scoop of leftover ratatouille.  And had ratatouille baked into lasagna, slathered with an oozing, collapsing layer of mozzarella mixed with toasty Gruyère.  The trend seems to be to take French condiments, or in the case of the mushrooms, traditional French flavor combinations like Forestier, and just toss them over pasta.  And it really works.  I love pasta.  With this, it’s like coming back to you home as a child, and realizing that there was a whole attic you had never discovered before where you could play for hours on end without losing an ounce of fascination.

In my next interpretation of this very easy, cheap, and best of all delicious attic foray, I toss campanelle pasta with caviar d’aubergines.  Caviar d’aubergines, or eggplant caviar, isn’t caviar at all, but instead is a garlicky spread, made from charred eggplants, puréed until smooth and thick, and accented with a touch of vinegar, olive oil, and sometimes a bite of chili.  It is so good.  Mr. English and I have a tradition whenever we’re in France, where we buy a container of the stuff premade, and a baguette, and plop down in the nearest pretty place for an immediate picnic.  For this version, I purée roasted garlic, basil, and a touch of chili with the eggplant, and toss it over trumpets of campanelle pasta, studded with toasted little pine nuts and laced with strings of fresh basil.  It’s so unusual, and hearty, and you could even serve it to vegans.  Plus, the one thing I really took to heart when I was in France this summer is how much fun it is to cook seasonally.  There, you don’t have much of a choice: frequenting markets means you make do with what’s on offer.  Eggplant is in season in the late summer, along with basil, so now is the time when this dish is cheapest and best.  Don’t waste another second!

This story and recipe are excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.  Click HERE for this post.

Campanelle with Eggplant Caviar
serves 2 to 4

Campanelle with Eggplant CaviarINGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds eggplant (about 2 large eggplant)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 head garlic
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 10 leaves basil, plus more for garnish
  • A pinch of chili flakes
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 pound campanelle pasta
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Cut the tops off the eggplant, and cut the eggplant in half lengthwise.  Sprinkle the cut surfaces of the eggplant with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and leave in a large colander in the sink to drain for 30 minutes.

Cut the top fifth off the head of garlic, and wrap the garlic tightly in foil.  Place the garlic in the oven.

Once the garlic has been in the oven and the eggplant has drained for 30 minutes, pat the eggplant dry and toss the eggplant halves with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Place the eggplant cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Place the eggplant with the garlic in the oven, and roast for 30 minutes (the garlic will roast for a total of 1 hour), until the eggplant flesh is completely soft.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.  Once the eggplant and garlic have come out of the oven, scoop the flesh away from the skin of the eggplant, and place the flesh in a mesh colander over the sink to remove any excess liquid.  Squeeze the roasted garlic into a food processor, and add the drained eggplant.  Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the vinegar, basil, chili flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.  Run the machine until the eggplant mixture is smooth and velvety.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta until just al dente, and reserve a cup of pasta water before draining.  Add the pasta back to the pot, and add the eggplant caviar, a half a cup at a time, until you’ve dressed the pasta thoroughly, but lightly.  You may add some of the reserved pasta water, spoonful by spoonful, to thin out the sauce if necessary.  Put the hot pasta in a big bowl, and top with the pine nuts, ribbons of fresh basil, and an extra drizzle of olive oil.  Serve right away, next to grilled fish, or on its own.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Cheap, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

From the Working Girl Vault: Rare Sesame Seared Tuna

RECIPE: Sesame Seared Tuna
Sliced Sesame Tuna with Asian Salad

Sliced Rare Sesame Seared Tuna

This video was shot back in Florida.  More London videos to come in October!

I have a bone-deep weakness for anything that looks hard but is confidentially easy.  In food, in fashion, in any part of life.  It gives me such secret, sneaky thrills.  I love anything that I can be described as artless, or effortless, inadvertently fabulous, or accidentally perfect.  I just sighed as I typed that.  I’m serious.  It’s a little but proud triumph when having a sharp mind on the inside can make the outside look artless, effortless, fabulous, and perfect.  I just sighed again.

This recipe is all those things: artless, effortless, fabulous, and perfect.  I very often order seared sesame tuna when I’m at a restaurant.  And for many years, that’s the only place I ever ate it.  The outside is crusted with nutty, toasted sesame seeds, and the tuna on the inside is cooked ever so slightly more than sushi rare.  It’s light.  You feel healthy eating it.  The texture is so delicate it’s almost lacy, and with soy sauce or ponzu, and some pickled ginger, the flavor is phenomenal.  When I swear to you that seared tuna is the easiest thing on Working Girl Dinners so far, save maybe the Tortellini Soup, you’re no going to believe me.  But it’s artlessly, effortless, fabulously, and perfectly true.

The whole thing is done to restaurant perfection in three minutes, and I like to serve it with a quick Asian pickle (like in the video) or a big Asian salad (like in the photo).  It’s virtuous, but it’s also really impressive.  If you invite your friends over, they won’t believe you made it.  But you can say, artlessly and effortlessly, “Yes, I made this fabulous and perfect tuna all by myself!”

The only thing you need to think about, probably what you are thinking now, is about the tuna.  Go to a good supermarket or a fishmonger or a gourmet store.  You know the one–the one that’s probably slightly more fashionable or expensive than the other one near you.  Ask for tuna steak, sushi grade.  The flesh of the tuna should be red, not gray.  If you have any doubts, ask the person behind the fish counter if they would be happy to eat the tuna raw.  Trust yourself.  You know what fresh fish looks like, just by animal instinct.

Whole Sesame Tuna

Sesame Seared Tuna
serves 2 to 3

Sliced Sesame Tuna with Asian SaladINGREDIENTS FOR THE ASIAN INSTA-PICKLE

  • 1 English cucumber, seeded and sliced thickly on an angle
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce
  • (optional: sliced fresh chilis or scallions)

INGREDIENTS FOR THE TUNA

  • 3/4 pound Ahi tuna steak
  • 4 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds (or just 6 tablespoons of white sesame seeds!)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Soy sauce or Ponzu sauce

INGREDIENTS FOR THE ASIAN SALAD

  • Mixed greens (eyeball as much as you want and top with veggies accordingly)
  • Shredded carrots
  • Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Yellow pepper, cut very thinly
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • Ginger dressing (recommending: Makoto)

PROCEDURE

If making the Asian Insta-Pickle, toss the cucumber slices with the vinegar and soy sauce (and chili or scallions if using), and set aside to marinate.

Get to work on the fish.  Cut the Ahi tuna steak in half, and roll both halves in the sesame seeds so the seeds coat the entire exterior of the fish.  Pour just enough oil into a wide pan to coat the bottom.  Heat on medium-high until smoking.  Sear tuna 30 to 45 seconds on each of 4 sides.  Slice thinly.  Serve with soy or ponzu sauce.

If making the salad, toss salad and vegetables with ginger dressing, and serve on the side of the tuna.

NOTE

If you are faced with a choice between sesame seeds and toasted sesame seeds, get the UNtoasted ones.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Watch, Working Girl Dinners