Mirepoix

MIREPOIX Town Hall

The Mirepoix Town Hall

I loved the little town of Mirepoix, even though I guess, strictly speaking, it doesn’t have the grandiosity of Monte Carlo, or Cannes, or St. Tropez.  The breathtaking, terrible beauty of the Provençal perched villages of Les Baux, or Eze.  Or the charm of the little fishing villages like Cassis.  What I found in the Midi-Pyrenées region was, instead, a kind of rustic simplicity and nonchalance that was completely disarming and refreshing.

MIREPOIX Square

The Market Square

I think of being in the Midi-Pyrenées as like being in the Deep South, for two reasons: pork fat, and a thick accent.  And both of those are meant to be sincere compliments.  Mirepoix is a small medieval town in the heart of the region.  There’s not much to it…a modern outer town that leads up to a casual fortress.  We walked through a parting in the stone walls, and down a close little corridor-lane.  Suddenly, the square was upon us.  Leaning little plaster and beam houses, bordering a perfect square, laced up with swinging, hanging lights, brimming with stalls, dancing to a little four piece band that consisted of a washboard, a clarinet, a tuba, and a fiddle.

MIREPOIX Market

The Old Ad Vendor

MIREPOIX Cheese and Sausage

The Cheese and Sausage Vendor, with the best free sample policy ever

MIREPOIX Caviar d'Aubergine

I spread some of this spicy eggplant dip on toasted baguette...delicious.

MIREPOIX Pain d'Epices

I had the pain d'épices for breakfast, with yogurt.

Somehow, although no one had a squire or a coat of arms, it was just as I pictured the Middle Ages.  A bustling market and drunken jollity.  We stopped at every stall.  We tasted cured hams, coppa, rosette, Bayonne, smoked saucisson, until we were full.  We bought some gorgeous and unidentifiable cheese.  I bought a pain d’epice, or gingerbread loaf, that was made with exactly 50% honey.  I stopped at an ad vendor, who sold black and white ads torn with precision from magazines from the 1910s to 1940s, for 5 Euros.  I bought a fabulous pen-sketched Hermes ad from 1930, and have since framed it and hung it over my dresser.

MIREPOIX Cassoulet

My first cassoulet...

The sun was setting as we took our seats at the outdoor café.  I ordered the cassoulet, the one from a jar that I mentioned in this post.  As I spooned beans and pork fat scrumptiously into my mouth, the band came over and tooted a tune, something I seemed to recognize, that swung around in my head like Cole Porter for the next week.  The bulbs of the swinging lights winked overhead, my Hermes ad and pain d’epice nestled against my leg.  And there was something to uncommonly special about this very common town.  It was spirit, a desire to be out, and about, and part of everything, that kept the town alive, and lively, for literally a thousand years.

MIREPOIX Band

And the band played on...

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Categories: Toulouse, Voyages
 

Franglais: Black Bruised Berry Meringue Mash

RECIPE: Black Bruised Berry Meringue Mash
Bruised Berry Merginue Mash

Black Bruised Berry Merginue Mash

There are times for frilly, doily-edged tarts.  For desserts that come after a meal and before you stop eating.  That is not what I want right now.

Now, I feel like something so naughty, I will grin about it and blush afterwards.  I want to throw caution to the wind, exchanging an extra pound for ten minutes of sweet, conscientiously and deliciously deliberate sweet tooth pleasure.  I don’t want to sit down with a fork and a tiny prim plate.  I want to stand in front of the fridge, not with a spoon, but with a ladle, and INDULGE.  Not because it’s after dinner.  Not because I’m hungry.  But because it’s too damn good to put down.

So I start with Eton Mess, than English dessert made from strawberries, cream, and crusted meringue.  And then I knock it around a little, turning it from strawberries and cream to the blue-purple-black of a bruise.  Blackberries and blueberries, instead of strawberries.  Crumbled meringues (for the requisite sweetness, crunch, and body).  And then whipped cream punched up with crème de cassis, black currant liqueur.  The juices of the berries start to run.  There is that little bite from the liquor.  The cream is fluffy and the meringues are fluffy.  You can make just this amount, and eat the whole thing, or quadruple it, and smash it into a trifle bowl.  The result is mayhem.  Whipped cream on your nose.  Berry juice on your clothes.  Bacchanalian diet disaster.

It’s so good.

This recipe and excerpt is from my weekly column Franglais at The Huffington Post.  Click here to get the whole story.

Black Bruised Berry Meringue Mash
serves 2

Bruised Berry Merginue MashINGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon crème de cassis
  • ¾ cup roughly crumbled meringue (about 1 crumbled meringue nest)
  • ½ cup blackberries
  • ½ cup blueberries

PROCEDURE

Use a hand mixer to beat the cream to soft peaks.  Add the sugar and crème de cassis, and beat until just stiff enough to be called whipped cream.

Use a silicone spatula to fold the meringue and berries into the cream.  Use the tip of the spatula to smash a few berries.  Spoon the mixture into two glass dessert cups or ramekins.  Serve!

 

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Desserts, Easy, Eat, Franglais, Fruit, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

GIVEAWAY! Jessica Seinfeld’s Double Delicious: Good Food for Busy, Complicated Lives

Double Delicious

Double Delicious, by Jessica Seinfeld

I have professional crushes–and they’re always women.  Leave the romantic crushes for the men.  Professional crushes are women who do what I do, or something I wish I did, in a way that I find so tantalizing that I wish I did it too.  Does that make sense?  Jessica Seinfeld is one of my professional crushes.  And I don’t have many.  I’m not that kind of girl.

I was somewhat less interested in Jessica’s first book, Deceptively Delicious, in which she hid fruit and veggie purées in home cooked kids’ food, because I don’t have kids.  But her second book, Double Delicious, is for me.  Jessica writes healthed-up versions of comfort foods like Macaroni and Cheese, Black Bean Burgers, Shrimp Dumplings, and Sweet and Sour Meatballs.  All using whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables, and low fat dairy here and there.  Her children, famed New York nutritionist Joy Bauer, and hilarious comedian husband Jerry all dot the book with their opinions on the different dishes.  It’s great…like her website Do It Delicious, where she and friend Ally Wentworth make super easy grown up dishes for anyone who thinks they can’t cook.

I have a copy of the book!  Just leave a comment with your favorite childhood comfort food.  If you have come up with any ways to make it healthy, leave that too!  I’ll choose a comment at random in a week, and the book is yours.  Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed.

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Categories: Finds
 

I’m Lovin’ the Croque McDo

MENTON McDo Croque McDo Packaging

The Croque McDo

I’m a total sucker for fast food, as I’ve said SO many times.  I guess you would think that a French food writer might be something of a snob.  I’m a bons, the opposite of a snob.  Snob backwards, inside out, and sideways.  I could eat street food all day long.  And often do.

So, it was no surprise to anyone that I mandated several stops at French McDonald’s.  And guess what.  French McDonald’s offers a croque monsieur, a “Croque McDo.”  How cute is that?  Even better than the fish stick Happy Meal I get in London.

MENTON McDo Croque McDo

REVEALED! Inside the Croque McDo

So, I did the Croque McDo Happy Meal, and this was no American Happy Meal.  The croque monsieur had a very ooey-gooey Swiss cheese that melted into almost a fondue, between a crisply toasted set of bread slices that seemed like a Thomas’ English muffin without the nooks and crannies.  And the ham was actually my favorite part.  Great just shy of smoky flavor, good texture.  Trying to be grown up about my little Happy Meal experiment, I chose cherry tomatoes instead of fries, cantaloupe instead of cookies, and Evian instead of Coke.  All of them were offered, which I couldn’t believe.  The little ham and cheese sandwich was great, and I loved that I could get everything else fresh and healthy.  The cherry tomatoes were the best part–fresh, and bursting sweet and tart in my mouth.

MENTON McDo Tomatoes

I'm lovin': Tomatoes instead of Potatoes

MENTON McDo Melon

Fruit: Why French Women Don't Get Fat

Apparently, McDonald’s has been undergoing a kind of makeover in Europe, according to Mr. English.  I seem to remember something in the back of my mind telling me that French people hate McDonald’s, as a symbol of American cultural aggression.  So McDonald’s has changed its color from red to green, and started sourcing produce from the region.  (Check out this link to French McDonald’s–it’s hard to recognize a green Micky D’s!)  Ads on TV were touting that McDo’s famous fries were made only from French and Belgian spuds.  Even McDo is cashing in on the locavore trend in France!

MENTON McDo Big Mac Pain Complet

The Whole Wheat Big Mac

I also noticed that French McDonald’s offers the Big Mac on a whole wheat bun.  They do specialty sandwiches, like the Comté burger, written up to high praise on Serious Eats by my colleague Kenji Lopez-Alt.  French McDonald’s is celebrating French food by topping speciality burgers with regional toppings, like real AOL Comté cheese, rosette de Lyon salami, et cetera.  I love French McDonald’s.  Using what was once a pillar of American influence and change as a place to celebrate and exalt French food.  I’m lovin’ it!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Paris, Provence, Toulouse, Voyages
 

The Secret Ingredient (Dijon Mustard) Part 1: Perfect Vinaigrette

RECIPE: Perfect Vinaigrette
Perfect Vinaigrette Salad FIAF

A perfect salade verte, lightly tossed with Dijon vinaigrette

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

You can be as fancy as you like in the kitchen, but if you don’t know the basics, you’ll never get anywhere.  And one basic I have been working on for a long time is the perfect basic vinaigrette.  I’ve written a million and one times about the restaurant Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Paris, which now has an outpost (as yet untested by me!) in New York.  It’s a steak frites place, but they bring you this amazing green salad with mustard dressing and walnuts to start, and it was that dressing I was dying to emulate.

Vinaigrette and Whisk

Whisk until emulsified!

What’s amazing is that the proportions could not be more mindblowingly obvious.  One part mustard, one part vinegar, two parts oil, salt, and pepper.  I’m serious.  You cannot go wrong.  I’ve been testing for years.  The mustard emulsifies the dressing, and gives a nice bite.  French Dijon mustard is hotter than the stuff we get in the States–even by the same brand.  So if can get your hand on some hot Dijon mustard, it will be all the more authentic.  But the great thing about this vinaigrette is you can alter it any way you like to suit your mood.  Use a not-so-hot mustard, and cider vinegar for something gentle.  Switch up the oils, try a nut oil, an avocado oil, a rosemary or Meyer lemon or garlic-infused oil.  Buy a mustard flavored with tarragon or black currants.  Add a pinch of ground cumin or even curry powder (it’s delicious) to serve alongside an exotic dinner.  Grate garlic or shallot into the dressing.  Use a white balsamic vinegar, a fig vinegar, a pear and herb vinegar.  Chop up basil or parsley or mint and add it in.  Take this basic vinaigrette, made perfect, and thick, and creamy, and tangy thanks to the mustard, and you will have a million and one salads to match the million and one times I’ve mentioned L’Entrecôte.

Maille Mustard

My favorite!

I’m pretty excited about this month’s Secret Ingredient–I get to marry this column with my French in a Flash mindset.  Stay tuned for lots more thick, spicy, and tangy recipes this month!

Dressed Salad and Tomato Bruschetta

I served my salade verte for lunch with grape tomato bruschetta...just a suggestion!

Perfect Vinaigrette
makes 1/4 cup, serves 4

Perfect Vinaigrette Salad FIAFINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

PROCEDURE

In the bottom of a large salad serving bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper with a small whisk until the mixture is completely homogenous.  If you don't have a whisk, use a fork.  Add the olive oil, and whisk again until completely homogenous and emulsified.  Tumble enough salad for four people on top, and toss gently to dress.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

Sunday Brunch’s Tuna Bruschetta

RECIPE: Simple Tuna Bruschetta
Tuna Bruschetta

Tuna Bruschetta

I love Sunday brunch.  Either way.  See, sometimes I go out to one of those long, occasionally boozy brunches at some trendy little hotspot with friends.  I always get something salty with bacon, and get extremely indulgent.  Other times, I stay home, usually with Mr. English, and then I can’t be bothered, for some reason, to expend much more effort on food on Sunday afternoons than I would have if I’d gone out.  So, Sunday has become Bruschetta Day in my house.  I toast some of yesterday’s bread (one lovely side effect of living in London is that grocery stores are almost never open today), and pile it high with something or other.  Usually, it’s tomatoes, that I salt for a while, and stir up with olive oil, that the bread slurps up and it’s as good as any brunch place.  Sometimes, I add slivered basil and shallots.  Sometimes there’s smokey mozzarella or jambon de Bayonne to drape on top.  And sometimes, I make this one, with tuna.

Canned tuna is a complicated thing.  Some part of me thinks it’s really gross.  Tuna, in a can.  But sometimes I get these overwhelming cravings for it, and when I bite into it, I rush back to my seven year old self, cracking open that can of Bumblebee with my mom, making a tuna salad sandwich on oatmeal bread.  Whatever I think of the stuff, it’s really good.  I make this light topping with a little bit of good French mayo (it makes a huge difference I swear!), olive oil, a drop of vinegar, shallots, and tons of fresh parsley.  Then I pile it onto toasts of baguette or boule or whatever I have lying around.  I throw a few cornichons on the side.  Salty and satisfying–plus, I don’t have to get dressed and go anywhere.  What could be better?  Oh, I know.  It’s cheap as chips, as they say here.  One can of tuna, feeds two people.  Bon app!

Simple Tuna Bruschetta
serves 2

Tuna BruschettaINGREDIENTS

  • 1 5-ounce can albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 1/2 shallot, grated
  • 1.5 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar or 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • A touch of salt
  • A lot of freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 big slices of round country bread

PROCEDURE

Preheat the broiler.

In a bowl, mix together the tuna, mayo, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, shallot, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Taste it, and see if you want to add any extra salt, pepper, vinegar, or lemon.  Set aside.

Arrange your bread on a baking sheet, and sit it under the broiler until it’s golden brown—about 3 minutes-ish.  Flip them over, and toast the other side.

Pile the tuna on the toast, and serve!  I like a few cornichons on the side.

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French in a Flash: Penne with Piment d’Espelette

RECIPE: Penne with Piment d'Espelette

Penne with Piment d'Espelette

Penne with Piment d'Espelette

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

The way things become trendy—when something that’s always been there is suddenly on everyone’s lips—always surprises me. Take argan oil from Morocco: Something my grandmother used to use on both her salads and on her skin is now the it expensive product. She’s feeling pretty cool right now.

Also cool is Piment d’Espelette, but it’s hard to come by and is expensive, even in France (in cooking school, we were just allowed a knifepoint of the stuff). This Basque dried chili has a delayed and gentle heat that hits you after you expect it to—which, aside from being spicy, makes it exciting and delightful. But maybe that’s just the trend talking—I’ve been swept up too. I’m seeing it in tomato sauces (the pairing with the tannic sweetness of tomatoes is excellent), broths for fish, even in ketchup. You can find Piment d’Espelette in the States at gourmet stores. If you see it, buy it; you will find a million and one uses for it (I also add it to mayonnaise, aïoli, or rouille), and you will be one of the “in” crowd (insert wink).

This recipe combines summer fresh tomatoes stewed to a sauce with Espelette. Studded with garlic and shallots and laced with whole leaves of basil and mint, it’s a fun departure from a regular ol’ pomodoro. The best part is you can serve it room temperature almost as a salad at a summer picnic.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats, every Thursday afternoon.

Penne with Piment d'Espelette
serves 6 to 8

Penne with Piment d'EspeletteINGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette
  • 12 vine ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, and puréed
  • Kosher salt
  • 20 leaves of mint
  • 20 leaves basil
  • 2 pounds penne rigate

PROCEDURE

NOTE: To peel tomatoes, core them, and draw an X in the skin at the bottom of the tomato with the tip of a sharp paring knife.  Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in very cold water.  Peel the skin away from the flesh.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze the seeds out of the flesh.  Put the tomato flesh in a food processor, and blitz till smooth.

In a medium saucepot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until soft and fragrant: about 3 minutes.  Add the Piment d’Espelette and stir into the hot oil.  Add the tomato flesh purée, season well with salt, and cook on medium heat, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Add the mint and basil leaves, and simmer on low heat for a final 15 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  When the sauce has about 10 minutes left, drop the penne into the water, and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta, and add the penne and the sauce to the larger of the two pots, and cook together on medium-low heat, stirring continuously, for another minute or two, until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.  Serve right away.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian