On the Riviera: Here We Go in Monaco

Monaco Palmier

My giant palmier...

I landed in Nice last Thursday to spend some time with my mom and stepdad, who are staying in France for the next couple of months.  Thank goodness for spare bedrooms and EasyJet flights!  Thursday was spent in a short, hot trip down the mountain to Monte Carlo, where I haven’t been since I was fifteen.  A giant palmier later, I finally was admitted to the Monte Carlo casino (fifteen year olds are barred at the gates).  Only to find you have to pay to get in and gamble, so my plan to make like Lucy Ricardo and “accidentally” win several hundred thousand francs at roulette was foiled.

Monaco Casino

The Casino at Monte Carlo

But I did pass by the Café de Paris, where my mom and I had lunch after I was barred from the casino thirteen years ago.  It wasn’t a total loss, because I had the best ratatouille of my life, cut into a miniscule and perfectly cubed dice (a brunoise if you’ve been to cooking school).  I never forgot it in thirteen years.  But that’s when we were on the franc!  Now, it’s 14 Euros!  Maybe you get what you pay for.

Cafe de Paris Monaco Ratatouille

14 Euros for Ratatouille!

Later on, a train of open army jeeps drove by our apartment, filled to the brim with men dressed as révolutionnaires and women dressed as Madame Lafarge.  Edith Piaf blared from the cars, and they shouted the time and place of the fireworks for Bastille Day.  So dutifully, at 10:30, we sat by the sea in Menton, eating ice cream, while the sparks flew.

Tomorrow, Nice!

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Categories: Côte d'Azur, Voyages
 

French in a Flash: Beets Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

RECIPE: Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint
Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

My grandmother never made a dinner party without a cooked beet salad. She still doesn’t. It is a prerequisite. Do we have wine? Napkins? And the cooked beet salad? It’s always small, sitting in a white bowl with sliced boiled beets tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and raw garlic. It’s the raw garlic that really undoes the whole thing.

I thought I hated beets based on that salad. Turns out I just hate large chunks of raw garlic.

Some supermarkets sell vacuum-packed cooked beets in the produce section, which is such a convenient way to make a salad a bit more gourmet and interesting. I toss grated beets with olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar, and a touch of lemon juice (like my grandmother used to), then topped it off with crumbled goat cheese and chopped mint.

I love a lettuce-less salad as a change of pace, and this one can be served as a salad or as a side. In the summer, when it’s hot, I think building up an arsenal of light, no-cook foods is very important. This salad is sweet, juicy, and crunchy, and the tang of the goat cheese and zeal of the mint livens it up, making it fresh and summery.

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Mint
serves 4

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and MintINGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces beets, cooked and drained
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
  • 6 leaves mint
  • Salt
  • Pepper

PROCEDURE

Grate the beets in a food processor or on a box grater. Drain away most of the excess water that comes off the beets.

In a large bowl, stir together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss the beets in the dressing, and move to a serving bowl. Top with the crumbled goat cheese, and sliced mint. Serve on the side of grilled fish or vegetables.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

Franglais: Boursin Smashed Potatoes

RECIPE: Boursin Smashed Potatoes
Boursin Smashed Potatoes

Boursin Smashed Potatoes

This is one of those recipes I love–effortless, but addictive.

Get the whole story at The Huffington Post.

This is a back pocket recipe.  Think of all the things that live in your back pocket.  You wallet.  Your iPhone.  Maybe a comb, if you’re the Fonz.  Back pocket items are the bare bones of necessity.  When you need to pay, when you need to communicate, when you need to comb your incredibly slick hair, you reach for the back pocket.  This recipe is like that.  When you need to eat, it’s there, ready, willing and able.

If you’ve never had Boursin, know two things about it: you can find it any supermarket, and it tastes amazing.  It’s a soft, crumbly Gournay cheese, spiked most commonly with garlic and fines herbes, which are the soft herbs like chives, parsley, chervil, and tarragon.  Its savoriness is its greatest quality—it is so overwhelmingly and delightfully flavorful, tempered by a slight tang, almost of a chèvre.  Normally, I stuff it messily into a crusty baguette (which I highly recommend you do as well), but this week it plays an Oscar-winning role in creating the world’s best smashed potatoes. Continue reading

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Franglais, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian
 

The Secret Ingredient (Mango Chutney): Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

RECIPE: Cheddar and Chutney Toasties
Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

Cheddar and Chutney Toasties

I proudly declare this month’s Secret Ingredient over in my column on Serious Eats to be Mango Chutney.  It used to be something I despised, but after all my time in the UK with Mr. English, I have found, and I think you’ll agree, that the sweet jammy vinegariness of this gorgeous, chunky condiment makes it like nothing else.

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I don’t feel so bad about being a copy-cat. Around the corner from where my English boyfriend grew up is a recently reinvigorated gastropub. The beers and ciders are to be expected; but the foie gras toastie, less so.

If you’re wondering what a “toastie” could be, it’s just a cutesy English name for a grilled cheese sandwich. At this gastropub, the toasties are all stuffed with melting, oozing English cheddar, and a variety of accents: foie gras, for example; spring onions; or, my favorite, mango chutney.

Mango chutney, a chunky condiment from India and Pakistan that is found everywhere in the UK, is made from raw, green mangoes, which explains some of that tart, almost citrusy flavor. Mango chutney is sweet, but also quite savory, with whole spices, and tart, with vinegar. The combination is perfect with melting cheese. The sweetness of the fruit works in that same way of cheese plates with grapes, and the tartness cuts through the fattiness of the cheese. The chutney and the cheddar, squeezed together between two crusty toasted slices of bread, is the perfect snack. And I don’t have to walk around the corner to the pub.

Cheddar and Chutney Toasties
makes 1 sandwich (multiply at will)

Cheddar and Chutney ToastiesINGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 teaspoons mango chutney*
  • 1/4 cup shredded mature white cheddar cheese

PROCEDURE

Lightly butter one side of the bread. Smear the unbuttered side of each slice of bread with 1 teaspoon mango chutney. Pile the cheese in the center of one slice of bread, with the butter on the outside of the sandwich, and top with the other slice of bread, also butter side out.

Heat a wide saute pan over medium-low heat. Toast the sandwich for 4 minutes on the first side, or until the bread is golden and crisp and the cheese begins to melt. Use a spatula to flip the sandwich over, and toast another 4 minutes. The cheese should be totally melted. Cut the sandwich in half on the diagonal, and serve immediately.

NOTES

Buy good chutney.  Cheap chutney can be very vinegary, and not nice.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Sandwiches, Series, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Tricolore Berry Meringue Creams

RECIPE: Tricolore Berry Meringue Creams
Tricolor Meringue Creams

Tricolor Meringue Creams

Get the whole story on Serious Eats.

Today is Bastille Day!  A veritable fête.  In the States, I always toast La France with an early evening pétanque game on the beach, and a twilit grill or picnic.  If I’m lucky enough to be in France—something worth celebrating on its own—it’s down to the fireworks show.

By way of a bit of history, on this day in 1789, brave French people stormed the Bastille prison, an uprising that contributed to the fall of the French monarchy and the establishment of the republic that France is today.  I often joke that culinarily speaking, France was never in a bad place.  Whether you were eating the bread and water of the Bastille (what is better than French bread and French water?) or Marie Antoinette’s cakes (to quote Ina, how bad can that be?), you were eating well.  Of course, that’s not really true, and in all seriousness, it is a very proud day, hoisted up by the triumvirate of ideologies that is still so powerful in France today: liberty, equality, and brotherhood, symbolized by the blue, white, and red of the French flag.

This sweet, simple dessert is only appropriate in the heyday of summer and its sweet, plump berries, coinciding just perfectly with Le Quatorze.  The white of the meringue (store bought, of course—it is to hot and humid to deal with homemade meringue) and French vanilla whipped cream stand for egalité.  The blueberries for liberté.  And the raspberries and currants for fraternité.  A fun, jaunty little tribute to Le Tricolore on this great summer fête.

Two Berry Meringue NestsMeringue Nests, French Vanilla Cream

Tricolore Berry Meringue Creams
serves 4

Tricolor Meringue CreamsINGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup heavy cream, very cold
  • The seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 bought meringue nests, about 3.5 inches in diameter
  • 20 raspberries
  • 25 to 30 blueberries
  • 4 stems red currants

PROCEDURE

In a large bowl, add the cream and the vanilla seeds.  Whisk until stiff.  Stir in the sugar.

Arrange the meringue nests on a platter.  Fill each with a quarter of the vanilla cream.

Arrange the berries on top.  To make them look their best, arrange the raspberries first: a cluster of 3 opposite a cluster of 2.  Fill in the gaps with the blueberries, and top with a strand of red currants.  Serve right away, although these will keep okay covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for about an hour.

 

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Desserts, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Fruit, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian
 

Bastille Day Postcard

View of the Sea

Near Nice

Happy Quatorze!  I have just landed in the South of France, and this is the view from my window.  I am so excited for what this weekend has in store!  I will, of course, dutifully share photos and menus.  Bises

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Franglais: Merguez Baguettes

RECIPE: Merguez Baguettes
Merguez Baguette

Merguez Baguette

Get the whole story on The Huffington Post.

When it comes to French food, we always think of the ivory tower.  Not the gutter.  Charlottes and tians and soufflés are all well and good, but give me the choice between haute cuisine and a hole in the wall off a well-trod avenue, and there’s no comparison.  Hole in the wall, s’il vous plaît!

I am a French street-food-oholic.  Actually, I eat plenty of hotdogs and pretzels off the streets of New York.  So maybe it has nothing to do with provenance.  But French street food is spectacular.  I plan trips around the crêpe stuffed with bubbling, elastic Gruyère that I get to go from L’Avant Comptoir near Odéon in Paris.  In Nice, there are zucchini flower beignets and chickpea pancakes called socca.  And in the South, Pan Bagnat, giant and perfect tuna sandwiches that I take to share at the beach.  Gauffres, or really Belgian waffles, under an avalanche of sugar.  And of course, the omnipresent ice cream cones that parade around the country.  But the one that takes Marie Antoinette’s cake is possibly the world’s greatest sandwich: Merguez Frites.

Hold onto your berets.  It’s a baguette, stuffed with hot, smoky Moroccan lamb sausages flavored with garlic, harissa, chilis, cumin, coriander, and the kitchen sink.  And then stuffed into the baguette with the grill-charred sausages is a solid helping of frites.  Crunchy, salty, and ridiculous.  You can get the baguette slathered with garlic mayo, extra harissa, even ketchup.  It is so gluttonous, and so spicy, and so good.  Greasy and dirty in that too-much-lo mein way that everyone loves.  It makes a New York hotdog, heretofore my yardstick of perfection (with deli mustard), look measly.  It’s a heart stopper, in more ways than one.  And it’s worth it.

I love doing cookouts for Bastille Day (this Thursday, July 14th).  Instead of throwing some all American hotdogs on the grill, I give my grill a French accent.  I throw some Merguez sausages, long and lean, on the grill until black and hot and smoky.  I stuff them in an olive oil-seared baguette, with piquillo peppers, garlic-yogurt-mayo sauce, and a salad of cilantro.  Serve with some harissa for those that like it hot, or some grill lemons.  It is so different and so spectacular, you don’t need to make anything else.  Just buy some good French beers and call it a day.  Or a fête.

Merguez Baguette, ClosedMerguez Baguette, Cut

Merguez Baguettes
serves 4

Merguez BaguetteINGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 clove garlic, grated
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 8-inch baguette rolls, sliced horizontally like an open book
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 12 links Merguez sausage
  • 12 jarred, roasted piquillo peppers, halved
  • 1/2 cup torn cilantro leaves
  • Harissa (optional)

PROCEDURE

Preheat a grill—wood burning, charcoal, or gas.  In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, garlic, and salt to taste.  Set aside.

Drizzle the cut surface of the baguette rolls lightly with olive oil.  Place cut side down on the grill until lightly toasted—about 1 minute.  Set the rolls aside, and place the Merguez on the grill, turning occasionally until the sausages are charred and cooked through—about 6 minutes.

While the sausages are grilling, assemble the sandwiches.  Slather as much of the garlic yogurt sauce on the bread as you like.  If you like it hot (like really hot), squirt some harissa onto the buns.  Scatter the piquillo peppers on the bread, and the leaves of cilantro.  As soon as the Merguez are cooked, pile 3 into each sandwich, fold the sandwich shut, and cut in half on a diagonal.  Serve immediately.

NOTES

You can find Merguez at gourmet stores, Kosher markets, and Middle Easter grocers.

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