London’s Calling: The Canton Arms

Canton Arms

Canton Arms

Mr. English and I spend a lot of time in Stockwell in London.  For those of you who don’t know it, and I wouldn’t if it weren’t for Mr. English, it’s not the place that I would have necessarily expected to find fantastic food.  You know what they say about English food.  But last night, we went down to the local pub, where we’ve ordinarily just gone for beers, and sat down to a proper meal.  When I tell you, it was one of the best meals I ever had in this country, and it was in the middle of gastro no man’s land!  What a tremendous find.  If you’re ever down south of the river, you have to try Canton Arms.

The ambiance is very dark wood, low key, British pub.  The front room is full of intellectuals ruminating over pints and reading books in high-backed chairs.  The wait staff is bright and young and cheerful, against the somber atmosphere, which makes me realize that I can’t remember if there was a fire going, or if it was them that made it feel so bright and cozy.  Around the back of the bar is this large, quaint, wooden room, filled with a hodgepodge of different sized, very comfortable tables and chairs.  Little votives in shot glasses winked and twinkled all over the dark room, giving it a starlight feel.  Very modern meets old world.  Very, I’ll say it again, cozy.  Mr. English and I appropriated a corner table by the window, and looked at the menu.  The beer and wine list is far more extensive than the dinner menu, but Mr. English tells me that the latter changes all the time, if not every day.

I was really surprised by the choices.  Probably because I was unfairly biased against a gastropub in Stockwell to begin with, which is evidence that one should not be a place-ist eater.  The starters included split pea and ham soup, braised cuttlefish with butter beans and olives, smoked salmon with what seemed to be house-pickled cucumbers, and a melange of beets with cow’s curd and rosemary and crisp bread crumbs resurrected from the excellent brown bread they served to start.  I had the beets, a combination of carpaccio-thin white beets that I’d never seen before, and wedges of small golden and red beets.  The beets, of course, were sweet, and lightly tossed in vinaigrette.  On top was a white cloud of tart, creamy cow’s curd.  And on top of that, extremely crisp and chunky wheat crumbs, and rosemary.  It was so simple, and so good.

The mains included black bass with crab risotto and monk’s beard, pork belly, cassoulet, and gnocchi.  When my gnocchi first arrived bubbling in a gratin dish, I had it inside out.  I thought the little chunks around the perimeter were the gnocchi, and I asked Mr. English, “what’s this thing in the middle?”  As it turns out, the thing in the middle was one giant, genius, rectangular, fluffy-as-air gnocchi, smothered in a cauldron of excellent tomato sauce studded with roasted squash and chard.  The top of the gnocchi slab was gratined with Parmesan cheese–sort of a gnocchi parmesan, instead of chicken or eggplant.  It was truly delicious.

To wash it all down, I had the cocktail of the day: rhubarb and prosecco.  And for dessert, a lemon cream pot, topped with a shot of crème de cassis, and an English shortbread cookie.

I loved it because it was this cold, windy, brutal English night, in a part of London that can, in all honesty, appear bleak.  There is a lot of grayness here.  But what I love about the English is that in the grayscape about them, they create points of color.  A whimsical hat perched at a bright angle like a tropical bird.  A planter full of pansies down the street.  Bright scarves and floral prints.  And a gastropub that twinkled with votives in the night, and that served fresh, colorful, English food that cheered up the eyes, and filled up the stomach in that hearty-meets-frivolous English way.  I love the pride they are taking in their cuisine right now, and especially in their ingredients.  I left feeling warm.

Canton Arms

177 South Lambeth Road

Stockwell, London SW8 1XP

0207 5828710


So sorry I don’t have pictures of the food from last night.  I tried, but the lighting made it impossible!

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What I Bring Back From Paris

Red Currants

Red Currants

The great thing about leaving France for another European country is you don’t have to abandon the food right away.  Here’s a list of what I couldn’t leave without:

Tomme Noire des Pyrenées

One of my favorite cheeses.  So expensive in the States; so cheap in France.  I first had it as a summer exchange student in Brest.  It’s dimpled, and soft for a firm cheese, and somewhat sweet and creamy.  I could eat a whole wedge on a whole baguette.

Petit Ecolier Cookies

These are available in the States, but I didn’t want to ride the train without them.  If you weren’t raised on these, go out and buy them right now.  A Petit Beurre cookie with an equal amount of chocolate stamped onto it.  Confection perfection.

Red Currants

I can’t get over the fruit in France.  It’s made me quite the snob actually.  If a fruit isn’t sweet and juicy and ripe at the store, I don’t want to know from it.  The one fruit that is so common in France and that I can never find at home is currants–golden, red, and black.  They are tart, and snap in your mouth like salmon roe.  I forgot to put these in the fridge, and I almost cried when I saw how they’d deteriorated overnight.  At least I had one branch in the hotel room before I left!

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All the Pretty Paris Meals, 2nd Edition

I like a lot of places.  But I love very few.  Cities are like people in that way.  But I love Paris.  Paris, je t’aime.  If a city could be a person, Paris would be my best friend.  And New York would be my mom.  Even though in real life, the one comes from the other!  But you get the point.

I am in London seeing Mr. English, and because I don’t know when I’ll be back in Europe, I begged him to go to Paris with me.  It’s still such novelty to me, fleeing to my favorite city by train, staying for just a couple days.  What American thinks of going to Paris for less than a weekend?  I will never take that for granted.

I love the moment the Eurostar emerges from the under the Channel, and I know I am looking onto the fields of northern France.  I still imagine them in such a provincial way, full of butter and Calvados, like out of a Courbet painting.  Even though in reality I see wind farms.  Then, I arrive in Paris.  I am always grinning like the Cheshire cat who caught the canary–ear to ear.  Because I am in Paris!  How cool is that?  I slip onto the Metro, and come out on the same street where we always stay, at the same hotel, on the same street on which I lived while I was at the Cordon Bleu.  I love that I have a little “home” in a city I didn’t even visit until I was fifteen years old.  It’s close to my cousins, but it has nothing to do with where maman and Mémé lived ages ago.  It’s all mine.  I know all my favorite shops and bistros and cafés.  And Mr. English and I always chide each other, because we never go anywhere else except my favorite shops and bistros and cafés.  The same pet shop that has crazy things like pigeons and squirrels.  The picnic spot on the Seine.  But I like the sense of being a local in Paris.  Again, how cool is that?

I’m passing a dreary Tuesday afternoon in a very gray London, and there’s a chance you might be doing that too somewhere.  So, if you want a little daydream, here’s a vicarious trip through fabulous Paris, as Mr. English and I lived it last weekend.  These are some of my favorite places and things, so if you plan on being Parisian anytime soon, these come with great references.

Thursday Lunch

I arrived in the Gare du Nord alone, with my usual Cheshire-Cat-ate-the-canary grin, and had to find lunch before Metro-ing over to the Petit Bateau store on the Champs-Elysées where I tend to over-stock up because the tees and striped sweaters that I subsist on are so much cheaper in France (especially if you’re there in time for the summer sales!) than they are in the Madison Avenue outpost.  The best place for that is the Horse’s Tavern, where I used to go for a 10PM Croque Monsieur after cooking school.  I don’t know why it has a name from the Wild Wild West, because it has a totally French menu.  They have so many different delicious croques on the menu that I decided not to stop and judge.  But this time, I had onion soup gratinée and a salade verte.  The onion soup took me surprise, so clear, and with very thin, miniscule bits of tomato.  But it really worked.  So gooey and satisfying.

The Horse's Tavern

The Horse's Tavern

The Horse’s Tavern

16 Carrefour Odéon

75006 Paris France

+33 01 43 54 96 91

Thursday Dinner

Mr. English met me in time for dinner in Paris.  What a gent!  Where else but our favorite place, Le Comptoir?  We sat outside on the terrace under the heaters, and it was the perfect date.  Tightly tucked on tiny round bistro tables between animated conversations and precocious pets pining for a knocked-over coin of baguette.  I love it there.  Mr. English had pavé d’agneau (roast lamb) with a wine sauce and vegetables, and his favorite, the salade niçoise.  I had beef-cheek daube, a winey stew from Provence.  They actually cooked baby elbow macaroni in the wine broth, so it was stained burgundy, and soaked with delicious stewiness.  Genius.  An idea I will definitely be hijacking.  I started with the salad of legumes de saison–every time I go there, it’s a new selection of vegetables in a new vinaigrette, so always with such abundance and color and gaiety.  It’s the best salad.  And for dessert, because this is my favorite thing anywhere in all of Paris, Le Comptoir’s vanilla pot de crème, which in my humble opinion sets the standard for all cream pots worldwide.  It is super thick, but velvety, and only slight sweet while brimming with little dots of vanilla.  It’s a dream.  I made Mr. English order his own.  I am so not sharing that.

Le Comptoir

Le Comptoir

Le Comptoir

In the Hôtel Relais Saint Germain

9 Carrefour Odéon

75006 Paris France

+33 01 43 29 12 05

Friday Breakfast

We got a really late start, so we walked down the Boulevard Saint-Germain to Les Deux Magots, our favorite breakfast place, even if it is both touristy and ritzy.  We love sitting on the terrace during the summer watching the sparrows peck at the remains of our croissants.  It’s very Paris to us.  I ordered a Croque Monsieur, which was, to put it simply, simply terrific.  I washed it down with a super-sour Citron Pressé.  Perfect as a prelude to shopping across the street at Aigle and Monoprix for rainboots and argan oil.

Croque Monsieur Les Deux Magots

Croque Monsieur, Les Deux Magots

Les Deux Magots

6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

75006 Paris France

+33 01 45 48 44 25

Friday Lunch

Mr. English and I are obsessed with the Caviar d’Aubergines you can buy at the Monoprix, a department store with a great food hall, and, incidentally, really good inexpensive French soaps like Le Petit Marseillais.  We picked up a tub of Caviar d’Aubergines, which is like French Baba Ganoush, and a baguette, and head to the Luxembourg Gardens.  We wash it down with French green plums, so juicy that my hands are soaked as I eat.  Paris is a place to picnic.

Caviar d'Aubergines, Monoprix

Caviar d'Aubergines, Monoprix

Monoprix

50 rue de Rennes

75006 Paris France

Other stores all over France

Friday Snack

We spent the afternoon walking down the Quais on the Left Bank, browsing the stalls of old books and drawings.  I collect, admittedly, cheap copies of Redoutés flower drawings that you can find all over those stalls.  We ended at Berthillon on the Ile Saint-Louis.  It’s Paris’s most famous ice cream shop–and there are many ice cream shops in Paris.  I always order their raspberry-rose sorbet or their raspberry whipped cream, but it’s being winter, they didn’t have any.  Cheers to French insistence on seasonality!  So instead, I ordered the French equivalent of a sundae: vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.  But the vanilla ice cream was so full of vanilla that it was nearly brown, and so fragrant and delicious.  The whipped cream was stiff and fresh.  And the chocolate coulis was a just a warm drizzle, a hint.  With an almond tuile instead of a cone–it was very good.  There is something very romantic about eating something childish with the one you love.  And something very competitive about sharing a sundae.

Berthillon's Ice Cream Sundae

Berthillon's Ice Cream Sundae

Berthillon

29-31 rue Saint-Louis-en-Ile

75004 Paris France

+33 01 43 54 31 61

Friday Dinner

I took Mr. English back to an old institution of mine: Le Relais de l’Entrecôte.  They don’t have a menu: it’s a steak and potato place, and all you tell them is how you’d like your meat cooked.  How I hadn’t brought my steak-and-potatoes English boyfriend to this place before now I really don’t know.  We both ordered medium, and soon a green salad with walnuts and mustard dressing and baguette arrived.  Soon after, a plate of sliced steak in this unfathomable secret sauce that I’ve been trying to figure out for a decade, but still can’t decipher, under a pile of matchstick French fries.  And then, wait for it, a second identical plate arrives.  You could have dessert, but we just went for a drink at Les Editeurs a couple of blocks away.  Cassis and soda–I highly recommend it.

Steak Frites, L'Entrecote

Steak Frites, L'Entrecôte

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte

20 rue Saint-Benoît

75006 Paris France

+33 01 45 49 16 00

Saturday Breakfast

Why fix something that ain’t broke?  Back to Les Deux Magots for my more usual breakfast: Smoked Salmon Tartine on Poilâne bread, without butter.  It’s cut into little cigarettes so you can eat it with your fingers.  I always wash it down with the Pamplemousse Pressé, freshly squeezed perfect pink grapefruit juice.  And because it was my last day in Paris, a croissant.

Croissant, Les Deux Magots

Croissant, Les Deux Magots

Saturday Dinner

After a day spent buying old engravings in J.C. Martinez and browsing vintage Air France ad posters at Galerie Documents, we were ready to eat again.  We always have our first and last meals at our favorite place: Le Comptoir.  We sat inside this time, and ordered light.  I had the best scallops I’ve ever had, roasted in their shells with sweet butter and herbs, and strips of roasted and braised endive draped over the top.  Bitter, and sweet–just as a last meal should be.  The scallops were barely cooked, and tasted like sweet lobster in drawn butter.  They were so fresh that they were still attached to their shells.  I ran chunks of brown bread through the butter, and ate them.  Mr. English had seared tuna with vegetables and pistou.  And then, a chocolate tarte sablé to share.

Scallop Shells, Le Comptoir

The Remains of the Meal

It was the best weekend.  The worst part of leaving is that I don’t know when I’ll be back.  We always take the train back at night, and I can never tell when we leave those Courbet fields and head back under the Chunnel.  I hate saying goodbye.


All the Pretty Little Paris Meals, 1st Edition

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Working Girl Dinners: Tortellini Soup

RECIPE: Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup

Tortellini Soup

Waiting to start this series has been like watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve.  So much anticipation.  I’m so excited about it.

For the longest time, I’ve been writing recipes for four.  I never want them to be too easy or too simple, because I’m afraid that readers won’t think the recipes are worth it.  These are my insecurities.  But in reality, as much as I love writing recipes, I have a lot of leftovers, and a lot of weekends spent in the kitchen instead of, well, anywhere else.  Because, at my age, for better or worse, I’m not cooking for four, and I don’t have a lot of time to futz around between fridge and stove.

All my friends have been asking me for recipes for years that they can make after their (I’m so proud of them!) high-powered careers for themselves and the usually only one other person in their lives: a similarly aged, equally high-powered partner.  Let’s face it: we’re either all working long hours or studying long hours.  Living alone or with a boyfriend or husband or otherwise beloved.  No kids yet, but that also means no maternity leave.  Equally harried, but in a different way.  We’re not cooking for a “family,” but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to cook for our families: newborn households of two, housed in first apartments amid Ikea furniture and maybe a puppy, bright-eyed, and excited to finally be “grown-ups.”

I had one group of friends who would get together in Atlanta to recreate recipes from my columns.  I was so excited, but when my best friend from high school admitted, “We love doing it, but I have to give my up afternoon to find the ingredients,” I was embarrassed.  Not everyone devotes themselves to memorizing which supermarkets stock endive and which stock fennel–I admit, that I myself do.  Make of that what you will!

Another, newly married, told me that she wanted to make dinner for her husband.  In a world where we girls were raised to put nothing ahead of work, work, work, there is something so poignant about a new bride scuttling home from the subway at 8 o’clock just wanting to make a simple meal for her husband, who probably picked up Chinese takeout on the way home.

When I asked them what they wanted, they all said healthy, fast, simple, at times impressive, and made from ingredients easily found between subway and apartment.  Voila.  Working Girl Dinners was born.

Writing these recipes, I remember advice I learned about writing growing up: write what you know.  Similarly, I would advise: cook what you want.  I was free of all constraints, making food that actually works in my life, and that I couldn’t wait to eat.  Dinner was usually ready in less than 20 minutes, with no leftovers to worry about, very little cleanup.  What hadn’t I done this sooner?

In Working Girl Dinners, I hope, no pledge, to give you recipes for two that are healthy, satisfying, easy, and quick.  No esoteric ingredients.  No crazy techniques.  Just good, solid food for the way we live.  And maybe a quick video to show you how.  I promise that anyone can cook, and just because we’ve gotten so far at the office, doesn’t mean we can’t come home to the kitchen.  There is power in doing things yourself, no matter where you do them.  And as we said growing up in my big family, and now in my little one: bon app!

We start with the easiest, most satisfying soup in the world: Tortellini Soup.  Cheesy tortellini, floating on a tomato broth.  Hearty, and good.  I used to order it guiltily at a place called Sal’s in Florida.  Guiltily because I was vegetarian, but I couldn’t resist it even though I knew it had chicken stock in it.  I was really living dangerously.  This is a vegetarian version, and it has three ingredients, all of which you can keep in your cabinet or freezer, so you don’t even need to stop off on the way home to buy anything. And the broth is literally made from just vegetable broth and marinara sauce.  Seriously.  Who knew?  My only advice is to buy good organic broth, and excellent, tasty marinara sauce: few ingredients merit the good stuff.  And have fun with the tortellini and the toppings.  You could do meat or chicken or spinach tortellini, and top the soup with lots of Parm or chilis or herbs.  Whatever floats your boat or your tortellini.

Tortellini Soup
serves 2 to 3

Tortellini SoupINGREDIENTS

  • 1 32-ounce box of vegetable broth (preferably organic)
  • 1 24-ounce jar of marinara sauce (recommended: Mario Batali, or other San Marzano tomato sauce)
  • 1 20-ounce package (or 2 10-ounces packages) of cheese or cheese-and-spinach tortellini from the refrigerator or freezer section
  • Salt and pepper

TOPPINGS

  • Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Chopped fresh basil (optional)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

PROCEDURE

Put the vegetable stock and marinara sauce in a large pot with a lid.  Turn the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the tortellini, and cover the pot again.  Cook just until the tortellini float to the top of the broth, about 3 minutes.  Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with spicy pepper flakes, fresh basil, and/or Parmesan cheese.  Seriously, that's it.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Soup, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian, Vegetarian, Watch, Working Girl Dinners
 

The Secret Ingredient (Saffron) Part I: Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron Yogurt

RECIPE: Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron Yogurt
Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron Yogurt

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron Yogurt

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

It is a widely touted fact that saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and that it is collected by hand, the stamens of a crocus flower, plucked by hands, and dried.  Thankfully, it only takes a pinch of saffron to make a dish.

This salad is my knock-off of an appetizer I had at The Red Bicycle in Santorini, Greece, last summer.  The eggplant is soft and tender, and just crispy-burnt around the edges.  It  is draped in a rich sauce of nothing but Greek yogurt and saffron, and the salad is topped with torn fresh basil and crunchy toasted pine nuts.  It’s not exact–the rendition the owner taught me has brown sugar and pomegranate seeds thrown in the mix, but this is Red Bicycle redux, and it’s pretty fabulous.  It has what saffron always imparts–the color, the flavor, the smell of the exotic.  There’s nothing uncommon about the ingredients in this dish–even saffron stocks the shelves of every grocery store in the country–but saffron still has that magic spell, like a free ticket halfway around the world.

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron Yogurt
serves 4

Roasted Eggplant Salad with Saffron YogurtINGREDIENTS

  • 2 1 1/4-pound eggplants, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus extra
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10 basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

PROCEDURE

In a large colander, toss the eggplant with the salt.  Allow to drain over the sink for 30 minutes.  Do not rinse.  Preheat the broiler.

Toss the eggplant with the olive oil on a Silpat- or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange the eggplant in a single layer, close together, on the baking sheet.  Broil in the top third of the oven, but not directly under the broiler, stirring 3 times, until the eggplant is soft and just beginning to char, 25 to 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

While the eggplant roasts, combine the saffron and hot water in a small bowl, and allow to steep.  Once the eggplant is cool, blend together the saffron, its water, and the yogurt in a small food processor.  Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the eggplant in a single layer on a wide platter.  Top with the saffron yogurt sauce, then basil leaves, and finally pine nuts.  Serve at room temperature.

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Categories: Easy, Eat, Recipes, Salad, Series, Sides, Soup & Salad, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetables, Vegetarian
 

Two-Ingredient Pain au Chocolat

RECIPE: Two-Ingredient Pain au Chocolat
Two Ingredient Chocolate Croissant

Two Ingredient Chocolate Croissant

When Mr. English and I are in Paris, he always orders the same breakfast: omelette nature, café noir, and pain au chocolat (that’s a plain omelet, black coffee, and chocolate croissant).  Apparently, it’s a really funny order because my step-father gets no end of joy for making fun of him for eating it.  Whatever.  It’s our thing, and it’s one of the few things Mr. English has completely mastered in French.  It’s a rainy day in Paris today, but that won’t get in the way with our routine.  For when we get home, I have a little two-ingredient substitute.  I just roll really good chocolate into puff pastry, and bake it.  It’s not quite a Paris pain au chocolat, but fresh from the oven, it’s a pretty good way to start the day.

Two-Ingredient Pain au Chocolat
makes 4

Two Ingredient Chocolate CroissantIngredients

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed but cold
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate (recommended: Green & Black's 70% cocoa)

Procedure

The night before, move the puff pastry from the freezer to the fridge.

A half hour before you want to serve breakfast, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Unfold the sheet of puff pastry, and cut two diagonal lines from corner to corner to make 4 squares.  Line a quarter of the chocolate on the long side of each triangle, and roll up, bending int the corners like a crescent shape.  Park the croissants on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet, and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed and golden.  Serve now!

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Bakery, Bread & Butter, Breakfast & Brunch, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Pastries, Recipes, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Boursin and Tomato Mini Tartines

RECIPE: Boursin and Tomato Mini Tartines
Boursin and Tomato Mini Tartines

Boursin and Tomato Mini Tartines

Get the whole story at Serious Eats.

Easy does it.  Tartines, one-sided sandwiches topped with, usually, one thing, are easy.  And they do the trick.  In Paris, I have my little places where I know I can get a tartine I like: usually smoked salmon, or saucisson sec.  Everything on them, and by everything I mean, the bread and the salami or salmon, has to be perfect for the tartine to be quality.  I like that honesty, and simplicity.  It’s not cooking, so much as hospitality.

These tartines are assembled on long slices of crisply toasted baguette, topped with a mash of store-bought Boursin, which is so full of the flavor of garlic and herbs that no matter how you dilute it, it is still the most flavorful thing in your kitchen, cut with ricotta, to make it spreadable.  On top, chopped grape tomatoes, sweet and crunchy, with a drizzle of olive and fleur de sel.  I love these for lunch, or even breakfast.  Satisfying, but uncomplicated.

Boursin and Tomato Mini Tartines
serves 2

Boursin and Tomato Mini TartinesINGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup Garlic and Fine Herbs Boursin
  • 1/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 6 3/4-inch slices baguette, cut on a steep bias
  • 2/3 cup grape tomatoes (about 18), quartered
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of fleur de sel

PROCEDURE

In a small bowl, mash together the Boursin and ricotta.  Set aside.

Toast the baguette slices in a toaster until just golden and slightly crisp.  Set on a rack to keep crisp, and cool.

When the bread is cool, spread with the Boursin mixture.  Toss the tomato, olive oil, and fleur de sel together, and spoon on the cheese-topped baguette slices.  Serve immediately.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Bread & Butter, Breakfast & Brunch, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, French in a Flash, Recipes, Sandwiches, Series, Vegetarian