The Existential Fondue

Fondue BaguetteSometimes, when I’m walking down the street in Chinatown, surrounded by fake Fendis and Vuittons and Pradas, I ask myself, “Will anyone know this is fake?”

It seems that this thought process is not limited to fashionable Manhattan women hoping to save a thousand dollars on their next handbag, but extends to English men, hoping to save time making fondue.

Fondue PotWhile I was visiting Mr. English in London last week, he told me that his father, who will hereafter be referred to as Sir English, had just returned from Normandy bearing loads of cheese, and had invited us over that night for fondue.

“Fondue!?”

“Yes, fondue.”

We were coincidentally standing among all the real Fendis and Vuittons and Pradas in Harrods, and I immediately dropped the Valentino I had been inspecting, grabbed his hand, and tugged him into the food halls.

“What can I bring to Sir English’s house?” I chanted to myself. I am always frightfully on edge about appearing as the uncouth ugly American to Mr. English’s family and friends. “What about Laduree macarons?” (They have an outpost there). Veto. Then, knowing Sir English, I thought, “Let’s get some really good beer like they have in Normandy.” Where’s the beer in Harrods? Then it hit me: “I’m buying the beigneuses! Tell your father all he needs is cheese!”

The food halls at Harrods, if you like food, are similar to how you may envision heaven, should you be a religious person. Whether or not you are, witnessing room after room of turkey to Turkish delight tumbling from gilded baroque cases may at least convince you that there is a God. I always think of shopping there as the modern day equivalent to the kings of Britain hunting white stags and unicorn in old tapestries—except, now I’m the royalty and I can just ask the man behind the counter for a piece of venison instead of shooting it in the heart with the claws of my falcon.

It was within this wonderland that I found my beigneuses, a French word meaning “bathers,” so called because fondue is known in the produce community as the Turkish baths for bread and vegetables. I bought Spanish chorizo and Rosette de Lyons, a French salami. I bought endive and Pink lady apples. I bought boule and baguette. I bought too much.

Rosette de Lyon

Rosette de Lyon

Because he is a bit of a gourmet, Sir English knew to leave the fondue preparation until the last minute. But he wasn’t counting on my making myself at home in his kitchen, chopping up endive spears and baguette crusts. He walked over to the refrigerator and said, “Kerry, I hoped you spare you the sight of this,” and pulled out a plastic pouch that said FONDUE.

Some foodies might have been miffed, but I was fascinated. I have a secret obsession with French packaged foods, because they always leave one thought in my mind: why don’t we have this in America? How can Publix stock all of its thousands of square yards of shelves, and not find room for plastic-packaged fondue?

The pouch contained the three primary Swiss fondue cheeses: Emmenthaler, Gruyere, and Comte. It had white wine and Kirsch. Butter and garlic. Meekfully anticipating reproach, Sir English pulled out a few wedges of emmenthaler from the fridge, but I turned to him and yelped, “This is amazing.”

I then taught him how make Fondue Savoyarde, which is the traditional fondue most of us think of when we daydream about fondue. He rubbed the fondue pot with a cut clove of garlic, and added some white wine and fresh thyme. Then, we stirred in the packet of fondue, and grated in a bunch of fresh Emmenthaler. We used the pouched fondue as a flavorful binder, instead of cornstarch, to prevent the fondue from separating. And so Sir English and I brought to the table a pot of liquid gold.

So, to answer the existential question of the post, no. No one can tell it’s a fake. Or rather, perhaps an editor at Vogue could tell it’s a fake Fendi, or a cheese monger in Savoy could taste the plastic-wrapped cheese, but for all intents and purposes, our semi-packaged fondue brought extreme gastronomic pleasure into Sir English’s house. Mr. English’s sister, Miss English, abandoned her cheese-free diet to jostle endive spears with me in the pot. Mr. English found that bread was a much more efficient and desirable way to clean a fondue pot than a sponge and soap. Sir English poured another round of Pommeau, a Norman apple brandy, as we all crowded close to the flame, and all were warmed, inside and out.

It all proves that the answers to most of life’s more difficult questions can be found in a French supermarket—or in a French woman’s closet (existentialism is French, after all, mes amis). If you mix high and low, and accessorize well, no one will suspect a thing.

Good advice for braving the recession ahead.

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Say Cheese!

Ile de France Brie

Ile de France Brie

It has been said that Charles de Gaulle once uttered the seminal and lactose-inspired words: “How can you govern a country where there are 246 different types of cheese?”

Ile de France makes three of them.

The company held a contest for the best recipe using the brand’s camembert, brie, and fresh goat cheese. The three winning recipes are as follows:

Second Runner Up: Double Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes filled with Chocolate Ganache and Topped with Creamy Goat Cheese Frosting

Ile de France Cupcake

Photograph from Ile de France

Runner Up: Open-Faced Ile De France Brie and Chicken Salad Sandwich

Grand Prize Winner: Grilled Polenta, Goat Cheese, and Tomato Stacks with Roasted Garlic Aioli and Herb Oil Drizzle

Ile de France Polenta

Photograph from Ile de France

For me though, I think the grand prize should go to Jamie Oliver, in whose new book the Ministry of Food I found a recipe for camembert pasta, in which hot pasta is drizzled with the insides of a baked wheel of camembert cheese studded with herbs and garlic.

Imagine what we could do with 245 more cheeses. Say cheese!

What would be your prize-winning French cheese recipe?

French Revolution loves cheese

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Edible Election: Bipartisan Blueberry and Strawberry Galette

RECIPE: Bipartisan Blueberry and Strawberry Galette

Strawberries and Blueberries. Photograph by steve_jay.

Today, if we do our duty, we will stand in line at the polls and pronounce ourselves one of two things: Democrat, or Republican. Blue, or Red. And though we declare our differences, let us remember that blue and red, though in opposition today, both color our nation’s flag and define what, above all, we truly are: American. This galette, a French free-form tart, is my way of reaching across the aisle and across the table. It starts with the bluest blueberries and reddest strawberries, but after a while in the oven, the juices run together and become a delicious and delirious amalgamation of purple. Let us be red strawberries or blue blueberries today, but by tonight, I hope we can come together as purple pie filling and give our beloved country a future as sweet as this American pie.

Blueberry Galette

Blueberry Galette

United We Stand: VOTE!

Bon app, to all!

American Flag

Bipartisan Blueberry and Strawberry Galette

Blueberry GaletteIngredients

  • 1 bag of frozen strawberries, drained
  • 1 bag of frozen blueberries, drained
  • Sugar
  • Lemon juice
  • Flour
  • 1 cold prepared piecrust

Procedure

What obsesses me about galettes are how inexact I always am with them, and how perfectly they come out. Therefore, this is not going to be a recipe, but just a set of instructions. Start by heating your oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the pie crust a little, using bench flour if necessary. Transfer to a baking sheet. In a bowl, mix together the thawed and drained berries, a tablespoon or 2 of sugar, and 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour, along with a slight squeeze of lemon juice. Mix to combine, and spoon the mixture into the center of the pie crust, spreading it out, but leaving about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch border. Tuck one edge of the pie crust just over the berry filling, and then continue pleating the crust around the filling until there is a tucked crust at the edges and an exposed berry center. Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is purple and bubbly and oozing.

Let cool for a few minutes, and then serve a la mode with all-American vanilla ice cream (there is white in the American flag too!). Eat with Republicans and Democrats alike.

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Who Moved My Cheese?

Parmesan Wheel

Parmesan Cheese. Photo by abbyladybug.

Most French people, myself very happily included, have a healthy relationship, some might even say a passionate relationship, with cheese. Manchego and I, for instance, are inseparable, and meet each morning for a breakfast rendez-vous, where I promptly devour poor Manchego after tucking him into a morsel of crusty bread, and chasing him down with some sweet grapes or pears d’Anjou. Some morning after! But when Mr. English told me that Samuel Pepys, the great diarist and Secretary of the Admiralty in England during the Great Fire of London, actually went out into his backyard and buried his Parmesan cheese to save it from the flames (evidently, he didn’t want Parmesan fondue), I realized that he had the same kind of lusty love for Parmesan that I have with Señor Manchego. And while I don’t keep my Manchego in a safe to ride out the impending financial cataclysm that may indeed be Manhattan’s answer to London’s flaming inferno, I did panic a bit this morning when my Manchego was not in its normal spot at my little corner market. Who moved my cheese!?

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

But more importantly, if the end of your world were approaching, which cheese would you bury in the backyard, too precious to you to be ravaged the burning lick of flames or the ravenous bites of impoverished Manhattanites?

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Peace o’ Pizza

RECIPE: Pizza Marianne

I do believe I have a split personality.

But don’t worry, it’s not schizophrenia. Nor is it my fault! The simple truth is that one half of me, my mom’s half, is French. The other half, naturally my dad’s, is New Yorker. Most of the time it works out much as it has in wartime politics. The French came to New York’s aid, after all, in the Revolution, and New York bailed out France in World War II. Occasionally, true to the comparison, there is a schism and eventually an entente, and the majority of the time both my personalities go on living together in perfect harmony, the best of friends and greatest of allies, at peace.

But it’s a piece of pizza that causes the greatest schism in my culinary duality. It seems my confusion began around the age of 7. Up until then, my father, who ordered in pizza for me every Saturday night, would mysteriously conceal my slice in the kitchen until he emerged with it, neatly segmented into about 15 perfect squares, which I would stab with my plastic fork and negotiate into mouth. However, when I began to eat for myself, being the Manhattanite that I am, my father taught me the habit of any true New Yorker: how to fold my glorious oozing slice over my finger, and then dip the crust in the grease that had escaped through the pizza ravine.

It was with this proud mindset that I travelled with my mother when I was fifteen years old, for the first time, to France. We landed in Cannes starving and cranky as the New Yorkers assume the French always to be. What to eat? Pizza it was. My Pizza Margherita arrived, but suddenly, I reversed back to my young self. I was presented with a whole pizza, uncut, and I had no idea how to eat it, nor did my father miraculously slice it away into 15 perfect little squares. I shrugged, and promptly took my knife to the pie, separating the round into 4 perfect triangles, one of which I then folded over my finger and lifted into my mouth. The man at the next dropped his knife and his jaw and stared positively appalled. I returned my slice to the plate and proceeded to saw at it with my butter knife until it was cold and I was miserable.

Pizza Marianne

Pizza Marianne

The reality is, pizza is very common in France. Ironically, the “American” variety tumbles everything we would never eat on pizza, like sweet corn and hard boiled eggs, onto one unfortunate but gaudy pie. The Margherita, however, always comes with fresh basil leaves, and a little nest of niçoise olives at the center. In every circumstance, it is eaten with a fork. I have now learned to judge my European pizza establishments not only by the quality of their crust, cheese, and sauce, but by the quality of knife they serve alongside them.

This Pizza Marrianne is my chapeau to that first French pizza I tackled in Cannes. While the Margherita famously incorporates the colors of the Italian flag, Marrianne, named for the lady of the Revolution, uses opal basil, an indigo variety, to capture the colors of the French flag, along with the très français ingredients of goat cheese, herbes de Provence, and the requisite niçoise olives.

Pizza Marianne SliceFrance may have many things. It may have fraternité, and perhaps egalité, but certainly not the liberté to eat your pizza as you see fit. So, to New York for teaching me the love, and Cannes for teaching me the manners. Merci bien à vous deux…

Bon app!

From Serious Eats: Pizza with a Knife & Fork?

Pizza Marianne

Pizza MarianneIngredients

  • 1 ball of bought pizza dough, enough “for a 12-inch pie”
  • ¾ cup of marinara sauce
  • 10-12 ounces of fresh mozzarella, patted dry, and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces of fresh goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of Herbes de Provence
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 16 opal or purple basil leaves
  • 9 Niçoise olives
  • Salt and pepper

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Roll out the dough into a 15-inch round, using bench flour as needed. Place onto a baking sheet.
  3. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Ladle the sauce into the center of the dough, and spread outward, leaving a 1-inch border as crust.
  5. Arrange the mozzarella slices all over the pizza.
  6. Roll the goat cheese so that the outside is coated in herbes de provence. Slice into thin discs, and arrange in the gaps in the mozzarella.
  7. Arrange the basil leaves in 2 concentric circles around the pizza. Stud with the olives, placing 3 at the center.
  8. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil all over the pizza.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, turning it up to broil for the 16th.
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Categories: Bread & Butter, Eat, Recipes, Tarts, Quiches, Pizzas, Vegetarian
 

The Wheel of Fortune

RECIPE: Wagon Wheels with Sauce Roquefort

Mémé LunchVolkswagen tells us: On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers. And yes, some drivers are wanted: wanted for rear-ending me in the parking lot! As my VW Jetta whispered to me on Friday, some drivers are just…merde.

It happened like this: I was home in Florida for a few days, and had been having lunch with Mémé (that’s my French-Moroccan grandmother). Of course, this was a food-related incident. I backed up; Driver X backed up. I honked…and honked and honked; Driver X didn’t hear. The inevitable BANG! Mémé came running. I jumped out of my car; “Didn’t you hear me?!” “No.” As the Jetta was the only vehicle damaged, I got stuck with the damages. As maman says: merde happens.

Admittedly, I sat for thirty minutes sobbing with the Jetta in the parking lot; hot tears releasing the steam of boiling injustice. When I got back on the road again, at a red light, I saw an SUV jet backwards into the car behind it, awaiting the green light right beside me. That got me thinking about the wheel of fortune. You can honk all you like, but it won’t always hit the brakes. Maybe it just didn’t hear you, or maybe you’ve just got it coming to you. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, and sometimes you go bankrupt. But so long as Vanna White’s nearby (or at least one of her more expensive dresses, so I can consign it for a Lanvin party dress), the road of life doesn’t have too many potholes after all.

Pâtes Roquefort

Pâtes Roquefort

When I got home, as you can imagine, I replaced the steaming injustice with water, and boiled a pot of one of my favorite comfort foods: Pâtes au Roquefort. It is a dish common to Parisian lunch menus; short pasta with a creamy sauce of piquant Roquefort blue cheese. In a turn of poetic justice, the only pasta I had in the house where wheels—I had been writing a story on the new Barilla shapes for SeriousEats. Maybe my collision was the perfect excuse to give you a crash course in bechamel: always keep this formula in mind–1 tablespoon of flour, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 cup of milk. You can double or triple as you like. I top a huge bowl of my Pâtes au Roquefort with a mixture of chopped toasted walnuts, fresh parsley, and Parmesan cheese to make it me.

The next day, I got the first parking spot in the row at Whole Foods. Looks like the wheel is spinning back my way…

The Wheel of Fortune was featured on SeriousEats.com’s Blogwatch!

Wagon Wheels with Sauce Roquefort
serves 4

Pâtes RoquefortIngredients

  • 1 pound of wagon wheel pasta (recommended: Barilla Mini Wheels)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and left whole
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • ⅓ pound of Roquefort, crumbled
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • ⅔ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • ⅓ cup parmesan, grated
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of parsley

Procedure

  1. Cook the pasta to “al dente” in a large pot full of salted boiling water. Drain.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, begin with a standard béchamel with garlic and lemon. Melt the butter at the bottom of a sauce pan over medium heat, and add in the whole smashed garlic cloves and the lemon zest, along with salt and pepper. Season well—milk sauces have a tendency to be bland.
  3. Add in the flour, and cook for a minute. Whisk in the milk, raise the heat, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Allow the sauce to cook until it thickens. The test is to dip a wooden spoon in the sauce, run your finger down the back, and if the sauce stays divided, the béchamel is done.
  5. Add in the Roquefort, and stir until it is combined.
  6. Toss the drained pasta with the Roquefort sauce, and pour into a large serving bowl.
  7. Mix together the parmesan, walnuts, and parsley. Scatter over the top of the pasta.
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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

Size Matters

Romance may be the domain of the French, but there are some American adages concerning dating—and eating—that I would like to address: to begin with, “there are many fish in the sea,” and “size doesn’t matter.”

As anyone who has nursed a broken heart will know, there may be many fish in the sea, but there’s only one that you want (to eat) on a regular basis: for me, that’s mussels.

And as for the second adage: girls, don’t listen to what they say! Size does matter…just not in the way you think.

Here in America, we are used to “bigger is better,” but I tend to stick to the French philosophy “quality over quantity.” So often in American restaurants when I order mussels (which I often do), they arrive, steaming in a lovely, bubbling broth, and now and again I’ll put one in my mouth, and it’s so large, and, well, flaccid and tasteless, that I think I have a second tongue.

In Normandy, where French mussel culture abounds, the mussels are “tout p’tit.” Little crustaceans packed with the sea’s briny flavor, and hearty in texture—small, and yet a real mouthful. Which proves the more controversial dating adage: “it’s not how big it is; it’s what you do with what you’ve got.”

Mussels La Tour

Mussels at La Tour

I started on this tirade because, as you know, my favorite all-you-can-eat mussels place (La Tour) in New York closed earlier this year. My father and I recently went to a little French restaurant just down our street that we’ve walked by for years–Demarchelier. Anyway, as they say in romance, “timing is everything,” and now we’ve gone 4 times in 2 weeks. As it turns out, their moules frites are the best in the city: the broth reeks of delicious thyme, silken with cream, and studded with shallots. And the mussels, like their Norman cousins, are “tout p’tit.”

Which leads me to my newest adage: the mussels should be small; the portion should be big

For my favorite mussels recipes: Flex!

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Categories: New York, Restaurants, Voyages