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
 

The Ink Pot

RECIPE: Pâtes Chanel

Many years ago, my father travelled to London—to the new Globe Theater. He came back with a gift; a beautiful Venetian glass pen, and a pot of obsidian ink—thick and black and enveloping of everything in its path. I know, because I spilled it.

Years later, after college, I travelled to Venice with my mother and M. Français, her longtime partner. We spent the day on the island of Murano, watching the Venetians roast the running glass in kilns, and pluck it into glowing glass quills. My old English pen was on my mind at dinner that nightpasta, fish, when my spaghetti arrived—it looked as though someone else had spilled a pot of black ink!

I am a writer and a cook, so really it was only a matter of time before I started cooking things with ink. Inevitable really. But, like so many of my generation, the idea of actually writing, or cooking for that matter, with real, wet, rich ink was something of an anachronistic novelty. But as for me, I like anything old fashioned—be it in a cocktail glass, or elsewhere—and so I decided to learn the ropes.

I searched relatively, but not too, hard for packets of squid ink. I found it at Citarella in New York City; it comes in little packets (8 ounces for $3). Though I am scared of the dark, I found I had nothing to be afraid of; it can be added to any dish like olive oil or salt, and it’s not as powerful as it looks. Like Shakespeare’s ink, it is thick and black and enveloping—so thick it is hard to get out of the packets, but fortunately, not so black that it didn’t wash off my hands.

I tried those unstained hands at two dishes: Pâtes Chanel and Riz du Poete (The Poet’s Rice). The first is inspired by that pasta dish in Venice, however mine is the chic French version of the little black dress (it is completely black), and made with dry French Chardonnay. The second is a bit Basques, a big pot of black saffron rice, studded with fresh green peas and meaty strips of squid. I love a salty bite—in my food, or my sentences.

And so I got down to eating my words…

Riz du Poete

1 10-ounce pack of yellow rice (recommended: Vigo)

3 sprigs of thyme

1 cup of frozen peas, thawed

1 roasted yellow pepper, peeled and sliced

½ pound of calamari, diced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic (whole)

2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

2 ½-3 ½ cups of water

¼ cup of white wine

8 ounces of squid ink

Salt and pepper

1. In a stock pot, sauté the onion, garlic, and thyme with salt and pepper.

2. After 5 minutes, when the onion is translucent, add the in the rice to toast for one minute.

3. Add the wine, allow to evaporate for just a minute, and add the water (2 ½ cups) and ink. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. You may need to add more water, so just check the rice. Cook for 30 minutes.

4. In the final 5 minutes of cooking time, add in the peas and calamari.

5. Garnish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the strips of roasted yellow pepper, along with a few green olives, if you like.

Pâtes Chanel
serves 4

Chanel PastaIngredients

  • 1.1 pounds of black spaghetti or linguine
  • ½ pound of bay scallops
  • ½ pound of calamari rings
  • 1 pound of mussels
  • 8 ounces of squid ink
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • ½ cup of white wine
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, cold and cubed
  • 2 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley
  • 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
  • Salt and Pepper

Procedure

  1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, being sure to leave it “al dente.”
  2. Mean while, sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil for about 4 minutes.
  3. When they are soft and translucent, add the scallops, calamari, and mussels, along with the wine and ink and salt and pepper. Cover and raise the heat to medium high for 4 or 5 minutes, until the mussels open.
  4. Toss the pasta with the black seafood sauce and cold butter, and top with a mixture of Parmesan and parsley.
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Getting Serious

Serious Eats Macarons

Image from seriouseats.com

Chers Révolutionnaires, I have more news to share! I have taken an internship writing for SeriousEats.com, a fantastic food blog dealing with all things culinary at the heart of the heart of the culinary world, New York City. Visit here to check out my work for them. Me and food writing? Looks like we’re getting serious!

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The Mousetrap

scroll down for a fondue recipe…

Those of you who know me know Cleo, the most forceful personality in my life from the ages of 6 to 24. Cleo was a cat (yes, a very old chat at that).

Some people in Manhattan call exterminators; we, however, had a far more merciless pest deterrent in the vicious and voracious Cleopatra Saretsky. In my most impressionable years, I would walk through the foyer of our apartment, only to find a poor lost soul, all ears and tail and whiskers, dragging a bloody and bedraggled grey body temporarily out of the clutches of the furry claws of dearest Cleo. Having been a mouse for Halloween, I immediately sympathized with the little victims, and scooped them up on two paper plates, placing them safely in the hallway, with a hunk of cheese to see them through to recovery.


I gave a great deal of consideration to their feline-recovery fromage. The fridge was, of course, stocked by my French mother, and the mice on East 68th Street were rarely treated to such commonalities as plain ol’ cheddar. No! Hunks of Saint Andre and Explorateur, the very best Parmigianino, and if I was feeling particularly empathetic, a whole wheel of bonbel (wax removed), which was, at the time, my absolute favorite. I do hope that with such a quality supply, I didn’t lure our little neighbors back into the danger zone.

It was all too appropriate then, that on the day of my cheese course at Artisanal at their headquarters on West 37th Street, that I was wearing my favorite pair of Marc Jacobs mouse shoes. Sometimes New York can seem like a pair of cat’s claws, batting you around all day until you are just so exhausted, you could just give up. Tuesday was just such a day, so that by the time I finally arrived, I felt like I’d been lifted up by two paper plates and dropped down, bedraggled myself, in the dim hallways of East 68th Street. I know that I was right to provide those happy mice with such delicacies, for by the time I walked out of Artisanal that night, I was very much recovered.

First, the greeting area was filled with bottles of Cava, and 10 different cheeses, with jams and nuts and dried fruit, and of course, crackers and hunks of baguette. Creamy rounds, fragrant tomes, pungent blues, bright chevres—I tasted them all. Ok, I more than tasted them all. Then, out came the fondue—no, they wouldn’t say what cheeses they used, but had I been a mouse, I would have considered the thing a delectable hot tub and decided to end my days surrounded by the creamiest of luxuries. Delicious and positively reeking of white wine.


Once inside the classroom, we learned with surprising detail about the different milks, the different washes, the different techniques and rinds and wrappers of cheese. Did you know that the way to “blue” a cheese is to pierce it with needles so the mold can penetrate all the way through, creating teal marble from simple milk and rennet? We learned how to properly taste cheese: pierce it with your fork (don’t spread it on bread!), sniff it, and then coat your mouth in it. We learned to pair it with wine, by matching the texture and weight of the glass with the cheese. I even, for the first time in my life, met a cheese I didn’t like (Brescianella Stagionata, ITALY, cow’s milk). It was so pungent that had I given it to one of Cleo’s victims, it would have finished off what she started.

At the end of the affair, was a crumbled, cheesy cheese cake, with praline crust and topping. I was speechless, if a bit drunk; quiet as a mouse in mouse shoes.

What can I say? Cheese is like catnip to me. I simply can’t resist!

Below, I have listed for you the cheeses that we tried, for you to sample as well. You can get them all at Artisanal. I also highly recommend their bistro. And below that, my fondue recipe. But here let me just share a few words of wisdom concerning fondue, and you won’t be disappointed. First, buy an electric fondue pot if you’re doing cheese; candles really only work on chocolate. Second, toss the shredded cheese with a bit of cornstarch—that’s what makes it smooth, and prevents the cheese from separating when it’s heated. Third, use more wine, or Kirsch, or beer, than you think necessary. Fourth, remember the famous rhyme: while the cat’s away, the mice will play. Play with any cheeses you like, and add herbs or garlic or ham—anything! It’s melted cheese; how could it be bad?

Bon app!

Artisanal Cheeses

  1. Roves de Garrigues
  2. Monte Enebro
  3. Ossau au Piment d’Esplette
  4. Chaource
  5. Montgomery’s Cheddar
  6. Brescianella Stagionata
  7. Tome des Bauges
  8. Blu del Moncenisio

Sign up for a class at Artisanal.

Basic Fondue

The Fondue

1 cup of white wine

5-6 cups of shredded gruyere cheese

1 tablespoon of corn starch

The Bathers

1 Belgian endive, end removed and spears separated

1 baguette, sliced thinly on an angle

2 granny smith apples, cored, and cut into wedges

2 dry sausages, sliced

1 head of broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and shocked in ice water

  1. In a sauce pot, heat the wine over a medium flame.
  2. Separately, toss the cheese with the cornstarch. This is the key step that most people tend to omit, but it is necessary to absorb the excess moisture in the cheese to keep the fondue smooth.
  3. When the wine is hot, add the cheese and cornstarch, and shut off the flame. Stir to melt.
  4. Pour the cheese into a warm electric fondue pot—these are easy to find and inexpensive nowadays. Arrange the beigneuses on a platter, and get dipping.
  5. I would recommend mixing the cheeses; adding perhaps a fontina, even a brie or a blue. Add thyme and garlic. Or add crumbled bits of crisped prosciutto. Enjoy!

My Serious Eats review of Artisanal’s cheese course…

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Categories: Finds, New York, Voyages