Play Nice

RECIPE: Mezze Penne Niçoise

You may not know this, but I am the reigning pétanque champion of the universe.

Pétanque is a sport of the south of France. It originated in Provence, and according to Wikipedia, 17 million French citizens take part in the game every year. One of my favorite places in Paris is Place Dauphine on Île de la Cité, a few paces from Notre Dame. There is a cafe there that makes perfect Artichoke Vinaigrette, and during the summer, I’ll eat just that and several plump hunks of baguette for dinner. As I sit on the terrace, the sun setting behind the old revolutionary jail that once imprisoned Marie Antoinette, who was then also facing the twilight of her life, I have my own little sports channel to watch. Out on the plaza, in the pits of sandy dirt that surround the soaring, swishy trees, couples and tangles of friends venture out in the dark light to play pétanque. As the silver balls jingle and twinkle as they collide, and old friends share a cigarette and a laugh, it seems to me, albeit too poetically, that Parisians are very much like pétanque balls. Exquisite to look at, like the gleaming silver balls with their variant war stripes. And always finding the occasion to fraternize, as the balls congregate around the jack.

Place Dauphine Map

Place Dauphine

I love pétanque. It is the only sport at which I have any semblance of prowess. And yet, Mr. English always beat me. Boys. That is, until yesterday, when I finished him, 5 to 4, on the last ball. I was hardly abashed; I started running around the lawn chanting “I am the pétanque champion of the universe” while Mr. English obediently collected our wayward balls while two old men passed and shot me a disbelieving look. They probably couldn’t believe I’d won an athletic competition against my boyfriend either.

Mezze Penne Niçoise

Mezze Penne Niçoise

When we came inside, of course we were famished, and I wanted to conjure up something that was evocative of the South of France in under 10 minutes. So I came up with Penne Niçoise, after Nice, the city on the sea in the South. The hearty baby penne are tossed with sauteed sweet shallots and zucchini, sauced with tomato paste, and like the pétanque balls, studded with interest with chili flakes, thyme, and mint. You could add olives as well to make it truly Niçoise, but we were fresh out. Perhaps a crowning of grated Pecorino Romano instead of my laurel wreath of victory. This recipe serves two, but double it if your pétanque team is slightly larger than ours.

I know I should stop gloating; that I should play nice. But the sweet (and spicy) taste of victory? Much Nicer.


Mezze Penne Niçoise
serves 2

Mezze Penne NiçoiseIngredients

  • ½ box mezze penne (small penne rigate, recommended: Barilla)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced into half moons

  • ½ small to medium zucchini, thinly sliced into half moons

  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped

  • 1 sprig of thyme

  • ½ teaspoon of chili flakes

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

  • Salt and pepper

  • Pecorino Romano to taste


  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until it is al dente.

  2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat, and add the shallots and zucchini and garlic and thyme and chili flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to soften for 5 minutes while the pasta cooks.

  3. To the vegetables, add the tomato paste, and sauté for one minute, incorporating it into the veggies. Add the fresh mint, and a few spoonfuls of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta, and toss everything together. Top with extra coarsely cracked black pepper and some grated Pecorino cheese, and maybe a few chopped black olives from Nice.

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Categories: Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

The Girl of Sandwich

RECIPE: Toasted Baguette with Camembert and Pears

The Girl of Sandwich, and her Royal Closet. Photo credit: Mr. English

The Earl of Sandwich was an Englishman. So is Mr. English. After he spent the ENTIRE day tunneling through my closet until we had, count them, six boxes packed for good will, I thought he deserved a thank you snack. I turned myself so I faced North and West, and scoured his homeland for inspiration. But I wasn’t going to serve him a modern English sandwich; mayonnaise and a plastic box being the most common and dominant ingredients. This sandwich was a thank you, after all.

So I decided to do some tunneling of my own–or rather, chunneling. I live on sandwiches when I’m in France. It is a culture that values perfect bread, and sophisticated cheeses and meats. An ideal situation for any sandwich to prosper, flourish, and find liberte, egalite, fraternite. In Paris, I stop every afternoon at the boulangerie and buy a baguette au chevre, or a half a baguette stuffed with tangy, creamy discs of fresh goat cheese, that crumble out with the crumbs of the bread for the sparrows to swoop in and collect. Or, I’ll buy a baguette and a mini wheel of the stinkiest cheese I can find, and sit myself down by the Seine for lunch.

Toasted Baguette with Camembert and Pears

Toasted Baguette with Camembert and Pears

This afternoon, I decided to add some French flavor to the old British standby, the panini. I know, the panini may sound Italian, but if you spend a few months living in England, you’ll swear the Earl of Sandwich had an Italian mistress, and invented the toasted sandwich too. I stuffed my baguette with fragrant, pungent, buttery camembert, which oozed and toasted on the sides. Sweet bosc pear and frisee lettuce were drizzled with honey and olive oil, and studded with salt and pepper. The crisp of the bread, the drool of the cheese, the bitter bite of bitter lettuce, the sweet chuckle of honey and pear. It was by far the most interesting sandwich I’d ever had. All the beauty of a French girl, and all the brains and conversational power of an English boy.

Our relationship on bread. Easy enough to swallow.


Toasted Baguette with Camembert and Pears

Toasted Baguette with Camembert and PearsThe best part of sandwiches is that there really is no recipe. For four, start with a baguette, and cut it into four pieces, then slice those in half horizontally. Place one thin layer of camembert from tip to tail of each slice of baguette, including the top and bottom of the same sandwich. Slice two bosc or bartlett pears thinly, and layer them on top of the camembert on the bottom halves of the bread. Trim one small head of frisee, and tostle the leaves on top of the pear. Drizzle with a touch of honey and olive oil to taste, and scatter with salt and pepper. Top with the camembert-laden top of bread. Put into a panini press until the bread is toasted and crunchy, and the cheese drips out at either side. Slice in half, and serve.

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Categories: Recipes

Crème de la Crème

Crème de Cassis Label

Crème de Cassis

Thanks, Révolutionnaires, for voting in December’s French Liqueur Poll. The winner (trumpets, horns, drums): crème de cassis, a sweet black currant liqueur that garnered forty percent of the vote. The liqueur got its first big break in the Kir and its sequel the Kir Royale, and has been a star of Francophile cocktail bars ever since. But here’s a new idea: reduce some crème de cassis in a pan so that it is just a bit more syrupy, and spoon it over vanilla ice cream. It gives new resonance to the phrase crème de la crème.

Be sure to vote in January’s poll: Which macaron flavor do you prefer?

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Categories: Uncategorized

Hair of the Dog

It is eight o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day, and I’m up. I never can sleep when I’ve had too much to drink.

Last night was shimmering–in that I like things that shimmer, but they also have a dull edge, without any clear resolution in my memory. Not even a New Year’s resolution. I’m a bit of an old lady at heart. I like silk and high necklines and pearls. I like staying home and reading in bed. I have been told that I am twenty six going on a hundred and six. I took it as a compliment.

So, when I find myself at a party, it is usually the goal of several persons present to see that I reach maximum capacity, and who try to fill my tank on fumes. I have an uncommonly high tolerance for alcohol, but congratulations, girls, last night was a success! I was a fish who fell into an uncommonly dry and bubbly tank, and who flopped around in it happily all evening.

If you, like me, need a bit of the hair of the dog this morning, try one of the six New Year’s Champagne cocktails I created for Serious Eats. And for New Year’s Brunch, which is a tradition in my family, I also created some suggestions. For me, New Year’s Brunch is about decadence to foreshadow fortune ahead, about carbs to soak up the champagne, and about efficiency so that even though I’m up, I don’t have to get out of bed for a while. And they will all be served with a bit of hair of the dog, a bottle of Perrier Jouet I saved for the occasion. All recipes follow.

Woof woof.

Champagne with Mint Syrup, Creme de Menthe, and Mint Sugar
Toasted Almond
Champagne with Amaretto and Toasted Almond Sugar
Nutella Champagne Shooter
Champagne with Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and Frangelico
Kir Royale du Bois
Champagne with Berry Vodka, Creme de Mure, and Blackberry Puree
Shirley Temple, All Grown Up
Champagne with Cherry Brandy and Fresh Cherries
Chic French 75
Champagne with Lemon and Gin, and Sugar Cubes
Smoked Salmon Fougasse
Fougasse is French focaccia. This recipe uses store-bought pizza dough, and tops it with Scottish smoked salmon, fried capers, and lemon creme fraiche for something better than your morning bagel.
Mache Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing
Mache is a delicate leaf that is increasingly popular in the States. The dressing of seasonal pomegranate flavor makes use of my new favorite secret ingredient, pomegranate molasses. It is a Mediterranean pomegranate syrup that is sweet and tart and sharp and like nothing else.
Black Truffle Fettuccine
The piece de resistance. I read somewhere that white truffles are Italian; black truffles are French. The sauce is just truffle butter from d’Artagnan and cream. Easy peasy, and perfect.
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Categories: Recipes

Resolute. (Part I)

RECIPE: Brownie Bites, à la Framboise, et à la Menthe
Brownie Bites

Brownie Bites with Raspberry and Mint

This year, my New Year’s resolution is to cheat. I want to be a scoundrel; a low-down, good-for-nothing. Not in the bedroom of course, but in the kitchen.

Tonight I am invited to a friend’s big New Year’s bash. And she would like me to bring dessert. Immediately, being who I am, I start the tick tock of machinery in my head. Flavored brownie bites, like my Framboise-Framboise Brownies, and maybe Amaretti Cupcakes. My friend said everything should be bite-size.

Mr. English and my mother warn me not to put myself out. You want to enjoy the holiday, too, you know, and the Florida sun. My mother turns to me and says, “You know, Costco makes brownie bites.” The box houses 48 little two-bites of perfection, with crisp edges, and a molten center you could just about jump into and live in without missing the rest of the world.

“Costco!?” I turn, flaming with fury. “I would never!” Wouldn’t I? Mr. English challenges me to a game of petanque; the sun is shining, and a cool breeze is coming off the ocean. The kitchen begins to feel like a jail. I could make the glaze for the brownies, and no one would ever be the wiser. And for the Amaretti Cupcakes, well, I could use a Duncan Hines mix.

And, friends, that is exactly what I did. I made two glazes for the brownie bites–one made from fresh raspberries, and one from creme de menthe. After I topped them with fresh raspberries and mint leaves and the glazes hardened, they looked ready for glossy magazine shots. As for the Amaretti Cupcakes, I spiked the cakemix with almond extract, and made a glaze from Amaretto. A few slivers of almond on top, and they are ready for the party.

I am dirty rotten. A cheater, to the core. And I couldn’t be more proud.


Brownie Bites, à la Framboise, et à la Menthe
makes 48 brownie bites

Brownie BitesIngredients for the Framboise Brownie Glaze

  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

  • 1 cup frozen raspberries, thoroughly thawed

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 24 raspberries, for garnish

Ingredients for the Menthe Brownie Glaze

  • 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

  • 3 tablespoons crème de menthe

  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • 24 mint leaves, for garnish

Other Ingredients

  • 48 brownie bites


  1. In two separate bowls, combine the glaze ingredients for each flavor. For the raspberry glaze, put the thawed raspberries into a blender, and whirl until smooth. Pass the mixture through a sieve to catch any seeds. Add the resulting juice to the powdered sugar, along with the water. You’ll want to read the consistency of the glaze before adding the water—add until it is smooth and thick, but also runny enough to spread.

  2. For the mint glaze, mix the powdered sugar with crème de menthe (you can use white or green), peppermint extract, and water.

  3. When you dip the brownie bites, don’t put them in face down, and lift straight up, or you will form an air pocket that will mar the façade of the glaze. Instead, put them in the glaze face down, holding onto their bodies, and then pull out at an angle, allowing excess glaze to run off. Top with a fresh mint leaf or raspberry. Allow them to set before eating.

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Categories: Chocolate, Desserts, Easy, Eat, Recipes, Vegetarian

Resolute. (Part II)

RECIPE: Amaretti Cupcake Bites
Amaretti Cupcakes

Amaretti Cupcake Bites

Amaretti Cupcake Bites

Amaretti CupcakesIngredients

  • 1 box Duncan Hines white cake mix

  • 1 cup water

  • 1/3 cup milk

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons almond extract

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar

  • 3 tablespoons Amaretto

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • Sliced almonds, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a mini muffin pan, place mini cupcake papers, and then spray each with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the cake mix, 1 cup water, milk, vegetable oil, and almond extract until it just comes together as a batter. Spoon the batter ¾ of the way up each muffin tin. Bake for 22 minutes. You will need two muffin tins, or to do two batches.

Remove the cupcakes from the tins, and peel off the papers, allowing them then to cool completely.

Put the glaze together by adding the Amaretto and the 2 tablespoons water to the powdered sugar, and mixing until it forms a thick but runny glaze. Spoon over the top of the cool cupcakes, and allow it to run down the sides. Place a few sliced almonds on top of each cupcake for garnish.

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Categories: Recipes

Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel (Part I)

Only, I didn’t make it out of clay. I made my Hanukkah this year, as do most of us, from brisket, potatoes, challah, and deep-fry oil. And though I didn’t exactly wait for my food to be dry, it did have to be ready before I could get into the festivities.

This year for Serious Eats, I put together an 8-phase (for the 8 days of Hanukkah) menu for the holidays, starting with smoked salmon tartare for an appetizer, and ending with the last palate cleanser of Manischewitz granita. Mr. English was in town, and my mom, and M. Francais, and my friends. It was the first time since I was a child that I celebrated Hanukkah, and my first ever time celebrating Christmas. I’m sold!

And at the end of the night, I bought some of the gourmet M & Ms and challenged everyone to a game of dreidel, which, again, I bought, instead of making it out of clay. And dreidel we did play. We sat in a circle on the floor, with our little dog weaving in and out between the dancing top and the chocolates. May the best dreideler win!

Haha, it was me! Thanks mostly to the Manishewitz granita. You have to feel like a spinning top, if you want to win with the spinning top.

For Dinner:

And for Breakfast:

Challah Pain Perdu with Vanilla Creme Anglaise


Check out the following posts for the recipes!

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Categories: Uncategorized