Holy Crêpe

Summer is over! Back to the Revolution!

I suppose I do write a lot about crêpes, but I do hope you’ll indulge my indulgence. You see, the most miraculous thing of all has happened, and it is my duty to spread the good news.

I will be spending the next months chez moi in New York, and against all my expectations or better judgment, I began to feel sad at the prospect of temporarily leaving England. Of course, Mr. English is to be greatly missed, but above all, what about all my lovely French ingredients, like cassis mustard and lardons and fromage frais that are impossible to get across “le lac”?!

If France is my culinary Mecca, then I prepared myself for excommunication. And yet, I had a religious experience at Eli Zabar’s The Vinegar Factory on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I stood in line for the register, clutching my champagne grapes and Lorina and baguette, and there was the vision. I believe someone once saw the Virgin Mary in a pancake; well, I saw the pancake itself! “Holy Crêpe!” I exclaimed. There, before me, was a French relic of unknown value, but priced fairly reasonably at around seven dollars: LeSter imported Breton crêpes, vacuum sealed and thin as the pages of the King James Bible. And next to the plain crêpes, folded in half like gossamer, sweet doilies, were little prepackaged crêpe “cigars” that came in flavors: chocolate (by Whaou crêpes), tarte tatin (LeSter as well), and the advertised but unstocked tarte au citron. I took home a chocolate crêpe cigar, put it in the toaster so that the crêpe crisped and the chocolate oozed, and soon I was speaking in tongues—or at least, tasting the crêpe while chattering excitedly and incomprehensibly to Mr. English.

When I wrote Buckwheat Bronco, a post offering innovative approaches to crêpes, I wanted to tell you to use store-bought crêpes, but after a definitive sweep of Oxford, I found none. So, I had to develop a recipe for crêpe batter. But my advice on crêpes is as follows: they are a street food, so you should never feel trapped in the kitchen in order to eat one. And LeSter is just proof that French people don’t like being crucified to the stove any more than we do. Either, use my batter recipe, and make them ahead—even a triple batch. Or, and I would say even better yet, buy Breton crêpes, and have them as I do: done simply as if from a Parisian rue-vendor, and eaten on the tip of the Ile de la Cite, surrounded by the Seine and the sparrows. Of course, Central Park and pigeons will do as well.

This week’s recipes are simple reconstructions of the Parisian street crêpe, to be made strictly with prepurchased Breton pancakes!: my favorite, crêpe with gruyere; with chocolate; and lastly, the classic Parisian crêpe, with sugar and lemon. I also offer little extras to make these traditional recipes a bit more unique. These recipes really don’t call for measurements. All you do is put the crêpe in a large, nonstick skillet over medium low heat, add so of the ingredients to one side of the crêpe, and fold away as they melt into it. Remember: triangular means sweet; rectangular means savory. Make them for breakfast, surely, but selon moi, they are the perfect midnight snack.

You can keep your daily bread. I’d rather be a little devil, with my holy crêpes.

Crêpes with Gruyere

For 1 large prepared Breton crêpe:
¼ cup of shredded gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

goutez avec: serrano or prosciutto ham
dijon mustard
freshly chopped herbs, like mint or thyme

Crêpes with Chocolate

For 1 large prepared Breton crêpe:
¼ cup of dark chocolate chips

goutez avec: bitter orange marmalade
dried, sweet coconut
fresh, tart raspberries and strawberries

Crêpes a la Parisian

For 1 large prepared Breton crêpe:
Several tablespoons of sugar
The juice of ¼ lemon (just squeeze over the crêpe as the sugar heats and melts)

goutez avec: lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar
blood orange juice, zest, and sugar (lower the sugar content when using oranges)
fresh orange juice, sugar, and orange flower water

BON APP!

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Categories: Finds
 

All That Glitters

RECIPE: Macarons

Legend has it that there is a lost city of gold and treasure that stands proudly closeted behind a green-vine curtain in the misty jungles of South America. Legend has it wrong. As it happens the lost city of El Dorado is actually quite easy to get to, and is already known by another name. Simply book a flight on Air France and exit the plane at Paris.

I imagine that many a conquistador hoped he would find a trove of treasure, emeralds, diamonds, rubies, sapphires all tucked away and tumbled together in a chest, waiting to be discovered. But I have already found the treasure chest: rows and columns of perfect macarons hued like the gemstones of legend, packed neatly into a glass case at Laduree. Ecstasy, and a mint-green Victorian sign swinging Frenchly in the breeze, mark the spot.

If you read French Revolution at all regularly, chances are you’ve heard of my penchant for macarons, and the empty ache I generally experience in my daily existence without them. Macarons are rare in the States, and even more rarely any good, so it is likely that you’ll need an explanation. Macarons are little cookie sandwiches. Ganache, jam, or cream glues two almond wafers together. But unlike, say, a plain old Oreo, macarons are marked for their texture, like a crisp robin’s egg that cracks and melts and then oozes when you bite into it, and also their exquisitely whimsical colors and flavors, like lily of the valley, citronella, and violet-cassis to name a few of the odder ones. My favorites? Rose, pistachio, orange blossom, and lemon, in that order.

Like those conquistadors, I am often ready to lay down my life, or at least a day’s worth of complacent happiness, in a fit of absolute macaron lust. But several centuries have passed, and I believe the mindset here in the Americas has changed: who wants to be a slave to fate or the gods? Cities of gold have never been found, and macarons have never rained from the sky. So, I decided to turn to an even older legend. I made up my mind to become an alchemist.

To that end, I took the train to “El Dorado,” a name that bares shocking phonetic resemblance to Laduree, does it not? When in Paris, I enrolled at the premiere amateur cooking school, Ecole Lenotre, and signed up for a course on how to turn almond flour and egg whites into macarons, the modern gastronomic equivalent of spinning straw into gold.

For my day as Rumpelstiltskin, I began with lunch at the Ecole Lenotre café, tucked under the leafy branches of the Place de la Concorde end of the Champs Elysee. There, I indulged in a creamy, cold green asparagus velouté, served with blanched, salted asparagus tips, and, the end all and be all, a savory pea frozen macaron topped with cracked black pepper. Oh my little loves! So versatile! An emerald worth its weight…

I then embarked on the way to wealth. I, and seven other Rumpelstiltskins, swathed in white linen aprons, girdled in kitchen towels, and waving silicon spatulas, crowded around the Alchemist: our chef, crowned in a Lenotre white pillar chef’s hat, with his gallic profile, Frenchly trilling voice, and gilded secrets. There he told us that if you weigh certain amounts of almond powder, powdered sugar, and egg whites, and baked them on three baking sheets and parchment paper for around 10 minutes, along with food coloring in droves to color the golden wafers into the hues of lemon topaz, caramel citrine, coffee obsidian, you would have macarons! For the center, we conjured up lemon crème, fresh fleur de sel caramel, and chocolate ganache. Newly minted millionaires, we then decided to sit down and hide it all in the best place we could think of: our stomachs!

As I sat on a bench in the Place Saint Sulpice with a little bag of Pierre Hermé macarons, I knew that macarons constituted the fortune of the culinary world: hard, bright, flashy, and expensive like any jewel. In my hand I had two macarons. Of course, I ate the quartz-colored rose first, the pink shell cracking and exposing a rush of cream fresh as rose petals. And then, I tried it: the diamond. A jasmine macaron dusted in powdered silver, that flashed in the sun and smelt like moonlight. Mr. English tells me that jewels are supposed to only enhance a woman’s beauty; he also says that nothing is more beautiful on me than a smile. Macarons, then, are my greatest accessory.

I can’t give away (for free!) the recipe for spinning gold, Lenotre’s complete macaron recette, but I will tell you how to make the shells. The secret is, the shells almost all taste the same—of almonds—and are simply dyed to reflect the flavor that you imbue into the filling. You could make a lemon crème, a chocolate ganache, a raspberry confiture, a caramel—you could flavor them a million different ways. To be simple, just whip some cream and add vanilla extract, or something more extravagant, like jasmine extract. But here is how you make those robin egg shells…

Remember, all that glitters is not gold…no. It is pistachio green, rose pink, lemon yellow, licorice black, and, mmm mmm, chocolate brown.

This is my simplified version of the Ecole Lenotre recipe. For all the secrets, enroll yourself! It was the best 130 Euros I will ever have spent.

BON APP!

Macarons

Ingredients

  • 250 grams of almond powder mixed with 250 grams of powdered sugar (500 grams of what is known as tant pour tant)
  • 200 grams of powdered sugar
  • 200 grams of egg whites
  • 50 grams of white sugar
  • Food coloring

Procedure

  1. Whirl the tant pour tant and powdered sugar in a food processor, pulsing three times.
  2. Whip the sugar and egg whites until they are just stiff.
  3. Quickly, but gently and thoroughly and in three parts, fold the almond and sugar mixture into the egg whites.
  4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag with a number 7 tip.
  5. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
  6. Stack 3 baking sheet, and line the top with parchment paper. Pipe, careful not to crowd, little macaron halves onto the parchment.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the sheet once through.
  8. Leave to cool slightly, and then pour water between the parchment and the baking sheet. The macarons will absorb the moisture, and after a few minuets, you can turn them, and release them from the parchment.
  9. Allow to cool completely, and then fill as you will.
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Categories: Paris, Voyages
 

Big, & Easy

RECIPE: Beignets with Lavender Sugar and Apricot Sauce

Dear Révolutionnaires, you have voted, and the winner of French Revolution’s July poll is…

cajun/creole cuisine!

Although I spent a good part of my life growing up in Florida, where you can buy Jambalaya rice for a matter of dimes in the “rice and beans” aisle of the local Publix, I never tasted Louisiana cookin’ until I went up North to college at Princeton. My eating club was renowned for being full of Southerners, for Princeton is touted as the Ivy of the South, and on one illustrious and memorable evening, we held our annual formal “Gatsby Night” to celebrate our most illustrious alumnus: F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the corner I saw a big and boisterous man, black as the night that hung down all around us in the bannistered old courtyard, with a smile bright as the white stars that were just a few of our many lanterns, standing and attempting to spoon chunks of deep-fried something on to the hungry plates of the pearl-and-pin-stripe-clad guests. They fled, so I walked over to him, and asked him what lay beneath the crispy golden coat: “buttermilk-battered, cornmeal-crusted alligator!” he bellowed.

Mon Dieu! “Alligator!” I cried incredulously, “why, I have those in my backyard!” Now this got him excited, because he could see we came from the same place (or rather, from within a few inches of each other on a standard classroom map). Very few things unite those of the Deep South more than the universal hatred of the alligator—on the Florida highway Alligator Alley, it is considered (an illegal) sport to transport any alligator that crosses the road to kingdom come as quickly as possible with a dreaded squash of your tires. “What does it taste like?” I prodded. At this he laughed. “Just like chicken!”

I piled a few alligator fritters onto my plate, breathed deeply, and took a bite. Now, I, in my flapper finest, was the one covered in feathers, but I have to admit, it tasted, vraiment comme le poulet—like a much crisper and moister white meat chicken McNugget.

In fact, chicken McNuggets were my “last meal” before Hurricane Katrina, in Round 1 of her fury, passed over my ocean-side Florida home. Seeing as how I would be eating nothing that didn’t come from a can for at least a few days, I tried to make that drive-through meal on the way to the shelter memorable. And, of course, seeing as how it was Katrina and how McNuggets remind me so terribly much of deep-fried alligator, I never did forget.

And in a way, Creole and Cajun cuisine is a form of living memory. Truth be told Cajun and Creole are two different things; Cajun derives from the word Acadian, describing the refugees who fled New France (Canada) and settled in Louisiana. Creole describes a person of Louisiana descent prior to the Louisiana purchase. However, these days, the two have become so confused and intermarried, that I use them to describe Louisiana cuisine in general. When the Acadians left Canada, they brought their inveterate taste and knowledge of French cuisine to the swamps of the Deep South, where they were forced, as poor, large families, to “make do.” Thus, the mire poix of French cuisine (onions, celery, carrot) became the “Trinity” (onions, celery, bell pepper). Roux was used to cook crawfish and, potentially, the woebegone alligator. The cuisine came to envelop every inhabitant of the region, as Native American sassafras and African okra became staples of the local “French” cuisine.

Louisiana SwampSo now, as Emeril Lagasse has told us, we have Louisiana to thank for such “kicked up” foodstuffs as fiery andouille sausage and impertinently hot gumbo. If you can believe it, I have never, ever been to New Orleans, a city I’ve wanted to go to all my life. But I am travelling to the Big Easy in the middle of September, and I know precisely where I am going to pay my first visit: Café du Monde, the coffee shop famous for its fluffy, geometric beignets.

Beignets are French doughnuts—could anything be better!? The Acadians brought the recipe down with them, and they became a staple of Louisiana cuisine, a staple so famous that Café du Monde sells its beignet batter online. So for this month’s special poll recipe, I am going to share with you a very French version of this Louisiana classic: Beignets with Lavender Sugar and Apricot Sauce.

Cafe du Monde ImageIn my family, we take apple slices, dip them in beignet batter, and fry them up for French apple donuts. You could do that, of course, but why bother with fruit when you are being so positively decadent in every other respect? Balls of choux pastry are deep fried until the beignets are crisp and golden on the outside, and creamy and airy on the inside. Then I roll them in sugar studded with lavender blossoms, and dip them in apricot jam, melted down into a hot and smothering sauce. The flavors are big, and the recipe is easy—chapeau to New Orleans.

It’s time to kick it up a notch, with this throwback to French colonial cuisine. See you later, alligator!

After a while, gumbo filé…

BON APP!

Apricot Lavender Beignets

Apricot Lavender Beignets

Make sure to vote in this month’s French Revolution poll…
Cut It Out: How Do You Like Your French Fries?

At the end of August, I’ll give you a “Revolutionary” recipe based on your answers. Thanks for voting!

Beignets with Lavender Sugar and Apricot Sauce

Apricot Lavender BeignetsIngredients

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup of apricot jam
  • ¼ cup of water
  • ¾ cup of white sugar (for dusting)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried edible lavender blossoms

Procedure

  1. The batter for these beignets is choux pastry—the same dough used to make profiteroles and éclairs. Melt the butter over medium-low heat and add the sugar, salt, and water.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and dissolve the sugar.
  3. Take the pan off the heat and add the flour. Return the pan to the heat, and stir until the dough comes together.
  4. Turn the dough out into a bowl and beat with a hand mixer for 30 seconds to cool off the pastry.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until the pastry dough comes together.
  6. Fill a stock pot one third of the way up with vegetable oil. Heat the oil to 325 degrees.
  7. You want to keep the beignets small because they will puff in the oil, and if you make them too large, the will burn on the outside before they cook on the inside. So you want to make them about the size of ping pong balls. Drop the beignets into the oil, in small batches, and turn them over every so often.
  8. Pull them out when they are golden and puffed.
  9. Toss them into a brown paper bag with the lavender and sugar. Shake the beignets around in the bag to coat.
  10. To make the apricot glaze, melt ½ cup of apricot jam with ¼ cup of water on the stove. Serve alongside the beignets.
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Bag(uette) Lady

RECIPE: Paul’s Savoreux: Salami and Cornichon with Dijon Butter

scroll down for the following baguette sandwich recipes (inspired by Paul)…

Le Sesame Camembert

Le Savoreux

Mozzarella and Tomato with Basil Pistou and Fried Capers on Olive Bread

To me, it is absolutely not a coincidence that Gaul decided to write down to hôtel de ville and change her name to France, for when I go to Paris it is to pursue my two other “F” passions: food and fashion. And, of course, to visit my boyfriend Paul.

Now, admittedly, the French do take quite a continental stance on the “mistress” (although, in this reversed case, would it be the “master”?), but I assure you that Paul is in no way a French fling at the expense of Mr. English. I just figure, I can’t expect one man to fulfill all my many needs, and while Mr. English may someday provide me with a diamond “bague,” Paul, the boulangerie, keeps me in baguettes.

It disappoints me to divulge that Paul is in relationships with many other women; it seems to me that I see him positively everywhere. We usually rendezvous around breakfast time on the corner of rue de Seine and rue de Buci in St. Germain, but just the other day, I ran into him at Gare du Nord, and he often flaunts himself on the Champs-Elysées. I have even heard that he has been spotted in America—a woman in every port! The gall of that Gaul!

But all pretense aside, I have never been a very selfish girl. Paul has something special to give that no man or boulangere has even been able to give women before: fromagey fougasses, sugar-sparkling macarons, and, above all, the perfect baguette. And he is now the most prolific and promiscuous bakery in Paris, with stores on every thoroughfare, and indeed, he has opened several outposts in Florida. And while I suppose this takes some of the romance out of our relationship, it is good to know that I can have him whenever and wherever I want him.

I’m not sure if lovers are au courant these days the way they were in the years of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but bags certainly are à la mode. And perhaps like a lover, the bigger the better. It interests me to consider that the “it” bag is evolving into something evermore enormous, with an Hermes or a Chanel positively threatening to swallow the sallow girl onto whose arm he links his own. It is not a matter of carrying, but a matter of display. The wallet and the iphone are the occasion for the bag lady to sortir avec her handsome escort.

And so French food holds up the mirror to French fashion, for chez Paul, it is what lies between the bread that occasions, not the bag, but the baguette. As Mireille Guiliano notes in French Woman Don’t Get Fat, the smattering of pâté becomes the excuse for the crusty pain. Nothing could be farther from the Broadway delicatessen, with two flaccid bits of rye ineffectually bookending a skyscraper of pastrami dripping under a sun shower of Golden’s spicy mustard. No, at Paul, when you walk up to the glass sandwich case, you have to look mighty hard at the label before the sandwich before you realize that there is anything but baguettes in the window.

But how very French. Hermes employs one person to make each Birkin bag from start to finish, and the same care and expertise is applied to the famous bread, a bread that has come to stand as a symbol for France itself. It is no wonder then, that the wallet is the happy catalyst for a display of the bag, and a slice of salami and cornichon is the happy occasion to consume the baguette.

This week, I recreate three of my favorite Paul sandwiches, with a few added touches. Olive bread sandwiches fresh mozzarella marinated in fresh basil pistou, lined with tomatoes, and studded with the unexpected and crisp briny tang of fried capers. Le Savoreux is a sandwich on baguette of rosette, a Lyonnais salami, sliced cornichons, and butter—I create a Dijon butter instead, and use Milano salami, easier to find in America. And Le Sesame Camembert is simply butter, camembert, and green lettuce on sesame baguette, which I recreate exactly to its simple perfection.

The French affair in Le Divorce ends with the man telling the girl to think of all that they had learned from each other. My dear Paul has shown me that while the hollandaise or the macaron can be a bit tricky, complicated, and, culinarily speaking, “French,” true, traditional French food is very simple and sophisticated. Coco Chanel once gave the following fashion advice on how to simplify: “Before leaving the house, take one thing off.” The laws of French fashion, and perhaps French romance, hold fast for French food.

I suppose I have become a bit continental myself, for I have no plans to end my lusty, crusty love affair with dear Paul. But for goodness sake, don’t tell Mr. English!

 

Paul's Sesame Camembert

Paul's Sesame Camembert

Paul’s Le Sesame Camembert

250 grams of Camembert

4 leaves of Bibb lettuce

1 tablespoon of butter, room temperature

4 crusty sesame rolls

  1. Slice the Camembert into quarters, and then each quarter into four slices.
  2. Slice the rolls almost all the way through, so they hinge, and butter both sides ever so lightly.
  3. Line the bottom half of the bread with a lettuce leaf, and four slices of Camembert.

 

Paul's Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich

Paul's Tomato Mozzarella Sandwich

Paul’s Mozzarella and Tomato Sandwich with Crispy Capers and Basil Pistou

Basil Pistou

1 25-gram bunch of basil leaves

½ clove of garlic

5 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper

Sandwich

4 olive rolls

2 150-gram balls of fresh mozzarella

2 vine tomatoes, cored and sliced
Salt

2 tablespoons of capers

Olive oil

  1. Make the pistou by whirling together all the ingredients in the food processor.
  2. Slice the mozzarella thinly, and leave to marinate in the pistou.
  3. Slice the tomatoes the same thickness as the mozzarella, and sprinkle with salt.
  4. Heat a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a small pan on high heat. Make sure the capers are drained, and pat them dry. Fry them for 2-3 minutes until they are crispy crunchy and drain.
  5. To assemble the sandwiches, slice the olive rolls in half horizontally, and then lay the mozzarella and tomatoes on the bottom slice, alternating. Sprinkle with the crisp capers, and top with the top of the bread.

BON APP!

Paul’s Savoreux: Salami and Cornichon with Dijon Butter
serves 4

Paul's Savoreux Salami and CornichonIngredients

  • 70 grams of sliced salami
  • 4 cornichons, cut in thirds horizontally
  • 1 tablespoon of butter, room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 4 crusty French rolls

Procedure

  1. With a fork, mash together the butter and Dijon mustard.
  2. Slice the rolls in half horizontally almost all the way through, so they hinge, and very lightly butter the bread with the Dijon butter.
  3. Divide the salami slices and cornichon slices between the four rolls.
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Categories: Recipes
 

You Say You Want a Revolution: Adieu Florent

Chers Révolutionnaries, I apologize for the delay with these editions. I have been in Paris, garnering from hither and thither all sorts of ideas for more recipes for you. Please, accept my apology. Here is the promised Bastille Day post…stay tuned for some short Parisian tales…

Adieu Florent!

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And while the last few years may seem like some of the worst, I had some of the best times in the midst of the worst, anyway, at a restaurant in the meat-packing district of New York called Florent. And so, as I wrote last week, it would be entirely inappropriate not to write an edition of French Revolution on Bastille Day, I think it’s best to tell you the story of last year’s Quatorze, rather than this year’s, which I spent alone with a pizza and Sex and the City in a small dorm room in England. In that sense, I must disagree with dear Dickens. For it was in England, and not in France—or America—where I passed the worst time I’ve ever had on 14 Juillet!

My experience with Florent was something like eating a basket of their frites: I have had many, but at the end, I still wished there were more fries in the basket. Florent was always a respite. I remember one particularly grueling evening—grueling in the Manhattan way, anyway—when I left the bar at the top of Hotel Gansevoort with three friends, and plopped down at one of Florent’s aluminum-rimmed tables. We had left the land of pretense, a mingling of exhausted twenty-somethings corseted by ties and stilettos, gawking at how many $11 Red Bulls we had managed that evening. Thankfully, after so many expensive cans of caffeine, Florent was open, according to them, 24 Heures. There, I literally kicked off my shoes, and tucked into the most perfect grilled cheese sandwich and frites, the whole of which cost half than just the mixer in one of our drinks. And so the dawn rose on another New York morning, and it was ironically in a little French diner where we Americans were finally able to relax and enjoy a little joie de vivre.

That was what was so revolutionary about Florent: its incredible irony. This perfect French restaurant was situated in the old R & L Diner, the picture of Norman Rockwell Americanism, but like a Russian doll of contradictory juxtapositions, that Normal Rockwell diner was located, when it opened in my childhood, in a district of New York populated with beef carcasses by day and transsexuals hunting for a bit of meet themselves at night. Florent was at once so very American, so very New York, and so very French all at once without admitting any contradiction or hypocrisy. After all, the menu listed crab cakes (American), steak (so New York), and moules frites (ooh la la!). It was, frankly, the incarnation of what I try to do with my food: tempering a delicate mixture of French cuisine with a healthy helping of American irreverence.

Aside from all the Franco-American delicacies that populated the menu, Florent’s bestselling dish was certainly the joie de vivre that we four imbibed that night after the Gansevoort. On my twenty-fourth birthday, there in the teeming Florent that sparkled under industrial lights amid the din of so many corners of New York tucked away into so many corners of the little restaurant, Florent went dark. No, it was still a year and a half before Florent would lose its head to the Reign of High Rent Terror. But all of a sudden, silence fell over the restaurant, and for the moment, this one little speck of New York was what no other specks of New York were: dark and quiet and breathless. Suddenly, I saw a twinkling of light coming from one corner of the pitch room, and then noise broke, but not the same. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear….” And finally, as the sun had dawned on our grilled cheese abandon months before, it dawned on me that the twinkling light was the candles from a birthday gateau, and the noise was first the waiters, all penises and pearls, and then the entire restaurant, standing and singing a very, very happy birthday, to me. I know it has been centuries since Copernicus decided that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but for those stolen moments, I was quite sure that Earth had changed her course, and found a new axis, and for a slipping instant, had turned around me. And for that, Florent, I must say, Merci. For, for a girl who had spent her life as one in a city of millions, it was truly, in both senses of the word, revolutionary.

It was a while before I found myself in Florent again, but the next time was to be the last: 14 Juillet 2007. Of all my twenty-five Bastille Days, that was the best of times, for Florent threw the most fabulous 14 Juillet anywhere, even in France. One man dressed up at Marianne, and another as Marie Antoinette. Can Can dancers spread their wares up on the counter. I can’t remember, to be fair, whether or not they were “sans culottes.” It was its own little revolution, full of some of the most irreverent pieces of party possible. But it was a real celebration of the day. Revolutionary. Untraditional. Impertinent. Riotous. And about time. I coveted the little tee shirts of the waiters, with a drawing of Marie Antoinette with the “please detach here” line of old grade-school permission slips sketched across her gracefully plump neck. Somewhere between my artichoke vinaigrette and my moules frites, I went inside and joined the lines.

But as with so many revolutions, the pendulum, of time and of sentiment, swings ominously back and forth, and with this reaction and that, it seems that the revolutionaries themselves put into motion their own demise. For it could be said that Florent, who had brought so much life to the district that was to evolve from an area of, again in every sense of the word, the flesh, to an area of fashion, started the meat-packing revolution that raised the rents that finally proved too much for it to sustain. Florent shut its great doors, or rather, little glass diner door, on Gay Pride Day, 2008, before this last Bastille Day. It was revolutionary, and visionary, and is much, much missed.

I say that last Bastille Day was the best of times, but when it came to Florent, as Nancy Mitford would say, “Dulling, one always thinks that. Every, every time.”

Florent, in New York City

The drawings and photographs in this edition are from Florent’s website: www.restaurantflorent.com.

The New York Times‘s article on the closing of Florent.

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La Bastille 2008

If I’m going to have a blog called French Revolution, then I absolutely positively must take this opportunity to say happy quatorze to you. I hope you spend the day very…Frenchly.

Bisous, Kerry

p.s. Check back for a post on the Bastille Day celebration…

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Champignon, Champion

RECIPE: Mushroom Velouté

scroll down for these mushroom recipes…

Stuffed Mushrooms with Baguette, Boursin, and Mint

Mushroom Velouté with Truffle Oil

Champignon and Fontina Brioche
Mushroom

Fricassee *bonus basic*

This weekend, Mr. English finds himself otherwise engaged, away on another one of those bizarre British pastimes, the “walking trip,” in Scotland. And truth be told, I’m glad of it. For, if he weren’t away on his trip, I couldn’t take mine: a sunny sojourn into the magnificent world of ’shrooms.

You see, Mr. English positively loathes mushrooms, the humble, unsung hero of French cuisine, adored the world over by seemingly everyone but him. Of course, I don’t mean the psychedelic variety. I’m far more partial to the shitake, the hen of the woods, the oyster, the chestnut, the porcini, the cremini. I’m enchanted by Chanterelles, learn my morals from Morels, and bellow for Portobellos. Their heady fragrances and flavors take me to heights I doubt the ’70s stoner ever experienced in the back of the VW bus, smoky as a kitchen though it was. But in love, one must endeavor to understand the world from the other’s point of view, and when it comes to mushrooms, I must admit, that I do understand. I wasn’t always such an addict.

When I was young (and vegetarian), the sole mushroom in my life was the one that popped out of a magic box on my Nintendo screen. When Mario and “Linguine” (once a foodie, always a foodie) grabbed hold of one of these fungal finds, they rapidly doubled in size, lived twice as long, and vanquished slimy toads, fire-breathing flowers, and flying King Koopas all in one go. My natural reaction should have been to gobble them up, for my mother made them often enough. I would have been the tallest girl in my grade, finished my arithmetic in five minutes flat, and conquered the inimical Monsieur Chameron, the French teacher who, to my young mind, conducted his own Reign of Terror on the Upper East Side with one disapproving swivel of his Gallic nose through the air, and a glare that shouted silently, “tu es idiot!”

In fact, the brilliant mastermind behind Mario Bros. wasn’t so far from the truth. One Portobello mushroom has more potassium than a banana, and mushrooms are one of the only, if not the only, vegetarian source of B vitamins. But I won’t touch anything just because it’s healthy. Ew. What I love about mushrooms, now that I’ve evolved enough to appreciate the little ones, is their inability to be anything but the salt of the earth. They come covered in earth, and they taste like earth: woodsy, oaky, and fresh, like soil soaked in rain. Evocative of the enchanted French past, of a brocade-clad lady leading a pig through the forest, hunting for buried truffle treasure, and collecting these little rhinestones all the way home to the stone house with its little lambs and smoke that puffs like lambs’ wool from the chimney. Like the lady with her pig, mushrooms, and their truffle cousins, are the irony of the French gastronomic world: fungus buried in the soil and snorted out by snouts, but consistently gussied up for presentation at the plate, and prized along with saffron and gold and brocade and all the other lovely things that cost decades of dollars to the ounce.

Lucky for you, mushrooms are light. This week, I offer three of my favorite mushroom recettes. Stuffed Mushrooms are a “chapeau” to kitschy appetizers, but mine are stuffed with smokey gruyere and creamy Boursin and baguette crumbs, made fresh with mint and parsley. Mushroom Velouté is la reine of mushroom soups, like grey velvet emblazoned with studs of truffle oil. And Champignon Fontina Brioche is the perfect sandwich to eat with a friend, over an afternoon table perked up by a carafe of white wine. Also, you will learn how to make the standard mushroom fricassee, a basic bonus needed for the Brioche recipe, but that can also be used as an embellishment for chicken or fish.

So be a good, and eat your mushrooms. If you do, it’s likely that nothing will stand in your way, not even Japanese animated king dragons or garrulous Gauls. You may even, like Mario and Linguine, get an extra life. So pack those supermarket shopping bags full, and take a trip. Bon app!

Mushrooms StuffedStuffed Mushrooms

250 grams of chestnut mushrooms (or cremini/“baby bella” in America), stems removed

½ cup of baguette crumbs

½ cup of smoked cheese (smoked version of gruyere, or even cheddar), grated

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of Boursin

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1 tablespoon of olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To make baguette crumbs, simply tear off a hunk of baguette and whirl it around in the food processor. Just measure what you need. I make a bagful and store them in the freezer.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a small pan. Add the shallot and garlic, and salt and pepper. Sauté gently for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the olive oil, shallot, and garlic mixture to the bread crumbs. Also add all the other ingredients besides the mushrooms.
  5. Drizzle a foil lined baking sheet with olive oil—just enough to prevent the mushrooms from sticking. Arrange the mushrooms on the sheet, cavity up. Divide the crumb and cheese filling between the mushrooms so that they are brimming. Lightly drizzle the tops with more olive oil.
  6. Bake the mushrooms caps for 20 minutes, until the top is crusted and the center is creamy. Eat hot.

Mushroom Fontina BriocheBrioche with Fontina and Champignon Tapenade

4 medium-to-thick slices of brioche, lightly toasted

8 thin slices of fontina cheese

2 tablespoons of mushroom fricassee (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons of prepared tapenade

  1. To make the champignon tapenade, spoon the mushroom fricassee and the tapenade into a food processor and blend until the two come together as a paste. My go-to recipe for mushroom fricassee follows…It makes far more than you will need for this sandwich, but this is what I typically do with the leftovers. If making in the reverse order, use your leftovers from this sandwich to dress up simply chicken breasts or a filet of white fish. Instant fancy French!
  2. To assemble the sandwiches, lightly toast the bread.
  3. While it is still warm, lay two thin slices of fontina on each slice of bread, so the residual heat will soften but not melt the cheese.
  4. Place a scoop of the tapenade in the center of the bread, and cut the bread in half. I find that this sandwich goes very well with wine: in the afternoon or as a very late-night snack.

Mushroom FricasseeMushroom Fricassee *bonus basic*

1 ½ pounds of chopped, assorted wild mushrooms, like hen of the woods, cremini, shitake, and button

3 tablespoons of butter

1 large shallot, minced

2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of flour

¾ cup of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

  1. In a large sauté pan, add 3 tablespoons of butter and melt over medium heat.
  2. Add the mushrooms, and nothing else at all, and allow to brown and cook.
  3. When they are quite browned, add the shallot and thyme and season with salt and pepper. When the shallots are soft, move the mixture to one side of the pan.
  4. On the other side, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and add the flour. Mix together to form a little roux on one side of the pan. Cook it for about 1 minute and stir in the stock.
  5. Mix the two sides of the pan together and allow to thicken for a few seconds.
Mushroom Velouté

Mushroom VelouteIngredients

  • 250 grams of chestnut mushrooms (or cremini/“baby bella” in America), quartered
  • 20 grams of dried mixed wild mushrooms
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 4 stems of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups of water
  • ½ cup of cream
  • Sliced baguette (optional)
  • Truffle oil (optional, but highly recommended!)
  • Salt and pepper

Procedure

  1. If making baguette toasts, slice the baguette straight across, creating ½ inch slices. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, or even truffle oil, and a touch of salt and bake at 400 degrees until just golden and crisp. Serve along with the soup.
  2. Boil a quart of water. Add the dried mushrooms, and cover off the heat.
  3. Melt the butter in a stock pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and salt and pepper. Sweat for 2-3 minutes so that the shallots are translucent and soft and fragrant, but never golden.
  4. Save the mushroom stock, but remove the rehydrated dried mushrooms from the stock you just made with the hot water. Chop the mushrooms, and add along with the chestnut mushrooms, the thyme and bay leaf to the sautéing mixture. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to get some color and to soften.
  5. Add the quart of your mushrooms stock, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
  6. Decant the soup into the blender. When pureeing hot liquids, be sure to remove the little cap button from the lid of the blender, and cover with a kitchen towel, to ensure that the steam can escape from the blender, but the mess is contained by the towel. Puree until smooth.
  7. Return the soup to the pan, and stir in the cream to heat through. Serve in mugs or bowls with a baguette toast floating in the center, and a luxurious drizzle of truffle oil over the top.
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