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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Borough Man

RECIPE: Brindisa Knock-Off Chorizo Sandwiches

A review of Brindisa chorizo sausage sandwich specialist at Borough Market, London

For those of us who are hungry, a city, like London, can be a labyrinth with no helpful Ariandne’s string to point out the right gastronomic direction. It was Saturday afternoon and I was with Mr. English (that’s my boyfriend) at two o’clock when we both realized with a cataclysmic boom that neither of us had eaten and were quickly deteriorating to a state of what would be known on the Lower East Side as “kvetchiness.” To make matters worse, we were standing, lost in the middle of London’s Borough Market, a serpentine thoroughfare of overrun footpaths under a railway bridge brimming with food vendors: a culinary labyrinth within the labyrinth, a gastronomic heaven that quickly began to feel like hell.

But we had meant to go out for a “nice lunch,” seated across from the Thames at a table draped in a starched white table cloth with silverware that felt like it was worth its weight. I looked helplessly around me: ruddy gilded tins of truffles, seafarer’s glass cannisters of ras-el-hanout, ropes of currants that dangled recklessly from the safety of their little jade boxes. Food, food everywhere, but not a bite to eat! I looked down at a homeless man begging by the pillar on the edge of the market: masochist!

Rationally, what followed was an argument. “Let’s just have a little something here to tide us over,” I pleaded. “I don’t really want that,” quashed Mr. English. “But what about that chorizo place we saw?” “Did you see the queue?!” As we meandered with much purpose but little direction, I darted like a squirrel through an autumn grove, harvesting a bounty of small checkers of bread dipped in liquid gold oils and bits of cheese that would hardly serve as enough to attract a mouse to a trap, but that melted like drops of creamy, heady candy in my mouth. All around us was the Saturday clatter of an ancient market, which had grown inveterately into this very spot, but had, of late, succumb to the fate of all the old-world relics in cities like New York and London: it had become trendy. I glared up at Mr. English as he munched an olive off a toothpick. Above the din, my stomach growled at him. “Ok, chorizo,” he conceded.

So, I was wrong. It seems there is an Ariadne’s string through the culinary labyrinths of London, and that string is more like a Hansel and Gretel trail of chorizo sandwiches that lead to a long line that leads to Brindisa, a dilapidated stall containing two crooked, burning onyx grills at the back, and a little low table at the front. The menu is simple: single or double. There, Mr. Sausage, the Borough Man, dexterously stacks one or two (depending on your order) smoking and smokey chorizo sausages, split and spicy and crisp, on a toasted ciabatta roll laced with an embellishment of that liquid gold I mentioned earlier. Following that are one or two roasted piquillo peppers and some baby arugula. He folds the sandwich back on itself, wraps it in a napkin, and hands it to you as you droolingly fork over somewhere between £3.75 and £4.50.

Mr. English and I retreated over by the pillar, where the homeless man had loitered moments before. No starch or silver for us. Oh, no. We stood, with the gleaming, gossamer red grease running through our fingers as we giggled up from our sandwiches, mouths dusted in bakers’ flour like children who had greedily gulped powdered donuts. I dropped my last bite of sausage, and Mr. English (who had ordered a double) gave me his. And somewhere between the heat of the sausage, the heat of the day, and the heat of the moment, we were in love again.

My Borough Man, like the Marlboro Man for whom he is named, brought me back to the cowboy, or should I say gaucho, way of eating, when all you want is something good and real, because stomachs know nothing of pomp and circumstance. So while the Marlboro Man was roping bulls, my Borough Man was slaying the Minotaur—and serving some form of him up on his parilla. Now that’s a hero for you! Guess I didn’t need Ariadne’s string after all. I just had to follow my gut.

Brindisa Knock-Off Chorizo Sandwiches
makes 4

Brindisa Knock Off SandwichesIngredients

  • 4 ciabatta rolls
  • ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 long pointed sweet peppers of various colors (red, orange, yellow)
  • 6 links (400 grams total) of chorizo sausage
  • 2 handfuls of arugula
  • Salt

Procedure

  1. In the spirit of Brindisa, where everything is done with haphazard finesse, the measurements are just a formality. The main thing to do is to preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Toss the peppers with a touch of olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt. Then, place these on one side of a foil-lined baking sheet, and the chorizo on the other. Roast for 20 minutes. Watch the sausage, as they may take less time to cook. You're just looking for a charred, crisp casing and a firm interior.
  2. When the pepper and sausages are finished roasting, split the chorizo in half on one side, piercing just one side of the casing so that the other side holds the split sausage together. Put them face down in a medium hot nonstick skillet and brown for five minutes, while you de-stem, de-seed, and de-skin the peppers. Put the rolls in the hot oven to toast for just a minute, and then drizzle with the 1- 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Assemble the sandwiches: you have enough sausage for two doubles and two singles. On the singles, put one sausage on one side of the bun, then half a roasted pepper, and a small bunch of arugula, and top with the top of the bun. For the doubles, it’s one sausage on each side of bread, followed by a piece of pepper on each side, and arugula in the middle.
  4. I serve this with, in the spirit of the Marlboro Man’s bulls and Borough Man’s Minotaur: Bulls**t Sangria. Just fill each glass with 2 slices of seedless navel orange, and then half Spanish white wine and half sparkling water, and mash the orange around in the glass. Perfecto!
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Categories: Bread & Butter, Eat, London, Recipes, Sandwiches, Voyages
 

In the Closet

RECIPE: Fried Portuguese Sardines with Harissa Tomato Sauce

scroll down for these “straight from the pantry” recipes…

Provençal Anchovy Bath for Baguette and Crudités

White Bean Velouté with Herbs de Provence Oil

Fried Portuguese Sardines with Harissa Tomato Sauce

When I was a little girl, I lived in another world, and that world was called Narnia. Or, at least I did in my mind. In my young, bright, brunette head, I would grow up to marry the vivacious Prince Caspian, and valiant little Reepicheep would be our Mouse-in-waiting.

When I saw that both Caspian and Reepicheep would be appearing in the new movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, I am embarrassed to admit that I gasped with pleasure, and immediately fell upon my C. S. Lewis texts with the renewed vim and vigor of seventeen years ago. You may be thinking that the closet in the title of this post refers to the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a wooden closet that transported the young boys and girls from war-torn England to the land of Narnia. But while some kitchen closets may appear to lead to other worlds, and may even house talking Mice, although despite my love for Reepicheep I do hope yours doesn’t, it is the treasure chamber in Prince Caspian to which I am referring.

In Prince Caspian, the four children, Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, stumble back to their old castle Cair Paravel and find the treasure chamber, where their clothes and jewels and swords and bows and arrows and magic potions have lain dormant for a millennium, to have been discovered right when they have become necessary. Now that, to me, truly resembles a pantry, which, in my house, is a brimming series of shelves the kitchen closet. In that pantry, magical potions of harissa and pistou, an arsenal of culinary weaponry from anchovies to dried zapote, and exotic jewels like imported tinned truffles have lain latently for, at least it seems like, centuries. All too often, I dump half of my pantry’s contents in my bi-annual overhauls. In our world of fresh green markets, the convenience of yesterday’s staple preserved foods are often hidden behind a shut wooden door, and like the treasures of Cair Paravel, left untouched and forgotten.

While I love cooking, I, like you I’m sure, don’t want to spend every night rifling through fresh produce, concocting feasts fit for the mirrored hall at Versailles. Sometimes, I come home late, and am tired, and may even be going out again, and dinner has to be conjured up through some sort of culinary magic from the stores I have behind that shut wooden door. But I still want dinner to be interesting and presentable, especially if I am sharing it with friends. So this week, I am showing you how to make a perfect whole three course meal from your pantry, and showing you what to always have around when you do have time to shop, so that you won’t go hungry when you don’t. On tonight’s menu (yes, tonight, for if your pantry is well-stocked, you won’t have to leave your house!): Anchovy Bath for Baguette and Crudités, White Bean Velouté with Herbs de Provence Oil, and Fried Portuguese Sardines with Harissa Tomato Sauce. The first is a traditional Provençal amuse bouche where anchovies are pounded together with olive oil and served with a few olives. Use it as a dip for whatever you have around: leftover carrots and cherry tomatoes, breadsticks, or stale baguette, which you should just slice, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. The second uses up those white beans in the pantry, for with just a bit of garlic and shallot and stock, they emerge a velvety soup as warming and comforting as brandy and decorated with herbs de Provence mixed with olive oil and served as a condiment at the table. The last takes sardines, tosses them with flour, and fries them. The sauce is a mix of everything red in your pantry: chili flakes, harissa, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and sundried tomato paste, and is a fiery partner for the little shards of crispy fish—kind of like French calamari with marinara. Eating out of the pantry is like eating for free and in five minutes—but these recipes make it a treat as well. Like the children in Narnia, all you need is a little imagination.

In the Pantry

Everyone who cooks has certain things in her pantry, like flour and sugar and an aging array of herbs and spices, that I will take for granted. But every bonne fille française has a culinary repertoire that may differ a bit from the average americaine’s. Here is a shopping list of culinary jewels to keep locked away in that ancient closet for just such a time when you’ll need them most.

herbs de provence

red chili flakes

harissa

canned green pepper corns

extra virgin olive oil
t

ruffle oil

vegetable oil

white wine vinegar

dijon mustard

whole grain mustard “à l’ancien”

jarred black olive tapenade

jarred green pesto or pistou

jarred red pesto or pistou

dried wild mushrooms

capers in brine
anchovy paste

tuna, salmon, or sardines in olive oil or water

sundried tomatoes in oil or sundried tomato paste

tomato paste

cans of petite diced tomatoes or chair de tomate

lentils de puy

canned beans, like chick peas and cannellini

panko (japanese breadcrumbs)

bouillon cubes or broth

shallots

garlic (and/or garlic paste for emergencies)

spanish onions

assorted pastas, at least one long strand (spaghetti) and one short shape (rotelle/wagon wheels)

couscous

red wine

white wine

rosé wine

champagne

four red fruits jam

marmalade

orange flower water

rosewater

dried lavender blossoms

petit beurre cookies

dark chocolate

unsalted butter

crème fraiche

gruyere

parmesan

frozen puff pastry

baguettes, baguettes, baguettes

This is just a provisionary list. I often also have frozen peas, frozen spinach, frozen shrimp, frozen berries, filo pastry, and pie pastry in the freezer, but that’s not exactly the pantry, now is it? I also think it’s a good idea to keep potatoes and carrots, leeks and tomatoes, and I nearly always have risotto rice on hand. Also, never be scared of stocking up on baguettes. If they get stale, I break them up into the food processor and whirl them around till I have fresh baguette crumbs—almost the only type of bread crumb I ever use. Then I just keep them in the freezer until I need them. Also, to make the pantry a true treasure chamber, I like to pick up items of interest, like cassis mustard or tarragon vinegar, to make it all more special and exciting. Now, at the risk of sounding just a tad too politically incorrect for our own world, it’s time to get back in the closet!

BON APP!

Anchovy DipProvençal Anchovy Bath for Baguette and Crudités

1 baguette, sliced ½ inch thick, or a packet of breadsticks, or some raw vegetables (or all three)

¼ cup of olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 crushed garlic clove

2 full teaspoons of anchovy paste

A handful of Provençal olives

  1. If you are using baguette, and it is fresh, just tear it into chunks. However, if it is a day old, slice it and lay the slices on a baking sheet, and drizzle very lightly with oil and a touch of salt. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 15 minutes for little baguette toasts. Otherwise, just open your packet of breadsticks or trim your crudités.
  2. To make the anchovy bath, mix ¼ cup of olive oil, the anchovy paste, and the garlic in a small sauce pan, and heat on low for 5-7 minutes so the flavors combine, stirring it all together.
  3. Pour the bath onto a saucer or a small bowl, and pile a few olives in the center. Then dip away. Unassuming, but delicious.

White Bean Veloute OriginalWhite Bean Velouté with Herbs de Provence Oil

1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

3 shallots, or 2 very small onions, chopped or sliced

1 tablespoon of garlic paste, or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 410-gram cans of white beans (like cannellini, haricot, or great northern), drained and rinsed
4 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)

¼ cup of cream (optional)

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of herbs de Provence

  1. Add the butter and oil to a stock pot over medium heat, and when the butter has melted, add the onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onions become translucent and fragrant, but not browned—about 3 or 4 minutes.
  2. Add the beans, stir around with the onions and garlic, and then add the stock, and bring to a boil.
  3. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover, cooking the soup for 15 minutes.
  4. Then blend the soup to create a smooth consistency. When blending hot liquids, be careful, and remove the little top in the lid of your blend and cover it instead with your kitchen towel, to allow the steam a route of escape.
  5. Return the soup the pot, and stir in the cream, if using. Serve immediately with the herbs de Provence oil, made simply by combining the herbs and the remaining olive oil.
Fried Portuguese Sardines with Harissa Tomato Sauce

Fried SardinesIngredients

  • 1 120-gram tins of Portuguese sardines, preferably in olive oil, but any kind will do
  • ½ cup of flour
  • Olive oil for
  • frying
Salt
  • 1 200-gram can of chair de tomate, or diced canned tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of sundried tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of harissa
1 tablespoon of herbs de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic paste, or 1 clove of garlic
  • Pinch of chili flakes
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ lemon, cut into slices for squirting on the fish

Procedure

  1. Fill a very small saucepan about 1 inch high with olive oil, and set over a medium high flame to heat up.
  2. Drain the sardine fillets, and break them up lengthwise into little spears of fish. Dredge them in the flour, and dust of the excess.
  3. Meanwhile, putt all the ingredients for the harissa tomato sauce into a saucepan over medium low heat and allow to simmer until the fish have fried.
  4. Test the oil by dropping a little piece of floured fish into the fryer. If it sizzles and rises to the top, it is ready. Fry in small batches for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the sardines are golden and firm, then remove to a paper towel to drain.
  5. Dust the sardines with a touch of salt, and serve with the lemons, harissa tomato sauce, and maybe the butt of a baguette.
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Yours Sancerrely,

RECIPE: Chicken with Sancerre, Mushrooms, and Thyme

The victor, with 45% of the votes, in June’s French Revolution “French Wine” poll is…

Sancerre!

Sancerre BottleCongratulations to all you Revolutionaries who chose the French white. In the spirit of fraternité, egalité, and liberté, I’m glad you exercised your right to vote. Read on to find out more about Sancerre, my favorite white wine, and for the monthly poll recette:

Chicken with Sancerre, Mushrooms, and Thyme

I recently bought a book of Roald Dahl’s short stories. Most of us revere Roald Dahl as the author of classic children’s books, from Fantastic Mr. Fox to Matilda, but he also wrote great handfuls of “mature” stories, stories that are sexy, racy, irreverent, and, above all, intoxicating, like “Taste,” in which the fate of a young girl rests on the outcome of a blind wine taste test. The wine is described as gentle, demure, and bashful. Not a Sancerre.

Knowing about wine is certainly a matter of pride; even if you don’t care much about wine except for its taste and its heady effects, you still feel like you’ve won a culture contest when you can hold up a wine list and at least look like you know what you’re talking about, and come up with some anthropomorphizing adjectives that reconstruct the flavor of the wine in the form of a tantalizing young Bacchanal.

Truth be told, my friend Julie introduced me to Sancerre. She was sitting across the table from me in that mythical, late Moules Frites haven La Tour that I mentioned in Flex!. “Mmm…Sancerre. We’ll have two glasses.”

Sancerre MapIn the vein of Roald Dahl’s “tasteful” language, I would describe Sancerre as fruity and flowery all at once, sparkling without the bubbles, the brighter citrus Champagne of flat wines. If she were a Bacchanal, Sancerre would have orange blossoms streaming from her hair and would dance the Charleston. Gentle, demure, bashful she is not; but she is gilded class in a glass. She is witty and elegant, wears almost too many ropes of chic white pearls, and always has the last word.

Sancerre is made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, growing around the town of Sancerre in the Loire Valley. Sancerre is one of the original Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée awarded in the late 1930s—AOC is a way that the French government recognizes and regulates the point of origin of French food products, and is why so many of them are recognized by the name of their town of production, beginning with Roquefort, a blue cheese named after its city, in the fifteenth century. Red and even rosé Sancerres are made in the same region from the Pinot Noir grape.

Sancerre ValleyLike the life of any party, Sancerre gets along very well with almost anyone, or anything, on the table. But to show her to advantage, I’d sit her with goat cheese to her left and shellfish or whitefish to her right. And if you find you can only take such a spirit in small doses, make a Sancerre spritzer. Giada de Laurentiis makes a brilliant white wine spritzer by freezing orange and lemon zest into ice cubes, and then mixing with sparkling water and white wine. Replace Pellegrino with Perrier and Pinot Grigio with Sancerre. Finally, she’ll sparkle as she was meant to.

To taste! Chin chin!

Please vote in the July poll: which French colonial cuisine do you prefer? Creole/Cajun with its New Orleans beignets? Moroccan tagines and fragrant teas and salads? Quebecoise poutine? Or the salty sweet noodle dishes of Indochine? At the end of July, I’ll share a recipe from the winning cuisine! Oooh…which to choose? They’re all so good! I’ll let the Revolutionary public decide.

Chicken with Sancerre, Mushrooms, and Thyme
serves 4

Sancerre ChickenIngredients

  • 12 pieces of dark meat chicken (legs and thighs)
  • 500 grams of chestnut mushrooms, sliced (use cremini if you cannot find chestnut)
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 8 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 cup of Sancerre
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • ¼ cup of cream
  • ¼ cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs de Provence

Procedure

  1. Start by seasoning the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and a light sprinkling of herbs de Provence.
  2. Working either in batches or using 2 wide pots, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the chicken on both sides, and set aside.
  3. Add the butter to the pot(s), and then the shallots. Sauté for one minute before adding the mushrooms and the thyme. Season with pepper, but hold off on the salt until the mushrooms have achieved a bit of color.
  4. When the mushrooms are about halfway cooked, and a bit seared, add the Sancerre. Allow the flavor to concentrate for a minute before adding in the stock. Bring to a simmer and lower the flame; then add the chicken back into the pot. Cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the cream and the parsley. Serve with crusty baguette or egg noodles, like in Alsace.
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Buckwheat Bronco

RECIPE: Crêpe Batter

Crêpes O Mania in Oxford, England

Basic Crêpe Batter

Brie Crêp-o-dilla with Avocado Crème Fraîche and Watermelon Salsa

Crêpe Salad Bowl with Cassis Mixed Greens and Warm Goat Cheese

Crêpe Monsieur

As you know, my mother and my grandmother and toute la famille are French. As a form of adolescent rebellion, I had stubbornly forgotten and refused to relearn the language of Proust and Saint-Exupery, of Candide and of Astrix and Obelix. I was a very naughty little girl.

So when I was fifteen, my mother suggested that I spend the summer completing one of those language immersion programs, where you attend school and live with another family, and where speaking English is as forbidden and ghastly as dumping ketchup all over a plate of escargots. After a refresher course in Paris, off I went to Brest, and after spending a day snickering about the city’s name, I then stumbled innocently upon something even better than French verbs: French food!

Brest is located on the coast of Bretagne, a province simultaneously French and Breton all at once. Though the feu d’articifice still dazzled the cold, dark sky on Basille Day, hints of the old Breton language permeated the Bretons’ speech; old, Saxon-like dances still were danced in large, pied circles at the center of town; and on every other corner thereabouts resided the most charming Breton of all: the crêpe man.

In New York, one comes to rely on street food. Central Park has become quite safe in the past decades, but hunger still stealthily burgles about. The knowing New Yorker need only walk several yards before finding rescue at the Hot Dog Stand. There, for a few (an ever-increasing few) dollars, the New Yorker can still his stomach on a hot dog with ketchup, or a salty pretzel with mustard. And the city streets are safe and satisfying once again.

I was on another English picnic recently, and when one is in England, I say do as the English—drink in the afternoon! I had cheers-ed my way through a whole bottle of wine spritzer when I stood up to stumble home, and on my merry way, I tripped disbelievingly up to a stand on which was emblazoned: Crêpes O Mania, Breton Pancake Specialist.

It is my steadfast and personal opinion that there is no better cure for the rumbling of an intoxicated stomach than the oozing, salty perfection of a crisp and gooey crêpe au fromage. I shouted up at the proprietor in glee: “Are you really from Bretagne!? Do you use gruyere!?” Tolerantly he chuckled, yes, he was Breton, and no, he did not use gruyere, though he claimed he could have done, just as well.

“Will you still try one?” Yes, of course. I never say to no to cheese crêpes. As a rule. To my surprise, he did not pull out a pre-prepared crêpe, but ladled a curiously dark batter onto a hot crêpe griddle. “Buckwheat?” I demanded. He told me yes, it is healthier, and makes a better crêpe, and he is the only man in Oxford with the secret. He then blanketed the crêpe with a combination of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses (I was skeptical), and expertly peppered the combination with salt before folding it up into the trademark rectangle of the savory Breton galette. I bit through the perfect eggshell of crisp, buckwheat pancake, and out oozed the cheese. M. Le Crêpe, mes compliments! He even gave me a frequent crêp-ers card, and I get my tenth free!

The crêpe is one of the most signature, and yet versatile, foodstuffs of France. It can be sweet or salé, served for breakfast or dinner, a midnight snack or dessert. It can be fancy, or be humble. This week’s installment is all about little unorthodox recettes for the crêpes that you make (I’ve included my go-to basic batter recipe) or you buy. Crêpe-O-Dilla is a French quesadilla that uses the pancake as a tortilla on the grill, stuffed with creamy brie, toasted, and topped with avocado crème fraîche and a tomato and watermelon salsa. The crêpe salad bowl is a crisp shell, filled with mixed greens, crisp goat cheese, and a cassis mustard vinaigrette. And finally, the Crêpe Monsieur is a savory prosciutto and gruyere pancake, seared, and then topped with a gruyere-Dijon béchamel and baked. Merveilleux!

M. Le Crêpe, merci pour le dessert dans le desert…

 

CrepeOdilla

Crêpe-O-Dilla

Crêpe-o-dillas with Avocado Crème Fraîche and Watermelon-Tomato Salsa

8 crêpes

250 grams of brie

  1. Divide the brie amongst the crêpes, lying the slices of cheese on one side, and folding the crêpe over it like a quesadilla.
  2. Toast the crêpe over medium heat in a nonstick, ungreased frying pan until crisp on both sides, with a melted brie center.
  3. Serve with Avocado Crème Fraîche and Watermelon-Tomato Salsa (recipes follow)

3 vine tomatoes, petite diced

¾ cup of petite diced watermelon

1 tablespoon of parsley

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

2 pinches of salt

Pepper

  1. Simply toss all the ingredients together and allow them to sit in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

1 avocado

¾ cup of crème fraîche

Juice of ½ lime

Salt

  1. Whirl the crème fraîche, salt, lime juice, and the flesh of the avocado together in the food processor until it becomes a smooth jade-green cream.

 

Crepe Salad Bowls

Crêpe Salad Bowls

Crêpe Salad Bowls with Cassis Mixed Greens and Warm Goat Cheese Medallions

4 crêpes

1 shallot

1 bag of bistro greens, including shards of beets

¼ cup of olive oil

2 ½ tablespoons of white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of honey

1 pinch of herbs de Provence

1 tablespoon of cassis Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

200 grams of cold goat cheese

2 eggs

1 cup of breadcrumbs or panko, or the two mixed together

Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lay the crêpes over 6 small ramekins placed upside down on a baking sheet, so that the crêpes form bowls.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the crêpe bowls from the ramekins and allow to cool upside down on the counter.
  5. Raise the oven to 425 degrees.
  6. For the warm goat cheese, divide the goat cheese into 8 pieces.
  7. Create a breading station, with one bowl containing the beaten eggs, salt, and pepper, and the other containing the bread crumb-panko mixture.
  8. Dip each piece of goat cheese in the egg, then the crumbs, then the egg again, and finally the crumb again, dusting off the excess between each step.
  9. Bake the cheese for 10 minutes on a lined baking sheet.
  10. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large bowl, combine the olive oil, white wine vinegar, cassis mustard, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Toss with the shallots, and beet-spiked greens.
  11. Divide the salad between the four crêpe bowls. Arrange 2 pieces of goat cheese to crown the top of each.

 

Crêpe Monsieur

Crêpe Monsieur

Crêpe Monsieur

6 crêpes

6 slices of prosciutto

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of grated gruyere, divided

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan, divided

4 teaspoons of Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of flour

1 ¼ cup of milk

Butter for dotting

Salt and pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Heat the milk in a stock pot on medium-low heat.
  3. For each of the 6 crêpes, place the slice of prosciutto and 3 tablespoons of gruyere in the center of the crêpe. Then fold in the four sides so that it forms a stuffed square.
  4. Toast the stuffed crêpe in a dry non stick pan on medium heat so that the inside melts, and the outside toasts to a crisp shell.
  5. Meanwhile make the béchamel by melting the butter in a stock pot on medium heat. Add the flour, and stir, allowing the roux to toast lightly.
  6. Add the mustard and toast for 30 seconds with the roux, along with salt and pepper.
  7. Add in the hot milk, and stir so that the milk begins to simmer.
  8. Add in the two cheeses, and allow the béchamel to simmer until it thickens, so that if you dip a wooden spoon into the sauce and run your finger down the back, the sauce stays separated.
  9. Ladle some of the béchamel in the bottom of a smallish square baking dish.
  10. Arrange the six crêpe packets overlapping in the pan.
  11. Spoon most of the rest of the sauce over the crêpes, creating another thin layer.
  12. Top with the remaining gruyere and parmesan cheeses, and dot the top with a little bit of butter.
  13. Bake for 15 minutes, uncovered, until bubbly and golden and serve very hot.

BON APP!


Crêpe Batter
yields 10 to 12 crêpes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1/4 cup of cold water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, plus 1 teaspoon, melted and cooled

Procedure

  1. Put all the ingredients in the blender, and whirl them around until just combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides once to make sure everything is completely incorporated.
  2. Let the batter rest for 1 hour. Take this advice!
  3. Put a small, nonstick pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle in a shy ¼ cup of batter, and, off the heat, quickly swirl it around the pan so it thinly coats the surface.
  4. Return the pan to the heat. The crepe is ready to flip when it naturally begins to slide around the pan when you shake it. Flip it in the air if you can…if not use a crepe spatula. When the crepe slides out, it is ready. Stack the crepes between pieces of parchment paper. Repeat until the batter is used up.
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