The Secret Ingredient (Dijon Mustard) Part 1: Perfect Vinaigrette

RECIPE: Perfect Vinaigrette
Perfect Vinaigrette Salad FIAF

A perfect salade verte, lightly tossed with Dijon vinaigrette

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You can be as fancy as you like in the kitchen, but if you don’t know the basics, you’ll never get anywhere.  And one basic I have been working on for a long time is the perfect basic vinaigrette.  I’ve written a million and one times about the restaurant Le Relais de l’Entrecôte in Paris, which now has an outpost (as yet untested by me!) in New York.  It’s a steak frites place, but they bring you this amazing green salad with mustard dressing and walnuts to start, and it was that dressing I was dying to emulate.

Vinaigrette and Whisk

Whisk until emulsified!

What’s amazing is that the proportions could not be more mindblowingly obvious.  One part mustard, one part vinegar, two parts oil, salt, and pepper.  I’m serious.  You cannot go wrong.  I’ve been testing for years.  The mustard emulsifies the dressing, and gives a nice bite.  French Dijon mustard is hotter than the stuff we get in the States–even by the same brand.  So if can get your hand on some hot Dijon mustard, it will be all the more authentic.  But the great thing about this vinaigrette is you can alter it any way you like to suit your mood.  Use a not-so-hot mustard, and cider vinegar for something gentle.  Switch up the oils, try a nut oil, an avocado oil, a rosemary or Meyer lemon or garlic-infused oil.  Buy a mustard flavored with tarragon or black currants.  Add a pinch of ground cumin or even curry powder (it’s delicious) to serve alongside an exotic dinner.  Grate garlic or shallot into the dressing.  Use a white balsamic vinegar, a fig vinegar, a pear and herb vinegar.  Chop up basil or parsley or mint and add it in.  Take this basic vinaigrette, made perfect, and thick, and creamy, and tangy thanks to the mustard, and you will have a million and one salads to match the million and one times I’ve mentioned L’Entrecôte.

Maille Mustard

My favorite!

I’m pretty excited about this month’s Secret Ingredient–I get to marry this column with my French in a Flash mindset.  Stay tuned for lots more thick, spicy, and tangy recipes this month!

Dressed Salad and Tomato Bruschetta

I served my salade verte for lunch with grape tomato bruschetta...just a suggestion!

Perfect Vinaigrette
makes 1/4 cup, serves 4

Perfect Vinaigrette Salad FIAFINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly cracked black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


In the bottom of a large salad serving bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper with a small whisk until the mixture is completely homogenous.  If you don't have a whisk, use a fork.  Add the olive oil, and whisk again until completely homogenous and emulsified.  Tumble enough salad for four people on top, and toss gently to dress.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Recipes, Salad, Series, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian

Sunday Brunch’s Tuna Bruschetta

RECIPE: Simple Tuna Bruschetta
Tuna Bruschetta

Tuna Bruschetta

I love Sunday brunch.  Either way.  See, sometimes I go out to one of those long, occasionally boozy brunches at some trendy little hotspot with friends.  I always get something salty with bacon, and get extremely indulgent.  Other times, I stay home, usually with Mr. English, and then I can’t be bothered, for some reason, to expend much more effort on food on Sunday afternoons than I would have if I’d gone out.  So, Sunday has become Bruschetta Day in my house.  I toast some of yesterday’s bread (one lovely side effect of living in London is that grocery stores are almost never open today), and pile it high with something or other.  Usually, it’s tomatoes, that I salt for a while, and stir up with olive oil, that the bread slurps up and it’s as good as any brunch place.  Sometimes, I add slivered basil and shallots.  Sometimes there’s smokey mozzarella or jambon de Bayonne to drape on top.  And sometimes, I make this one, with tuna.

Canned tuna is a complicated thing.  Some part of me thinks it’s really gross.  Tuna, in a can.  But sometimes I get these overwhelming cravings for it, and when I bite into it, I rush back to my seven year old self, cracking open that can of Bumblebee with my mom, making a tuna salad sandwich on oatmeal bread.  Whatever I think of the stuff, it’s really good.  I make this light topping with a little bit of good French mayo (it makes a huge difference I swear!), olive oil, a drop of vinegar, shallots, and tons of fresh parsley.  Then I pile it onto toasts of baguette or boule or whatever I have lying around.  I throw a few cornichons on the side.  Salty and satisfying–plus, I don’t have to get dressed and go anywhere.  What could be better?  Oh, I know.  It’s cheap as chips, as they say here.  One can of tuna, feeds two people.  Bon app!

Simple Tuna Bruschetta
serves 2

Tuna BruschettaINGREDIENTS

  • 1 5-ounce can albacore tuna in water, drained

  • 1/2 shallot, grated

  • 1.5 tablespoons mayonnaise

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar or 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

  • A touch of salt

  • A lot of freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 big slices of round country bread


Preheat the broiler.

In a bowl, mix together the tuna, mayo, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, shallot, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Taste it, and see if you want to add any extra salt, pepper, vinegar, or lemon.  Set aside.

Arrange your bread on a baking sheet, and sit it under the broiler until it’s golden brown—about 3 minutes-ish.  Flip them over, and toast the other side.

Pile the tuna on the toast, and serve!  I like a few cornichons on the side.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Eat, Recipes

French in a Flash: Penne with Piment d’Espelette

RECIPE: Penne with Piment d'Espelette

Penne with Piment d'Espelette

Penne with Piment d'Espelette

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The way things become trendy—when something that’s always been there is suddenly on everyone’s lips—always surprises me. Take argan oil from Morocco: Something my grandmother used to use on both her salads and on her skin is now the it expensive product. She’s feeling pretty cool right now.

Also cool is Piment d’Espelette, but it’s hard to come by and is expensive, even in France (in cooking school, we were just allowed a knifepoint of the stuff). This Basque dried chili has a delayed and gentle heat that hits you after you expect it to—which, aside from being spicy, makes it exciting and delightful. But maybe that’s just the trend talking—I’ve been swept up too. I’m seeing it in tomato sauces (the pairing with the tannic sweetness of tomatoes is excellent), broths for fish, even in ketchup. You can find Piment d’Espelette in the States at gourmet stores. If you see it, buy it; you will find a million and one uses for it (I also add it to mayonnaise, aïoli, or rouille), and you will be one of the “in” crowd (insert wink).

This recipe combines summer fresh tomatoes stewed to a sauce with Espelette. Studded with garlic and shallots and laced with whole leaves of basil and mint, it’s a fun departure from a regular ol’ pomodoro. The best part is you can serve it room temperature almost as a salad at a summer picnic.

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats, every Thursday afternoon.

Penne with Piment d'Espelette
serves 6 to 8

Penne with Piment d'EspeletteINGREDIENTS

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 shallots, diced

  • 2 big cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette

  • 12 vine ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, and puréed

  • Kosher salt

  • 20 leaves of mint

  • 20 leaves basil

  • 2 pounds penne rigate


NOTE: To peel tomatoes, core them, and draw an X in the skin at the bottom of the tomato with the tip of a sharp paring knife.  Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in very cold water.  Peel the skin away from the flesh.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze the seeds out of the flesh.  Put the tomato flesh in a food processor, and blitz till smooth.

In a medium saucepot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until soft and fragrant: about 3 minutes.  Add the Piment d’Espelette and stir into the hot oil.  Add the tomato flesh purée, season well with salt, and cook on medium heat, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Add the mint and basil leaves, and simmer on low heat for a final 15 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  When the sauce has about 10 minutes left, drop the penne into the water, and cook until al dente.  Drain the pasta, and add the penne and the sauce to the larger of the two pots, and cook together on medium-low heat, stirring continuously, for another minute or two, until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.  Serve right away.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

Obsessed with Cassoulet

We rented a house in Saverdun, a tiny little town less than an hour from Toulouse.  In the distance were the Pyrenees, and all around were these rolling hills like you see in picture books and fairy tales.  There were great stone chateaux perched on the hillsides (“Chateau alert!” we would cry to each other in the car).  And sunflower fields, where the flowers wore yellow bonnets, and stared primly down at the ground in their shyness.  It was beautiful countryside, and somewhere amidst it all, I decided to eat like a pig.  In fact, it was mostly pig that I ate.

If I could swear myself to one French dish for the rest of my life, exclusively, it would be cassoulet.  In fact, I had never before in my life tasted cassoulet.  I was a cassoulet virgin.  I thought cassoulet came from Toulouse, but my stepfather gasped and said, “No!  It is from Castelnaudary!”  The French are proud of the provenance of these things.  What is it?  Big white beans baked in broth with pork fat, pork confit, sometime duck or goose confit, and garlicky Toulouse sausages.  The meat falls of the both, and pulls apart.  The beans are soft and filling and so good and comforting.  The fat is, well, fattening, but it so much flavor and crispiness to everything.  It is so good, so hearty, so almost medieval that I could not get enough of it.  I was in Saverdun maybe 10 days–and I ate cassoulet five times.  It’s a miracle I ate anything else!

My Cassoulets


Mirepoix Cassoulet

Cassoulet in Mirepoix

The first night we arrived in Saverdun, we drove to the little medieval square village of Mirepoix.  It’s a town that always seems to have a carnival and market reveling in its main square–very charming.  We sat down at this touristy little café terrasse on the main market square, and while my family set about ordering salads, I ordered, what else, the cassoulet.  I had been anticipating this moment since my mom said–I think we’ll go to Toulouse this summer.  Want to come?  I knew the moment of cassoulet would come–and here it is.  Another French classic to add to my collection.

I am sure it was from a can or a jar.  This was not the kind of place that was making its own confit–I would be surprised if they even had a real oven.  But no matter.  It was intensely smoky–the smokiest one I had.  With confit of pork, Toulouse sausages, and beans in a loose broth.  The others I had later were crisped on top, and less smoky.  These one was very casual.  But I still loved it.  I used bread to scrape whatever broth was left into my mouth.  And the pork confit fell off the bone.  I can’t tell you the name of the restaurant, because honest to truth, I don’t even know if it has one.  But it has a big green canopy, on the main square in Mirepoix, should you happen to be there.  It’s convivial, with slow service, and a fine cassoulet.

Castelnaudary: Trip 1

Hotel du Centre Cassoulet Castelnaudary

The Cassoulet at Hôtel du Centre in Castelnaudary

Hotel du Centre Cassoulet PortionWhen M. Français, my stepfather, told me Castelnaudary was the place for cassoulet, I knew it no uncertain terms that I was going to Castelnaudary.  The first time we were there was by chance, and I hadn’t had time to research the best cassoulet destination (this is what I do in my free time!).  I felt drastically underprepared as we drove into the village, and I have to tell you, the village took my by surprise.  Could this place really be the birthplace of cassoulet?  There was no one about, the main street was quaint, because it was old and French, but not strongly so.  I was, to be honest, disappointed.  We found the place we thought looked nicest on the main drag, and went in.  Others ordered fish; I ordered cassoulet (you’ll begin to see a pattern!).  This was the best cassoulet I had on my trip.  It had both duck confit and pork confit that fell off the bone.  It was enormous, and came with a green salad (an accoutrement that I HIGHLY recommend against the heaviness of cassoulet).  The others dared me to finish it, and…I couldn’t!  So disappointed in myself.  The beans were soft.  The broth was a bit thicker.  And the sausage was either homemade or from a serious purveyor–it crumbled apart like nothing packaged ever cook.  And the top with laced with fat, and crisped to a crunch.  It was amazing.  If you are in Castelnaudary, go to Hôtel du Centre et du Lauragais, and get the cassoulet.  The dining room also happens to be beautiful.


Le Colombier Cassoulet Toulouse

The Cassoulet at Le Colombier in Toulouse...It's a looker!

Le Colombier Cassoulet Toulouse PortionEveryone said that Le Colombier had the best cassoulet in Toulouse.  The guidebook said it.  The waiter at Le Colombier said it, except he said it was the best in the whole region.  When Mr. English arrived a few days after the rest of us, I insisted we all go out and fête his arrival with another cassoulet.

I was shaking with anticipation.  A city girl, I have the horrible prejudice that everything is better in the city, Castelnaudary or no Castelnaudary.  It was very good.  I was broiled on the top, large, with a salad and apple tart included in the meal.  The confit was goose, which I’m less keen on.  The beans were every so slightly undercooked.  The sausage was very good.  It was for all intents and purposes, lovely–but it wasn’t Castelnaudary, despite what the waiter said.

Castelnaudary: Trip 2

La Belle Epoque Cassoulet

The Cassoulet at La Belle Epoque

La Belle Epoque Cassoulet PortionArmed this time with information, I trouped the family over to La Belle Epoque, heralded as Castelnaudary’s cassoulet destination.  Would it live up to the hype?  Le Colombier hadn’t quite matched my anticipation, so, I didn’t hold my breath.  The place is adorable.  Family run.  One thing I’ve noted about Castelnaudary is while the streets may seem deserted, the insides of all the restaurants and cafés are lively and convivial and very fun.  The son seated us.  The mother took our order.  Of course, I ordered “Le Menu Touriste”: cassoulet, green salad, and sorbet.  I will say, this almost ties with the Hotel du Centre, in fact, some at the table preferred it.  So, it’s a toss up based on your preference.  It was duck confit, the top nicely crisped, the sausages crumbling, the beans perfect.  They even bought Mr. English and me a couples’ pot–cassoulet for two in a large, hot earthenware casserole.  I lapped up the last drops with bread.


Cassoulet Saverdun

The Cassoulet at La Grande Moungetardo in Saverdun

Saverdun Cassoulet Portion

The steam clouded my lens!

Cassoulet Saverdun Duck Confit

The Duck Confit--I secretly traded a thigh for a leg when no one was looking! Shh!

Saverdun has no restaurants worth eating in–at least, that’s what the locals told me.  But once a year, they have a town even called La Grande Moungetardo.  No clue what it means, but I went, and it was such an affair that it deserves its own post.  But, I will say something about the cassoulet.  It was served banquet style, in huge earthenware pots on the tables, with ladle to scoop out the beans.  The sausage was cut up, uncharacteristically, in the beans, and after a delicious, steaming plateful, I thought, that was good.  They, they put a second round of earthenware pots on the table, and I served myself a second huge plateful, and thought, this is VERY good.  My mom, M. Français, and Mr. English all murmured how it was better than Toulouse.  I felt bad saying it, but maybe it was true.  Then, and only then, when we least expected it, they came around with legs of duck confit.  And then they came around again.  You’ll see when I write the whole thing up–it was among the five best nights of my life!

Here is my conclusion: some cassoulets are better than others.  But from now on, if I go into any restaurant that serves it, I’m ordering it.  It’s like my favorite child.  Better than bouillabaisse, than Bourguignon, than any other classic dish I’ve yet had.  I’m in love, for life.

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Categories: Restaurants, Toulouse, Voyages

The Secret Ingredient (Mango Chutney) Part III: “Tandoori” Mango Salmon

RECIPE: "Tandoori" Mango Salmon
"Tandoori" Mango Salmon

"Tandoori" Mango Salmon

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What I love about mango chutney, which is made from raw, green mangoes, is its balance of sweet and sour.  It tastes distinctly of both sugar and of vinegar.  I love the way the sweet caramelizes when cooked, and the way the sour cuts through fattiness.  Which makes it the perfect compliment to a simple broiled salmon–caramelized around the edges, with just that point of acidity to balance the salmon’s strong, oily flavor. Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient

Franglais: Carrot and Celeriac Slaw

RECIPE: Carrot and Celeriac Slaw
Carrot and Celeriac Slaw

Carrot and Celeriac Slaw

Get the whole story at The Huffington Post.

This recipe is a hardcover.  Which sounds a little bit strange without explanation.

A few months ago, I bought a Kindle.  And I buy Kindle books avidly.  But only the ones I want to read once.  The ones I don’t want to see cluttering the sagging shelves in my little apartment.  The ones that are all plot, all blood, all sex, all intrigue—and once the end is neatly tied in a bow, I will sigh, and maybe think a little while longer about it, and then never read it again.

But I still buy hardcovers: books by authors I love, new printings of books I cannot live without.  They are why my shelves are sagging.  Because every reading brings some new pleasure, like meeting an old friend after a time apart, and finding out another totally fantastic thing about them.

Carrot and celeriac slaw is a hardcover.  It’s a cross between the very traditional French céleri rémoulade, and an American cole slaw.  Céleri rémoulade is shredded celery root, or celeriac, tossed in a  mayonnaise-based sauce, usually flavored with a little bit of mustard and acid, like lemon juice or vinegar.  Similar to our American cole slaw, but without the sweetness of carrots or sugar or other sweet things that often find their ways in.  Plus, no need for the traditional celery salt—celeriac has that perfect faint, earthy, celery flavor, and crispy white flesh that doesn’t wilt like cabbage.  I whisk together a simple dressing of good French mayonnaise, spicy Dijon mustard, and cider vinegar.  I toss in the shredded carrot, for that touch of American sweetness, and celery root, for that phenomenal why-don’t-we-eat-more-of-this-in-the-States flavor, and let it wilt, until the vegetables bends a touch, but are still crunchy as a chip.

I’ve been writing these posts from France the last couple of weeks, and I have made this slaw every other day, using the gorgeous pre-shredded carrots and celery root from Carrefour (I’m telling you—they’re really good!), good French mayonnaise, and a Dijon mustard slightly spicier than our usual.  I eat it with lunch and dinner, and leftovers are even better the next day.  Every time I take it off my nearly-sagging refrigerator shelf, I look at it like an old friend, and discover I love it even more than I did yesterday.  Bon app.

Carrot and Celeriac Slaw
serves 4 to 6

Carrot and Celeriac SlawINGREDIENTS

  • 5 tablespoons good mayonnaise

  • 4 teaspoons cider vinegar

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • 1/2 pound finely shredded carrot

  • 1/2 pound finely shredded celery root


In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper.  Toss with the carrots and celery root, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, up to overnight.  Serve slightly cold.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Easy, Eat, Franglais, Recipes, Salad, Series, Sides, Soup & Salad, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Loving French Fast Food…and Toilets

Quick Boursin Balls

Cheesy, Herby, Garlicky Boursin Balls at Quick

There’s something to be said for a sit-down meal at a fancy French restaurant.  Now’s not the time to say it.  I’ve been on the road, and I’ve been eating street food.  And it’s the funnest thing about eating in France.

NICE Quick

The Quick at the Nice Airport

Quick Frites

The All-Important Point of Comparison: The Frites at Quick

Quick Frites No Salt

Quick frites are not salted after cooking--an interesting contrast

Quick Fish Sticks

Cheesy Poisson-Shaped Fondue-Stuffed Quick Fish Sticks

In the Nice airport, I went to my first Quick–the French answer to McDonald’s (although, don’t tell anyone I said it that way).  I’m obsessed with eating strange things off of foreign McDonald’s menus, and that’s always kept me busy enough to keep me away from Quick.  But, they are truly the French fast food joint.  We had such oddities as fish-shaped fish sticks filled with cheese fondue.  Actually seriously good.  And Boursin balls–the French answer to the mozzarella stick, made from little rounds of melty garlic and herb cheese, breaded, and fried, in a box.  Those went quickly.  They had beignets, but I didn’t get that far.  Some fries and a side salad topped with shredded beets (only in France), and I was up to my ears in French fast food.

TOULOUSE Hot Dog Cart 1TOULOUSE Hot Dog Cart 2Then, driving around Toulouse, we stopped at a gas station.  I laughed out loud.  Outside of the little mini mart, was a New York style hot dog cart, selling hot dogs in a bun with mustard or pickle relish for 3 whole Euros.  The dogs looked a little gray, but I had to smile at the American bun, the squeezy condiments, the hot dog hot tub, and of course, the signs that read: Manhattan’s Hot-Dog, Hot-Dog New Yorkais.  Being New Yorkaise myself, I ate it up.

Villeroy & Boch Toilet


And can I just make one note about bathrooms, which probably shouldn’t be on a food blog: is it only in France where highway rest stops has Villeroy & Boch toilets?!  Roll it up with the Mercedes taxi cabs.  The highways and byways are the real culinary adventure out here!

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Categories: Provence, Toulouse, Voyages