Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ratatouille Burgers

Q: How can you make a sworn carnivore squeal with delight over vegetables?

A: Mix them with beef!

We found ourselves with a zucchini, half an eggplant, a bell pepper, onions, garlic, and a small bunch of tomatoes. There was no getting around a batch of ratatouille. Which is a dish I love, so I wasn't too upset about it. So I stewed it up in a big pot. Which reminds me that interestingly, there are actually two schools of thought regarding ratatouille. The first insists that the vegetables must be cooked separately and then combined at the end. The second goes for communal cooking of the ingredients. Both camps are extremely adamant about the fact that it's only true ratatouille if it's made by their method. I actually have no opinion on the issue, but I usually cook everything together because it minimizes dishes. Why dirty 5-6 pots... when I can just use one...?

It's really a handy dish. You only one pot needed to make it, it's awfully flexible (you can adjust proportions of vegetables, seasonings, cooking times), and the possibilities of what to do with it are endless.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sushi Night: So Fun, No Fish

There's something so inviting about sushi. Perfect little bundles, in a variety of colors and flavors. That soft, dense sticky rice texture, the sweet-saltiness, the burn of wasabi, the crunch of pickled ginger...

But then there are a couple of outright uninviting aspects of sushi: first, it's not cheap. Second, there's an element of déjà vu after a while, because pretty much every Parisian sushi restaurant is exactly like every other one. And not only that, they don't give much of a crap about the whole endangerment of Bluefin Tuna thing. I kind of do, so that kind of kills my buzz.

So I tried making sushi at home. Sure, it was easy enough to make some (occasionally wonky) cucumber and avocado rolls, but that's not novel for very long, either. I have to admit I love fish. So I made fish sushi at home, but felt a little awkward about eating raw fish whose path to my plate was completely mysterious to me, plus I didn't save all that much money, on top of it. So what was to be done?

Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer, finally had an answer for me. God bless that man.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Le 4th of July

I'm often asked by French friends what exactly constitutes traditional American food. Everybody knows hamburgers, hot dogs, and Coca-Cola, but the French, whose culinary tradition is quite varied and quite important, seem to want to believe that there's more to American fare than MacDo might have them believe.

I consider myself a defender of the American culinary heritage to those who might deny its existence or its legitimacy, even if it can be a bit unclear to me, too, exactly what it is. I guess in the U.S. we're at a point of trying to figure out what exactly American Cuisine could be. It's partly in this exciting stage of exploration and transition, but we draw so heavily from other, more established culinary traditions (read: the French), some people have trouble believing that some of these things could really be called American Food (read: the French). 

So American Food remains, in the eyes of many, things like burgers and Coca-Cola, because those are the most obvious answers; the things that are really ours. In American restaurants in Paris, they basically serve dressed-up versions of what you can get at McDonald's (burgers, fries, hot dogs, chicken wings), which only reinforces this perception. The one notable exception to the rule was Chez Haynes, who served soul food from 1949 to 2009 to a Parisian clientele, but sadly 2009 was last year, and I never got to go, much less drag my French pals.

So it's up to me to whip up what traditional American food I know of. I've been developing my Chicken 'n' Dumplin's skills. I'm an old hat at cornbread. I've been working on perfecting my buttermilk biscuit. Next on the list is the yeast roll. (Note: When I visited my family in April in the United States, during Easter lunch at my grandmother's I downed not one not two but count 'em SIX of her yeast rolls, yes thank you, I missed them that much). But this 4th of July, seeing it as the occasion to do so, I pulled out the big guns.

Pulled Pork. North Carolina-style. Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Home Fries. Buttermilk Pie.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Chilled Zucchini & Avocado Soup

I have to confess that I never really got cold soup. It was a concept introduced to me rather late in life, I suppose, as I don't have any childhood memories of it. For me, there was soup, which was hot, and then there was juice, which was cold. To some degree, I guess I still think this way. Take tomatoes for example. In their hot liquid form, they are tomato soup. In their cold liquid form, they are Bloody Marys tomato juice. So why did Gazpacho have to cross the Atlantic/the Pyrenees and ruin everything?

I don't really like Gazpacho. Not even its cousin Cucumber Gazpacho. I think it's the impression I have of drinking salsa in my spoon, or maybe just the fact that I keep thinking how much more satisfying soup is when it's warm. And so it was that I'd never really come across a cold vegetable soup that I truly liked (cold strawberry soup, however, had me at hello). Sometimes, on a particularly hot summer day, I would even crave the idea of a cold vegetable soup, but never quite end up loving it when it came time to actually eat it.

Until now! Enter the avocado. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch in Lyon

My recent lack of activity is mostly not due to laziness, and is certainly not due to a lack of food tales to tell, but is in very large part due to a week of vacation around France which fed and apéritif-ed me into a deep blog coma. It is only now, after a week of catching up on work and digestion, that I am able to crawl my way back to you.

Our trip included various villages of Provence, then Marseille, then Lyon, and a detour an hour out to the old Clément Family Farm. As we visited quite a bit of Clément's family, we were received with multi-course meals and flowing wine, and as we explored the gastronomic capital of France, we ate some serious restaurant meals. Serious in many ways. There was no messing around.

There are many meals and food moments that I could describe to you, like the one where I tried Os à Moelle (bone marrow) for the first time at the enormous Brasserie Georges in Lyon, or the Amarena Cherry Sundae at the little glacier across the street from a carousel in Marseille (whimsical, eh?). I could even rave to you about Clément's grandmother's homemade Vin de pêche (sweetened, peach-leaf infused wine). But, for (a) pure gratuitous shock value and (b) lack of photos of other food, we're gonna talk pig parts.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Molasses Rhubarb Tartelettes

Fun fact: Rhubarb is a vegetable. And vegetables make some of the funnest desserts. Rhubarb is also very tart. Logically, therefore, it makes good tarts.

I've eaten rhubarb pie before -- I remember the first time I ate it, the rhubarb was very green, and the texture seemed so vegetal that I was very weirded out by my pie. But, as I'm making an effort to explore new produce, I decided to cook up some of my own and bought some rhubarb last weekend from a very puzzled man at a produce stand. What are you going to do with it?, he asked me in a fascinated but ashamed almost-whisper, as I'm sure a produce man selling rhubarb can lose face a bit by not knowing what it actually is.

Some restaurant guys had me get ahold of some for them, he explained, but I have no idea what it is. How does one cook this?

I must admit I was ill-equipped to really educate the produce man, but I was able to explain that it's very tart and people usually cook it with plenty of sugar to make desserts. I, personally, would be making tarts, I offered. Yes, I had already decided their sugary fate.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Leisurely Spring Breakfast

It's Spring! At last! Today it must have hit 80 degrees, and Spring produce is really finally showing up at my neighborhood farmer's market; or, more precisely, the omnipresent asparagus and strawberries are starting to come from France instead of Morocco. And a few exciting seasonal extras, such as rhubarb, are showing up here and there as well. So of course, this weekend, we had no choice but to come home with ALL OF THESE THINGS. 

It's a bit disappointing for me, actually, that one can go to one of the many Parisian farmer's markets and not buy a single thing that was grown within in the Ile-de-France region, or even the country! Even at the farmer's market, so much is imported, whether it be from neighboring countries like Spain, from the DOM-TOMS (overseas departments and territories, such as Guadeloupe), or just warmer, more southernly countries where stuff grows earlier and longer. I miss living in small town America where the goat farmer came every Saturday to peddle his wares, even if they were only green garlic and goat cheese with green garlic in it. In Paris, the markets are expansive and impressive and you can find so many things! But they lack that neighborly feeling, and that relationship with the physical terrain, that terroir that the French celebrate so. It's practically easier for me to find out where my vegetables come from when I buy them at the supermarket. How confusing for someone who tries to buy things responsibly and think about her carbon footprint!

But fortunately, now that the produce is starting to come from France, the vendors seem happy to advertise this fact. And I was happy to listen to them.

So today, we dug right into our Spring produce with a late breakfast of Fresh Chèvre and Dill Scrambled Eggs, Asparagus Salad, and Strawberry Scones.