Today was the truffle market at Moussoulens, just northwest of Carcassonne. The beauty above is the one that came home with me, ringing in at 25€ (the going price is 800€ per kilogram). It will perfume my meals for a week, and that includes a truffled risotto dinner I plan to have with a few friends.Read more
As the curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” We are indeed in interesting times. France started another lockdown on Oct. 30. We aren’t supposed to go out except for essentials–work, exercise, appointments, groceries. Basically it means life goes on except for fun. This was brilliantly captured in a German public service announcement (scroll to the one with subtitles–you shouldn’t miss “lazy as racoons”!). The main hiccup is that we have to fill out a form, un attestation, swearing on our honor that we’re really going to work/the doctor/the supermarket/on a run or risk a €135 fine.Read more
Vegetarian in France
We’ve been doubling down on vegetarian meals, cooked from scratch. I want to share some of the recipes that have been hits.
Until recently, it has been hard to find vegetarian options at restaurants, especially here in France profonde. Even salads would be topped with gizzards, duck chitlings and foie gras. When I would ask for something without any of that, the waiters would be quizzical, like, that leaves the frisée, which is just for looks and not much to eat. The concept of other vegetables and beans was not dans l’air.
Suddenly, everybody has vegetarian options, as well as vegan and gluten free. We rarely eat out but I enjoy looking at menus posted outside restaurants for ideas. My main sources of ideas, though, are the Jow app (I wrote about it here), Marmiton, Smitten Kitchen, Bon Appétit and the New York Times (we subscribe to the last two–support journalism, including food journalism, by subscribing!). Bon Appétit has a series called Healthy-ish with lots of yummy ideas.
Another thing I do is make traditional dishes and replace ground beef with beans, mushrooms or both. I was listening to the podcast “The History of English,” which recently looked at “The Forme of Cury,” possibly the first cookbook in English. The host noted all the feast days and other days when meat was forbidden, and it added up to about half the year. People lived mostly on bread, used to scoop up a stew of vegetables, some fish and, when allowed, bits of meat. Bigger animals were for richer people. I know an elderly lady who insisted that beef and lamb were “noble” meats but pork and chicken were not. She also was very affected by having lived through World War II and the aftermath; anything that was scarce during the war was good, and everything they ate then (cabbage, beets) was bad.
I think these things affect how people eat today. It isn’t just in France, or Europe or the West–when I lived in Africa it was a big deal to serve guests meat and beef was considered “better” than chicken. People there tended to eat a stew of beans, maize and vegetables twice a day, every day, except for meat on Sunday.
Anyway, reducing or eliminating meat consumption is really going back to tradition, a tradition that is much, much longer than the meat-centric meals we now consider traditional.Here are some of my favorite recipes that I’ve made recently, in random order (we do not eat pasta on consecutive days, twice a week max). In fact, I’m kind of running through my saved folder on Instagram, which is heavy on NYT and Bon Appétit.
Cauliflower tacos with cashew crema from Bon Appétit. OMG. This is my favorite recipe on the list. Have made it a couple of times. Ate it all before getting a photo. Who wants to shoot a picture when you’re hungry? I just wish we had fresh tortillas and not Old El Paso. This is a sheet-pan wonder that is very easy. I made some pickled onions for crunch instead of radishes, which I didn’t have. You use what’s on hand!
Cauliflower bolognese from Bon Appétit. Pretty good. I found the cauliflower flavor to be strong, but that isn’t a bad thing. The “meat” is mushrooms.
Kale pesto with whole-wheat pasta from Bon Appétit. “Whole-wheat pasta”–DUH. Always. Kale is very hard to find in France profonde, so we tried it with frilly cabbage. Too cabbage-y. Must try again with other green winter vegetables, such as blettes (Swiss chard). We’ve made pesto with a mix of spinach and basil, but basil is out of season. Sniff!!
Creamy butternut squash pasta with sage and walnuts from New York Times Cooking. I’ve made this a few times. SO GOOD. I used sliced almonds instead of walnuts. Sage from the garden. Had this last night and didn’t want to make broth so used pasta water. It all works.
Crispy tofu with maple-soy glaze from Bon Appétit. This is great. I added a bunch of stir-fried vegetables, because….more vegetables. The point about cooking undisturbed is essential–turn too soon and it will stick. Didn’t have fresh ginger and used ginger powder; maybe fresh would be better but it was still delicious. To keep the tofu from getting soggy, I removed it when crispy, stir-fried the vegetables, then returned the tofu and poured over the glaze.
Farro with crispy mushrooms and sour cream from New York Times Cooking. This was the basic idea and I made it differently. I had some leftover millet-cauliflower mush (recipe in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”), and used that for the base. Did the crispy mushrooms and leeks, and added a couple of sweet peppers (I know they are expensive in the U.S., but here they are cheap). No dill in the garden, so used fresh parsley, which is growing like gangbusters.
Mushroom Bourguignon from New York Times Cooking. Another big winner. If you are making polenta, it’s a good idea to pour what isn’t in your dinner dish into a greased cake pan so you can slice leftovers into pretty squares. Polenta sets up fast, and if left in a bowl results in unappealing blobs. No pearl onions in the pantry? Just add more regular ones.
Roasted yams and chickpeas with yogurt from Smitten Kitchen. I definitely should do more sheet-pan dinners. This was so easy. I threw in a bunch of accessory vegetables–broccoli, zucchini, fennel. Also swapped out the yogurt with a drizzle of almond butter, which is so good it’s criminal.
Lastly, one that’s just made up on the spot. Crispy tofu with vegetables in a curried tomato sauce, over rice. Cut a couple of blocks of firm tofu in half lengthwise; wrap in paper towels and let them dry (even better–put something heavy on top to squeeze out even more water). Mix some cornstarch with some curry powder in a liter/quart-size container with a tight lid. Set aside while you cut up a big pile of vegetables into about the same size/shape so they cook evenly. I also did mushrooms.
Start the rice–1.5-2 times the water for the amount of dry rice. A cup of dry rice is enough for two people, unless you want leftovers. You can replace part of the water with coconut milk for extra-yummy rice. Cover and bring to a boil; let it keep boiling (turn it down so it doesn’t boil over), still covered, until you see holes in the rice. DO NOT STIR. Turn off the heat, keep covered and let it finish steaming, about 20 minutes.
Pour a little oil (I use olive…whatever) into a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms. DO NOT STIR. Let them cook a good while, until the juices start to dry up, then turn them.
Meanwhile, cut the tofu into small cubes (about 1 cm). Put into the container with the cornstarch mix and shake well to coat all the cubes. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl, add a little more oil to the same skillet and cook the tofu. Let it cook all the way to brown before turning. I am not so fussy that I will turn every little cube on every single side. Two or three sides browned is good enough. Remove to a bowl.
Add a little more oil to the same skillet. Cook your vegetables, starting with onions (put on the lid to make them sweat). Add garlic, then other vegetables, starting with the hardest ones. So carrots go in before zucchini because they need a couple of minutes extra to cook.
Pour in a can of stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes. If the tomatoes are whole, break them up with your spoon. Add some curry paste, to your taste. I used a ton of Indian curry paste, but sometimes I do it with Thai curry paste. They taste completely different. Such an easy way to change things up.
When the sauce is reduced a bit, return the mushrooms and tofu to the skillet to heat them up. Serve over the rice.
I’ll do some more recipe lists/recommendations as I cook (if I remember to take photos. All those bento shots are because I didn’t take a picture until I was putting away the leftovers).
Meanwhile, what is going on with the weather? We had 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 Celsius) earlier in the week. Today it’s 55 F (13 C), so it seems chilly, until you remember that it’s FEBRUARY. The almond trees are in full bloom, like ballerinas dancing across the countryside. The daffodils, even in the north shadow of the house, are ready to pop. Crazy. It’s hard not to enjoy the warm sunshine, but it’s worrisome. Et chez vous, comment ça va?
Genius Meal Planner
Since we’ve doubled down on being vegetarian, meal planning has been a challenge. Vegetarian meals aren’t just the same as traditional meals minus the meat. They’re a completely different animal (non-animal?).
Instead of grabbing a package of meat, a vegetable and potato and voilà, dinner, things are more complicated. Plus, we make an effort to get complete proteins, even though it’s possible to have some of the amino acids at lunch and the complement at dinner (beans plus rice, for example).
Our kid has become quite the foodie, doing a lot of cooking and learning techniques from the Internet, especially from Bon Appétit, whose employees now feel like old friends.
A few weeks ago, local teens were treated to a kind of low-budget TED Talk about food waste, hosted by the company that does municipal solid waste removal, Covaldem. A repeat of the talk in the evening was aimed at adults, with a no-waste tasting afterward. The theater was full.
They even gave away a little booklet of “anti-gaspi” (anti-gaspillage = no waste) recipes by local chefs. For example, autumn vegetable soup with croutons, a velouté (thick soup) of potimarron (a kind of small, sweet pumpkin) with a “tartine” made with the potimarron skin, nuts, and grilled potimarron seeds. The idea was to either use everything, or to transform leftovers.
The talk pointed out that 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year worldwide, which accounts for a third of food produced. It went through expiration dates (many of which are n’importe quoi–whatever–except for meat and fish), and pointed out ways that supermarkets have been pushed to reduce waste, such as by having a display for discounted food that’s about to expire, or for “ugly” vegetables and fruit, also discounted. They also said restaurants are being encouraged to let diners take home what’s left of their meals, not in “doggie bags” but in “gourmet bags.”
The talk also pointed out that meal planning can reduce waste. A few days later, a friend told me about an app for meal planning and it’s everything I wanted. It’s called Jow, and it seems to be available only in France. That’s because it links to several chains of supermarkets to make your shopping list, which you can then order online. The app is free, so they must make their money by getting a commission from the supermarkets.
I prefer to buy my produce at the market, so I haven’t made any purchases through the app. Curiously, even though the app is French and I never made any language selection, some of the recipes turn up in English. Or partly in English and partly in French. It’s fine with me–it’s how we roll in our house.
First you choose your supermarket (you can put anything, just to continue. A Walter Mitty moment where you can pick your dream French town). Then how many people you’re cooking for and how many are children. Then what you eat: everything/vegetarian/vegan/no pork/no gluten/no dairy.
Next it asks what you have in your kitchen: oven, microwave, stovetop, fryer, blender (and what kind), automatic cooker (Thermomix or other brand–they’re listed). Then you put in how many meals you want to plan: 2? 5? 7?
Et boum! (Not a typo–that’s the French spelling.) Meal ideas, mostly one-dish, with recipes and compiled shopping list. The recipes change each week. Doing it just now, Jow suggested onion quiche with chèvre and honey, shakshuka, eggplant curry, pear and gorgonzola pizza, and sweet potato gratin with chestnuts. If you don’t like something, you click on the remplacer button and it suggests something else.
Click on the red shopping cart to get your shopping list. There, you can eliminate items that you already have in your pantry or add other things you need, like breakfast foods or dish soap. The entire list for the five menus above come to €49.40 at Leclerc.
I made the eggplant curry, but I had only a tiny eggplant, so I added other vegetables (mushrooms and spinach stems….yes stems. You can get bags of baby spinach at the store but at the market it’s much bigger, sometimes with the roots still attached). Last week there was a quiche with roasted butternut squash and red onion; I substituted leeks and zucchini. I also made the risotto with red peppers.
Other suggestions under vegetarian: onion tart tatin; Tunisian lablabi; roasted camembert; crunchy tofu with quinoa and broccoli; roasted tomatoes with feta; chèvre and spinach tourte; eggplant parmesan; lentil and avocado salad; salad with dried apricots and spice bread; beet, chèvre and nut quiche; zucchini crumble; pasta with muchrooms; gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola; polenta with roasted tomatoes. And you can click on more recipes. There are other buttons to try: favorites, new, exotic, autumn, express, desserts, healthy, veggie, gluten-free.
It’s easy to eliminate things you don’t want. The recipes are quick and easy and they give an idea of reasonable portion sizes. Some, like the tarts and quiches, are for four–you can’t really make a quiche for two–so we have leftovers for lunch. I realize that while I eat very healthy–everything homemade, heavy on vegetables–I eat too much. Portion control is the very French way of dieting. My Fitbit tells me that even with running I barely pass 2,000 calories in a day, far less on the days I don’t run, then something has to give. FitBit’s calculations are based on averages for age, height and weight. At some point recently, I seem to have passed into a new category, because for the same number of steps in a day it was telling me I was burning significantly fewer calories. Wake-up call! How middle-age spread happens.
Years ago, I tried to do the same thing as Jow, but using a spreadsheet, not with all the wonders of app technology. It was an utter failure–clumsy, bulky, hard to change, hard to organize. I am sure there are other apps out there, ones that connect to your local supermarket. But if you want some meal planning help with French flavor, check out Jow.
This isn’t sponsored. I just really like Jow. If you have similar apps that you like, please mention them in the comments so readers in your country can find out about them.
Of the many things to love in France, one of the most delicious yet most mundane is the croissant. It is nothing short of miraculous that a mixture as simple as flour, butter, milk and yeast and not much else can turn into complex layers of flaky crispness and chewy softness.
I have many happy croissant memories. My grandmother made a kind of croissant, which she or one of her grandchildren dubbed “piggies.” The secret ingredient, not very French, was mashed potatoes. I haven’t made piggies or croissants because I am spoiled, with delicious ones far too easily obtained at nearly any bakery. Perhaps luckily, our local bakery had awful croissants. The baker, a heavy drinker who sometimes was so overwhelmed by hangovers that he burned the bread and everything else, also was a chain smoker of the ancien régime, not the one in which clergy and nobility lorded it over the peasants, but the one in which smokers had the right to light up wherever they pleased, whether that be on the Métro, in a movie theater, or in a restaurant, other people’s lung be damned. Certainly a sole proprietor slaving away alone in his atelier had the right to puff at will, even after the laws changed in 2006 to forbid smoking in public places. We took our business to a nonsmoking bakery.
The baker had his retirement lined up; he found a young couple to buy out the bakery. Lo and behold, just before the couple signed on the dotted line, a young entrepreneur in the village put up a big sign on the grange he was renovating: Bakery opening soon. This space on the main road had plenty of parking, unlike the smoker-baker, who managed to get the mairie (city hall) to draw a 15-minute parking space on the street–just one. And 15 minutes would not dissuade, say, parents parking there while dropping off or picking up their kids from the school across the street–parking is scarce in the heart of old villages.
The young couple realized they would be outgunned by this new bakery and backed out of the deal. Now the baker continues to work–the bulk of his retirement was going to be the sale of his bakery, which now is worthless–but people are coming out of the woodwork to frequent the new bakery, where the bread is not only smoke-free but also delicious, and so fresh it’s usually still warm or even hot.
That reminds me of another bakery we used to go to, in a nearby village. It was on a little street barely big enough for a car to pass. No traffic, whether by car or foot. Sleepy. But it had a following. It was always packed, a jumble of people with no discernible line, but make no mistake, everybody knew whose turn it was. There was a constant buzz of conversation, plenty of it gossip, but as I didn’t live in that village I didn’t know who they were talking about so vividly. But if the gossip was anything like the other main topic, the weather, watch out. Every weather forecast I overheard at the bakery was 100% accurate.
The bakery had a pain de campagne (country bread)–a very large, deformed lump that had just the right crust on the outside–a little crunchy but nothing that would break a tooth–with a chewy inside whose bubbles were nice and even. The baker’s wife would use oven mitts to hand them out, and I would have to juggle it in my hands, like a nervous football player fiddling with a ball on the sidelines, as I walked back to my car parked way down the street where it was wider. The car windows would steam up so much so fast I’d have a hard time driving the last few feet of the five-minute trip home. The Carnivore and I would eagerly cut into the bread, butter it, with the (totally unnecessary but delicious) butter melting immediately. Sometimes we ate the entire loaf in one sitting. It cost €2.
Back in those days, we’d treat ourselves to croissants on Sundays. All things in moderation, pain de campagne excepted. Our kid was a baby then, and thus an early riser. Soon our kid was talking and demanding to be allowed to hold the bag of croissants for the ride home. On setting out the croissants with our coffee, we were surprised to discover all the ends had been eaten off already. Then came a period of rejecting the ends and eating only the middles. How I miss those days. Every time I see a baby, their thighs with those rings of fat, like croissants rising, almost ready to be baked, I want to gobble them up. No wonder the old fairy tales involved old ladies eating children. I read somewhere that it’s this delight in children that helps us get through years of wiping their poopy butts.
Sadly, that bakery closed quite a few years ago. For a while, we held our noses and went to the village smoker-baker, especially because I passed it on the school drop-off/pickup walk. Then a bakery opened in Carcassonne that was very good, with baguettes traditionelles, the old-fashioned kind, with a thicker crust and chewier sour-dough-like insides that make the regular baguettes just not worth one’s time. But sadly, that baker died, and while the guy who took it over is still better than the smoker-baker, he can’t hold a candle to our new bakery.
The consensus among our friends is that the new bakery is good to the point of being bad. “We’re going to gain weight with croissants like these!” one moaned.
L’apéritif is sacred in France. That means it comes with all kinds of rituals and even special equipment, though that’s not what counts. You can have a fine apéro, as the French like to shorten it to, with just a glass of wine. The ritual can be done by anybody.
The first and most important ingredient is people. You thought I’d say alcohol, but no. Even if you’re having a soft drink, you can enjoy apéritif hour. It’s a moment of socializing with friends, family, even strangers. The connections and conversation, regardless of whether they’re lubricated with alcohol, are what count.
Around here, there are two times for apéritifs: the typical one, around 6 p.m., for before-dinner drinks. And similarly around 11 a.m., for before-lunch drinks. I find that to guarantee an unproductive afternoon, so instead I raise a cup of coffee to toast friends I bump into at the Saturday market.
Indeed, the cafés around the market buzz with activity, and many of the coffee cups get replaced by stemmed glasses of wine as noon approaches. Cafés put tables (chairs optional) or wine barrels into the streets that are closed for the market. It’s a big party, and some are so packed, despite the extra street space, that you can barely wiggle past. Feel free to strike up conversation with anybody. It’s all friendly, especially at noon.
A few set up tables serving appetizers, called zakouskis. Zakouskis are part of the ritual. Don’t drink on an empty stomach! Olives and nuts are popular. Pretzels, chips, all that jazz. Charcuterie, or hard sausages, though cheese usually is reserved for after dinner except for little cubes, sprinkled with herbs or celery salt. Also smaller nibbles, which can be elaborate, like tapas, or even become a meal, in which case it’s an apéritif dînatoire.
For drinks, you have the standards: wine (red, white and rosé), sparkling wine, white wine or sparkling wine with a dash of cassis liqueur for a kir or kir royale (if sparkling), the apéro of Dijon.
Around here, anise-flavored pastis is popular, called un jaune–a yellow–because the clear, golden pastis oxidizes and becomes a cloudy yellow when ice and water are added. It’s a drink with lots of equipment–special glasses with a line showing how far to pour the pastis; water pitchers and ice buckets. The Ricard brand is so popular that many people just ask for a Ricard, if they don’t say “p’tit jaune.”
Among cocktails, le petit ponch, also shortened to ti-ponch, has rum, lime and cane syrup with origins in France’s tropical colonies.
Oysters are also popular, with a glass of white wine. Not so much in summer….
Apéritif comes from the Latin word aperire, to open. They had a medicinal origin, with the concoctions of herbs for laxative effect, cited in the 13th century. (See some here.) But in modern times (since the mid-1700s), an apéritif is intended to open your stomach, to make you hungry.
Will you be raising a glass with friends this weekend?
A Vegetarian Take on a French Classic
Even though back in the day, people didn’t eat much meat–it was too expensive, and only for special occasions–they did tend to put a little into everything. A cassoulet was mostly beans, with a sausage and pieces of pork and/or duck thrown in for flavor, not the current equation of a duck leg plus sausage plus pork per person. I figured it shouldn’t be too hard to re-adapt classic dishes using only vegetables.
This kind of cooking doesn’t require a recipe. It’s about process, which works whether you are cooking for two or 20. If you put in two onions instead of one, it will still be delicious. It isn’t like baking, where if you put in two eggs instead of one it might not turn out.
In the final installment of vegetarian dinner party recipes, we feature the main dish: a daube of eggplant and chickpeas. I considered including mushrooms, but then didn’t. You certainly can; you even can replace the eggplant with mushrooms completely. I chose eggplant because it acts a lot like meat (mushrooms do the same). There are good-sized pieces (I went for inch cubes). The mouth feel is similar to well-cooked meat. It’s filling. It plays well with other ingredients. The chickpeas were for protein, though in light of the eggs and cheese in the other dishes, we weren’t going to be short in that department.
A daube is a kind of stew, but the liquid is not as thick as stews you might know. It’s also not as liquid, more of a sauce than a soup. It’s great for entertaining because it cooks low and slow for a long time. It simmers away independently while you attend to other things. And if guests are late or the apéritifs last longer than you expected, no problem–it isn’t something that has to go into and come out of the oven on time and be served immediately. It can wait another 10, 20, 30 minutes. It can wait an hour. A daube lets your dinner party follow its own schedule, follow its own heart.
For some reason, calling something la daube is an insult, to mean bad quality. According to le Figaro, the word daube dates to the 16th century, coming from the Italian word dobba, or marinate. Then some folks around Lyon used the term to speak of rotten fruits and meat, and thus it became an insult. So unfair!Daube aux Aubergines et Pois Chiches (Eggplant and Chickpea Stew)
2 medium eggplants (one per two guests), cut into inch cubes
8 oz. (250 g) chickpeas (I used canned; if you use dry chickpeas, you need to cook them first), drained
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 oz. (140 g) can of tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (thyme, rosemary, oregano…)
Generously salt the eggplant cubes and place in a colander. Let them sit and sweat for about an hour, then rinse quickly and squeeze the liquid out with your hands.
In a heavy pot with a tight lid, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat, then add the onion. Cover so the onion sweats but doesn’t brown/burn. Add the garlic. When the onion is transparent, turn up the heat a little and add the eggplant, letting it brown a bit, so you get that carmelized umami.
Add the wine and tomato paste, stirring well to mix them. Raise the heat so it starts to boil, then turn down the heat to as low as possible. Stir in the chickpeas and cover the pot. I separated the parsley leaves from the stems, reserving the leaves for garnish and chopping the stems, which I also stirred into the stew. Let it simmer (mijoter) for at least 45 minutes. Stir from time to time, letting the liquid on the lid fall back into the pot. That’s a good time to check the seasonings and add salt and pepper if needed. If the daube seems dry, add water (or wine). Taste a piece of eggplant–it should feel cooked, but you don’t want it to cook to the point of turning into mush. If you’re making it in the morning, you can turn it off and warm it up later.
One way to do a slow-cooking dish like this, besides in a slow cooker or a crockpot, is to put it in the oven. Make sure the lid is tight, and you don’t have to stir at all. Because I made this during the heat wave, I avoided the oven.
Serve with rice. Polenta works, too. Even potatoes. Something to soak up the sauce.
At our dinner party, our friend brought homemade desserts. I’ve shared both recipes before–baba au rhum and crème catalan.
French Vegetable Terrine
Here’s an easy vegetable recipe that’s perfect for summer and pretty enough to garner oohs and aahs from dinner guests. You can serve it as a starter, but I liked it as a side to a vegetarian daube that was the main. I wanted a side dish that was structured, so the non-meat-eaters wouldn’t have a plate full of lumpy mush. Of course the vegetarian daube had vegetables but it’s nice to have variety on the plate. And it was an appealing addition for the guests who had steak.
Terrines are classic in French cuisine. Often they’re made with meat or fish. You can have a terrine of foie gras, but that isn’t the same as pâté of foie gras–a terrine is made of pieces layered into a deep, rectangular dish of the same name, and baked, whereas pâté is smooth–a paste. (If you see a circumflex, the hat symbol like this: ˆthen insert an “s” after the letter wearing the hat and you’ll probably recognize the word in English. Examples include forêt/forest), hôpital/hospital, rôti/roast. But the circumflex gets used for other things, too, such as differentiating when a word is spelled the same but means something completely different like sur (on) vs. sûr (sure/certain).)
In this case, the terrine might not be officially a terrine because I didn’t bake it. On the other hand, some of the fish terrines are made cold. Who cares, right? Restaurants are making ever-greater leaps of imagination in the naming of their dishes so that it’s hard to guess what will show up. I got the idea from things I’ve eaten and photos online and combined the parts I liked while omitting the things I didn’t. For example, one recipe called for frozen peas, but it’s summer and I have a bounty of fresh vegetables at my fingertips, so I used fresh zucchini. Don’t worry about the proportions too much–it will turn out fine with a little more carrot or a little less ricotta. Just make sure you really cook the vegetables you choose, otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting a pretty, clean slice.
The only hitch is that it really needs to be made the day before so it can set. But that’s usually a plus when entertaining, isn’t it?Vegetable Terrine
2-3 carrots, cut into small pieces
2 zucchini, cut into small pieces
3 red peppers (or red, yellow, green), WHOLE!
A bunch of fresh basil or other herbs, chopped finely
1 packet of unflavored gelatin (about 8 grams)
1 cup (25 cl) crème fraîche or half and half cream
400-ish grams (about 1 2/3 cups) ricotta (I had a 500g tub and used some of it for the tarte soleil and carrot rillettes in my earlier post)
Roast the peppers. The easiest way is to put them whole on the grill–they are easier to turn and it’s easier to roast the curvy parts. You also can do it under a broiler. When the skin is charred all over, put the peppers in a paper or plastic bag to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half from stem to bottom to remove the seeds. Remove the skins.
Line a loaf pan with plastic film. Leave plenty of overlap so that you have enough to fold over the top. Push the film down into the corners. You want it to really follow the pan or your terrine will have a weirdly shaped top.
Cut the carrots into small pieces. Cook in boiling water until they’re soft. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, and put into a bowl to cool. Keep the cooking water. Drop the zucchini into the same water and cook until soft. Strain and put into a separate bowl.
In a small bowl, put about 1/2 cup of water, then sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it sit while you mash the carrots and the zucchini separately with a fork or potato masher. It’s very easy and not worth the cleanup of a blender or food processor. Season each with salt and pepper.
In another bowl, mix the ricotta with the herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat the cream. Add the dissolved gelatin and stir. Then split the cream mixture three ways–into the carrots, the zucchini and the ricotta.
You have some options here. I saw a gorgeous photo of a terrine with a glistening red top of pepper, but I think that next time I’ll cut strips and make a design of diagonal stripes. In any case, set down your terrine top in the bottom of the loaf pan. If you use entire halves of pepper, squeeze them close together so you don’t end up with gaps.
Then pour in the layer of ricotta, then the layer of carrot, then the layer of zucchini. I did it like that for maximum color contrast, not to have the orange carrot next to the red pepper. You can get fancy and, for example, have extra carrots that you cut in half lengthwise and cook until they’re very tender. Just lay them down lengthwise in the dish and pour the mixture over them and they’ll show up very pretty when you cut it open. If you have extra pepper you can make another layer with that. Fold the plastic film back over the top and refrigerate for at least six hours. When it’s time to serve, peel back the film and place a plate or tray over the loaf pan, then flip the entire thing, remove the pan and peel off the plastic film. I wouldn’t try to lift it out and turn it over.
My terrine pan is enormous: 11″x7″ (28x18cm). In the future I will do it with a smaller loaf pan, 9″x5″ (23x13cm) so that the layers will be thicker and prettier.
This is one of those high-impact, pretty dishes that’s easy to make. You can get creative, with different vegetables and pieces of vegetables that make designs when cut. Why not!!
Midsummer’s Night Dinner Party
We had a little get-together last weekend, and I wanted to share some dishes with you. But first, some exciting news: We’re featured on Distant Francophile, on the “Franco-Files” audio interviews. Janelle, the Distant Francophile herself, visits France regularly and writes a great blog about French style, travel tips, culture and more. I was very flattered to be included. We talked a lot about buying property in France and renovating it.
On to the dinner: Everything was made ahead, no last-minute slaving in a hot kitchen. Like most people in France, even in the south of France, we don’t have air conditioning. But the evenings are cool and the climate is dry enough that we don’t battle bugs. It’s ideal for using our outdoor dining room, a pergola surrounded by stone walls.
Our neighbors and our kid are vegetarian; I am 99.5% vegetarian, too. When I was dating the Carnivore, he asked me, warily, whether I was vegetarian. In my mind, either you are or you aren’t, like being pregnant, or being an art thief. There’s no, “it depends.” Thus, having a hamburger once a year and steak tartare maybe twice a year, plus a chicken a couple of times, and fish, too, made me anything but vegetarian, even if the total came to once or twice a month. Certainly not once or twice a day, which is the Carnivore’s case. So I have been a huge disappointment in the meat department, especially because he doesn’t count chicken or fish as meat.
Anyway, my plan was to have a complete vegetarian meal, and he would grill ridiculously gigantic steaks for the meat-eaters. I wasn’t interested in the usual vegetarian option of making a menu and just leaving out the meat for the vegetarians–“let them eat potatoes.” I wanted to flip that and make a vegetarian menu and just add meat for the carnivores.
For starters, we had crudités with ranch dip (huge hit in France); oeufs mimosa (deviled eggs); and hard sausages.
The entrées were tarte soleil with zucchini and tomato, carrot rillettes and a clafoutis with cherry tomatoes. Une tarte soleil is just a tart with the crust cut to look like a sun. Very pretty. And while clafoutis is typically a dessert, this was a savory version with cheese.
The main course was a daube, or thick stew, of eggplant and chickpeas, served with potatoes–same as for the steak eaters. And there was a vegetable terrine on the side. I wanted the vegetable side dish to be cold, pretty, and something I could serve as a piece, not by the spoonful. It was an esthetic choice. I didn’t want the vegetarian plates to be just splotches of undefined stuff.
You never know the secrets people will spill after a few glasses of wine. The secrets cascade, too. One person divulges something, and, receiving nothing but empathy and caring from those gathered, someone else is emboldened to share something as well. One friend described being taken from his hard-working but impoverished single mother and shipped to a convent, where the nuns were cruel (this was a common theme in the friends’ stories). This guy is the sweetest, calmest, gentlest person. So many people who have had bad childhoods turn out with their kindness broken. It’s beaten out of them. But not him. And it all made me think of how the scars of separation never heal, even seven decades later. He described the scene of being taken from his mother in minute detail. Children belong with their parents. I have several friends who are foster parents, and some of the cases are heartbreaking proof that at times children are not safe with their parents. But then there are cases of cruel bureaucracy–back in the day it was against single mothers; today it is, in some places, against parents with brown skin fleeing violence that has its roots in the very country they’re fleeing to–their hoped-for safe haven created and fed the dangers in their homelands that caused them to run.Another friend is from Normandy. That I always knew, and I always knew his age. But what I failed to put together before is that he was born in 1941. Think of what was going on in Normandy in the 1940s–some of the worst of World War II. He said his earliest memories were the planes buzzing overhead and the German trucks trundling past the house. Can you even imagine raising children smack in the middle of war? But if you can’t escape…. And of course, the problems didn’t end with V-E Day. Communities were destroyed, food was rationed, malnutrition was rampant. Our kid listened, eyes wide, to his very unusual childhood memories. Talk about making history come to life. It’s too bad elders aren’t tapped in a better way as a resource for teaching.
There are titillating secrets, too. I heard about one villager, known as TinTin, who apparently quite the womanizer when he was young. To get even, his wife had an affair with one of his buddies…and got pregnant. As the son grew, he looked exactly like the buddy; it’s true he doesn’t look a bit like TinTin. I used to think he was always mad, and steered clear–our kids were in school together. But now I wonder whether his expression was of sadness, of probably knowing the story of his birth, even though TinTin raised him as his own. And I never would have guessed Mme. TinTin was the scheming, nasty person described; I knew her only as the very prim and proper lady, whom I would greet as she meticulously swept her front step.
Back to the recipes!
1 premade flaky pie crust (pâte feuillété…you can get a bunch of different kinds here).
2-3 tablespoons of soft cheese: cream cheese, ricotta, Boursin. Just so it spreads.
summer vegetables, sliced very thin. I used two zucchini and a tomato. I peeled the zucchini, cut rounds, then cut the rounds in half.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 360F/180C. Spread out the pie crust on a large cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mine were too small, so I turned one over. The crust extended past the edge a little but didn’t slump.Put a bowl about 5-6 inches (12-13 cms) in diameter in the middle of the crust. Smear the cheese on the pie crust around the bowl. Then arrange the vegetables. I made two rings, facing opposite directions.Remove the bowl and cut the pie crust in the center as shown below. Fold back the dough over the vegetables. Brush with olive oil and bake until the crust is brown. Delicious at room temperature.
Rillettes are made from meat or fish, cooked very, very slowly in their own fat until they fall apart into shreds. The vegetarian version gets its name because the carrots fall to shreds and you can spread the stuff on bread, but that’s where the similarities end.
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
3 oz. or about 1/3 cup (75g) soft cheese like cream cheese, ricotta, St. Môret….I used cream cheese for both this and the tarte soleil, since the tarte requires so little.
Boil the carrots until they’re soft. Drain. Use a fork to smash them roughly into chunks. You don’t want purée.
When cool, mix the carrots with the cheese; salt and pepper to taste. You can jazz it up with spices–cumin is good.
Spread on baguettes or toast.
Usually clafoutis is a dessert, made with cherries. The batter is similar to the batter for crêpes, but instead of individual, thin pancakes, you pour it all into a pan.
1 cup/120 g flour
1 cup/25 cl milk
2 oz/50g parmesan, finely grated (please don’t use the ready-made stuff!)
30-50 cherry tomatoes (small ones are better, but you need more of them)
Butter for the baking dish
Preheat the oven to 360F/180C. Beat the eggs. Add the flour, then thin out the mixture with the milk so you don’t get lumps. Add the parmesan. Let it rest 20-30 minutes.
Butter and flour a 9×12-inch baking dish. Pour in the batter. Then drop in the tomatoes here and there. Sprinkle with thyme and peppercorns. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Then you can set the oven to broil for a minute to make the top browner, if you like.
Serve at room temperature.
I didn’t have enough tomatoes from our garden, and the tomatoes I found at the market were pretty large, with the result that they produced a lot of juice.. Look for the smallest size you can. A mix of colors is pretty.
You can do this other ways: instead of parmesan, try mozzarella (you’ll want to add some salt to the batter; note that this version doesn’t have any because parmesan is pretty salty).
More recipes on Friday!
Kid-Friendly Travel in France
As a parent, I’ve been there and done that as far as sight-seeing and eating out with kids in France. Here are some tips, mainly for eating out with kids. Restaurants seem to be the most-fraught moment in many travelers’ trips to France, what with the different customs and language barriers (especially when menus use terms that are clever but not very clear about what will be on your plate). This is a repost, because today is C.R.A.Z.Y.
It’s fairly rare to see children at fine restaurants in France. It isn’t that the French don’t love kids–they have a higher fertility rate than other developed countries (1.98 kids per woman in France, compared with 1.91 in the U.K. and 1.86 in the U.S.). and government policies around maternity leave, job protection and pay are strong (I don’t want to say “generous,” because that sounds as if it isn’t deserved, when in fact it’s earned).
All the same, kids and adults occupy distinct realms in France. And to have the best experience possible while traveling with kids, it’s good to know the cultural expectations (you can always flout these–it’s a free country–but you will be subject to Gallic scowls).
Dinner is late in France. Most people I know eat between 7 and 8 p.m. at home (BTW, the French use the 24-hour clock, so it would be 19h (h for heure) and 20h). But it’s rare to find a restaurant open at 7. Most start service at 8. When toddlers need 12-14 hours a night and even preteens need 9-11 hours, it’s logical that they are in bed around 8 p.m. The French deal with this by leaving the kids at home with a babysitter.
The other challenge is the French expectation that dinner should be enjoyed slowly. It is difficult to enjoy dinner when you have a ticking time bomb of a toddler sharing your table. We would target one of the few restaurants that opens at 7, La Grande Bouffe, which suited the Carnivore just fine, as it specializes in large slabs of red meat cooked (well, quickly passed near) a wood fire right there in the dining room. We would get there the minute it opened and order quickly, lest a big table arrive and overwhelm the one-man kitchen.
Our child would sit angelically for an hour, which seemed like quite a feat for a one- or two-year-old, but after that, all bets were off. First fussing, then increasingly emphatic demands to get DOWN. However, even in family restaurants, kids don’t wander the way they do in the U.S. Restaurants do not provide crayons and special paper placements for coloring. Bring your own. Also a sippy cup, because they also don’t have plastic glasses, and you can’t enjoy your meal if you are trying to keep your kid from dropping or knocking over a glass glass. A stroller is a good option (if there’s room–some restaurants are tiny), because they can go to sleep.
There are options, such as brasseries, with wider hours. Informal family restaurants–mostly chains like Hippopotamus or Buffalo Grill–open early and have reliably OK food but do you really want to spend your meals in France in the equivalent of Applebees? (I like Applebees well enough but I wouldn’t cross the ocean to eat at one.) One Parisian restaurant that’s quite loud–in a raucous, not discotheque way–is Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois, a medieval-style place where the servers, dressed in period costumes, stab your knife into the table. It is not gastronomic, but pretty fun, a bit like our medieval meal last summer.
Nice restaurants in France are quiet. In the U.S., the louder the better, but that doesn’t hold here. Everybody speaks in a whisper. That means you have no cover or plausible deniability when your kid shrieks. And nicer restaurants rarely have children’s menus or high chairs (and forget about changing tables!).
If you don’t want to go downmarket to family-focused restaurants, consider nice restaurants with outdoor seating, where the ambient noise level is higher. The catch is that all the smokers want to sit outdoors, but you might be able to score a spot upwind or with nonsmokers around.
Another option is to shift your schedule and eat your “nice” meal or main meal at lunch. The expectations for calm are somewhat less strict at lunch, plus the menu usually is cheaper–double win.
If a place doesn’t have a kid’s menu, they sometimes will offer the same menu as for adults, with half portions at half the price. One of our favorite restaurants in Carcassonne, Le Clos des Framboisiers, does the half-size, half-price option. Our favorite Chinese restaurant, La Jonque, suggested a stir-fry of chicken and vegetables with rice–not on the menu, but it was a big hit with our kid.
Some years later, our kid asked to have a birthday sleepover with two friends, with dinner at La Jonque–ALONE. So I called and reserved two tables, specifying that they should be as far apart as possible in such a small place. The chef and his wife have kids, and understood. We arrived all together, then split into opposite corners of the dining room. Another family with kids about the same age were there, and those kids stared wide-eyed with naked jealousy as ours ordered on their own and seemed to have a great time at their very own table.
If you have decided your main “nice” meal is lunch, then you can have something simple or even get takeout for dinner. This is one of the best arguments for renting an apartment, where you can feed your kids, put them to bed, then relax with a glass of wine. I am not one of the people who will put a child to sleep in a hotel room and then go down to the lounge in the lobby. But it’s no fun (been there, done that) to sit IN the hotel room in the dark while your kid sleeps for 12 straight hours. A separate bedroom lets them get the sleep they need (a tired kid is a cranky kid), while letting you look over plans for the next day or just zone out in front of the TV.
The way to hold out from noon to 8 p.m. is to adopt the French snack, called un goûter (a taste), un quatre-heures (a 4 o’clock–this one doesn’t follow the 24-hour system) or even un petit quatre-heures (a little 4 o’clock). Don’t even get me started on how un quatre-heures is masculine when heure is feminine.
I have found that an essential element to good behavior in children is to use up their energy. France has great parks and playgrounds. The lovely Place des Vosges in Paris has a big playground, full of beautifully dressed kids (wearing artfully tied scarves) being watched by their chicly dressed parents. Our kid’s eagle eye would detect playgrounds from a mile away. “Maison!” I would strain to pick it out, and sure enough, on the corner of a public square otherwise filled with café tables, there was a playground with a little house on stilts and a slide coming out. Just watch out for the “Pelouse interdit”–keep off the grass–signs and stick to the actual playground.
In Paris, in the basement of the Louvre, there’s a shopping gallery, and at one end, there’s a big empty space where you can see excavations of the ancient foundations. Almost nobody goes there (“What’s this?” “Old stones.” “Cool. OK, what’s next?”). This is the perfect place for some little ones to run and scream their heads off before dinner. It’s especially good on rainy days when they can’t run and scream outside; one of the few indoor places where outdoor voices are OK. Even if you’ve been hoofing around sight-seeing, your toddler has probably been strapped into a stroller and is dying to move.
With a little planning, your kid can have fun, you can relax and people around you won’t be annoyed.