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Frenchie and la Belle France

11 Dec

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La belle France !

I’ve been back for a month now and I’m finally sitting down to post some pictures and a new recipe directly inspired by this recent trip.

A journey in France under a soothing and warm fall sun.

Where red and green intertwine and the light coming from the sky is pale and white.

A color combination to remember in the kitchen when preparing a special seafood dish to impart this experience.

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The greatest of adventures in Paris is to discover new things, new places and new sceneries.

My latest kick? Walk through as many cours intérieures as possible.

Ever wanted to see those lovely small inside courtyards behind those big Parisian locked doors?

And despite the digicodes – those entry control systems with numeric pads outside every main doors in Paris – one might be sneaky enough to press the entry/exit button during the day when most systems are not turned on yet.

Between rue de Charonne and rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Or as you stroll rue Pigalle and around rue des Martyrs.

I discovered gems.

Even behind 17 rue Bleue where the Cantine de la maison de la culture arménienne – a small restaurant at the Armenian Cultural Center – hides at the back of the courtyard.

And if you surprisingly run into la gardienne, just say Bonjour Madame !

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So many treasures to uncover.

And in these enclosed courtyards, protected from the outside world and noises, it’s the discreet and muffled sound of Parisian life that is distinctly heard through the few open windows.

A certain mood floating around as I stand in the center, looking up and around.

Demure. Calm. Unassuming. Yet full of life.

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The pastoral French countryside.

A bucolic side trip where the same colorful reds and greens kept revealing themselves in a scenic patchwork.

A wealth of trees and grass.

Farmers’ markets filled with distorted red orangish gourds and bright squash varieties.

The whispers of the market – a light hubbub of friends and neighbors babbling under a pale and transparent morning light.

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This new recipe was not only inspired by the color scheme following me throughout the trip but also by L’Agrume, a restaurant in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

A bowl full of white pale clams.

Sprinkled with green onions.

A touch of red chorizo.

And a simple after taste of lemon.

It made for a perfect dish to enjoy throughout November.

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Clams, Chorizo and Green Onions with Creamy Lemon Broth

serves 4

3.5 cups (80 cl) of water

1 cube of vegetable bouillon (I use vegan vegetable bouillon cubes with sea salt)

the zest and juice of one organic lemon

2 Tbsp of chopped thyme

1 Tbsp of fennel seeds

2 green onions thinly sliced (green and white parts) + 2 more for sprinkling

sea salt and pepper

2 lbs (1 kg) of littleneck clams

1 Tbsp (15 g) of butter

2 heaping Tbsp of crème fraîche

about 3 oz (75 g) of chorizo – thinly sliced

slices of bread

In a big heavy pot, combine the water, bouillon cube, lemon zest and juice, thyme, fennel seeds, green onions, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil.

Place the clams directly in the boiling water, reduce the heat, and cook until the clams open.

In the meantime, remove the casing around the chorizo and slice it thinly.

When the clams open, remove them from the pot and place them in a separate bowl covered with foil or a towel to keep warm.

Drop the butter and crème fraîche in the clam broth and stir until melted and well-combined.

Add the chorizo slices to the pot, stir and remove them as soon as they start to release a brightly red tint.

Serve the clams in bowls, top with the warm chorizo slices and scoop out the creamy lemon broth with a spoon. Drizzle all over the bowl and clams.

Sprinkle the last green onion slices on top with an extra dash of freshly ground pepper and some more thyme if needed.

Do not forget the slices of bread to soak up the broth.

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Frenchie and l’Apéro Dînatoire

16 Aug

David, I’m scared! I was invited by this French family to an apéro dînatoire.

What is it and what am I getting myself into? It sounds appealing yet frightening.

Are they going to grill me on my subjonctif plus-que-parfait? Do I need to eat beforehand?

Should I brush up on La Marseillaise and boldly lie to them with positive comments as to why hand-held shower heads are better after all?

… such are the frantic questions I received via texts from my friend “J.”

Frankly, I am still surprised that American cooking and food magazines haven’t yet bought into the French fad of l’apéro dînatoire – especially since it involves food and drinks!

A great opportunity to write about what it actually is and give you 3 new recipes to go along with it.

Tapas, antipasti, finger food, cocktail party, hors d’œuvres, drinks and nibbles – translate it however you want, the apéro dînatoire is meant to have fun and eat.

In France, the apéritif takes place before the meal as a way to open up and boost the appetite.

Leave it to the French to awaken and exalt your stomach with finger food and the arousing idea of an exciting meal to be served next.

An alcoholic beverage as well as some amuse-bouches are offered to snack on while lunch or dinner is being prepared.

Commonly shortened to apéro in casual conversations, l’apéritif is a real tradition française.

French magazines picked up on the trendy apéro dînatoire very early on.

Apéro dînatoire ideas for 4, 8 or 10!

Apéro dînatoire on a budget!

Easy apéro dînatoire!

My definition of an apéro dînatoire is quite simple.

It is a social gathering mixing cold and hot finger foods – which should involve the least amount of prep time – usually made in advance, paired with wines or cocktails, and showcasing the host’s ability to effortlessly cook and assemble the most complicated delicious treats all the while telling impressed guests that it was soooo easy to prepare and that it took no time at all.

Mais non, c’est très simple ! I swear.

It should leave you fulfilled and content. Not hungry, yet not stuffed either.

An apéro dînatoire – more than just a small quick apéritif, yet not a full-on dinner either.

The French are very keen on the cake salé – or savory cake – for these events.

Another fad I am surprised American food magazines haven’t pick up yet.

Zucchini breads always end up too sweet in my opinion so I wouldn’t consider them as a cake salé.

Blue cheese with pears. Gorgonzola with honey. Blue cheese with bacon.

They are effortlessly “easy” to prepare, different, and make for great finger food sliced up with a glass of wine.

And since August comes to its end and I used to spend my August vacations as a kid in Corsica, my latest savory cake is reminiscent of those Corsican flavors I know so well.

A bit of southern France on your plate.

Made with chestnut flour, it awakens the taste buds with hints of prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, and brings great texture thanks to a combination of millet and amaranth flours and a crunchy finish with toasted pine nuts.

It took 4 hungry mouths and 25 minutes for the cake to almost disappear from the pan at my last apéro dînatoire.

So is the apéro dînatoire the French answer to the Spanish tapas and pinchos?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Spain.

At times, my mind and my thoughts are still vacationing in Spain even though I got back in early June.

The power of traveling abroad! Lingering memories of a wonderful trip.

And with a post about apéro dînatoire, what better way than to include Spanish pinchos I keep dreaming about.

I know I will make as many pinchos and savory cakes as I can until the end of summer.

Enjoying the last warm evenings gathered with friends around a festive apéro dînatoire.

Chestnut-Flavored Savory Cake with Prosciutto and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

use an 8.5″ x 4.5″ (22 x 12 cm) loaf pan

3 eggs

0.5 cup (100 ml) of olive oil

1/4 cup (50 ml) of whole milk

1/4 cup (50 ml) of white wine

0.5  cup (50 g) of shredded Parmesan

0.5 cup (50 g) of grated Pecorino

0.5 cup (60 g) of chestnut flour

1/3 cup (60 g) of white rice flour

5 Tbsp of amaranth flour

3 Tbsp of millet flour

2 teaspoon of baking powder

1.5 Tbsp of xanthan gum

1 garlic clove – minced

1.5-2 oz (40-55 g) of prosciutto – roughly cut and chopped

12 green olives – sliced

6 Tbsp of pine nuts – toasted

7 sun dried-tomatoes – roughly chopped

2 Tbsp of sage – chopped

2 Tbsp of basil – chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C). Butter the cake pan and set aside.

In a small pan, toast the pine nuts over high heat until they become fragrant (about 2 minutes). Let them cool.

I use sun-dried tomatoes already marinated in olive oil. Blot them with paper towels before chopping them.

In a big bowl, combine the eggs and the olive oil using a hand mixer until light and smooth. It should have doubled its volume (2 minutes).

Add the milk and wine. Continue mixing for 1 minute.

Add both cheeses to the bowl and mix delicately with a spatula.

In a smaller bowl, sift the flours together with the baking powder and xanthan gum.  Mix them together.

Add the flours to the wet ingredients and stir until well combined.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the batter: garlic, prosciutto, olives, toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, sage and basil.

Mix gently.

Pour and spread the dough in the cake pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of it comes out dry.

Note: I did not include any sea salt in this recipe. The olives, Parmesan, Pecorino and prosciutto add enough salt to the cake on their own.

Goat cheese with Spiced Peach Compote Pincho

and

Anchovy and Roasted Red Pepper Pincho with Quail Egg

exact numbers and measurements not given here so you can make as many as you want.

1 baguette

1 garlic clove – peeled and halved

olive oil

frisée lettuce

1 goat cheese with rind

1 batch of spiced peach compote ( you will need 11-13 ripe peaches, 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 3 Tbsp of lime juice, 1.5 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 6 whole star anise, 10 whole cloves, 0.5 cup (100 g) of blonde cane sugar, 1/3 cup (65 g) of light Muscovado sugar, 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract)

pistachios – toasted and roughly chopped

cherry tomatoes

basil leaves

small skewers

Make the spiced peach compote. Combine all ingredients needed for the compote in a big pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes. Check regularly. Uncover after 30 minutes and continue cooking for an additional 15-18 minutes until the peaches are really soft. Set aside and let cool. Discard the star anise and clove pieces when cold.

Toast the bread by setting the oven on broiler – high.

Rub the garlic clove on the bread slices – both sides – and brush them with olive oil.

Set them on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until golden and toasted. Set aside.

Toast the pistachios in a small pan over high heat until fragrant (2-4 minutes).

Assemble the pincho by cutting a slice of goat cheese with a hot knife. Set the cheese on top of a frisée leaf. Drop a small spoonful of peach compote on top and sprinkle with the chopped toasted pistachios. Finish by placing a cherry tomato wrapped in a basil leaf on top and use a skewer to hold the pincho together.

For the other pincho, you will need:

1 baguette

1 garlic clove – peeled and halved

olive oil

anchovies

fire roasted red peppers – thinly sliced lengthwise

pitted black olives

quail eggs

To boil the quail eggs, fill a small pan with water, drop the eggs in the water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs cook for 5 minutes.

Place them under cold water when done to stop the cooking process. Set aside and let cool.

Toast the bread slices as explained above.

Assemble the pincho by placing 2 thin slices of roasted red pepper as well as 2 small anchovies on the toasted bread.

Prepare a skewer with one black olive, one hard-boiled quail egg and another black olive.

Spike the pincho with the skewer to make it hold.

Frenchie and Inspiration

31 Jul

What is inspiration and where does it come from?

Is it a view of tiny and almost unclaimed Lobster Cove in Gloucester, MA with shiny boats, ocean smell and the promise of a delicious dinner at The Market restaurant?

Or the shape of a closed garage door contrasting with stones and spurting white flowers?

Or perhaps the texture and colors of a wall spotted in the Rocky Neck artists’ neighborhood in Gloucester?

Or a narrow window opening onto the world.

Inspiration!

A day trip to Gloucester proved to be richly inspiring.

All around.

From the city center to Rocky Neck.

From the Eastern Point Lighthouse to Cape Ann.

Through the Halibut Point State Park and down to the Annisquam River area.

A beautiful day trip with a need for a different scenery giving birth to food and recipe ideas.

Summer food inspirations thanks to plentiful farmers’ markets and my overgrown garden.

A strawberry tart with mint, lemon verbena and Grand Marnier flavors.

A refreshing tomato gazpacho.

A bitter walnut arugula pesto.

A roasted tomato garlic quiche, which I can’t seem to stop making.

Everyday bringing more colors and creativity in the kitchen and on the table.

The new recipes in this post were born from this inspiring day trip.

Green peppercorns – a new revelation thanks to my friend “J.” and his recent gourmand summer dinner outside.

A dinner at the Market Restaurant on Lobster Cove – fresh, seasonal and local ingredients only.

A brand new menu everyday creating a unique experience like no other.

Inspiring and inspired!

And to finish my exquisite meal there, a blackberry honey sorbet.

Must. Recreate. Those. Flavors.

A mixed variety of lettuces from the garden along with beans and baskets of ripe tomatoes did the trick to prepare a salade niçoise.

Fresh, in season, and definitely local.

A salad in honor of the Market. Topped with lobster and green peppercorns of course.

Une salade très fraîche !

A different type of salade niçoise where I removed the potatoes and included the anchovies in the vinaigrette rather than on top.

A salad that can be prepared while debating why the French must remove both ends from the green beans. A daily conversation at my house.

And of course, the strong blackberries from the market paired with a bold honey – thick and golden in color – made perfect muffins.

So perfect, 2 batches were made this past week to test them again… just in case.

Golden-colored muffins with a slightly crusty top and moist blackberries inside.

Once you make them, you’ll know what type of addiction I’ve been suffering from!

Where will the next inspirations come from?

Another dinner, another friend?

Another place, perhaps?

After Gloucester, a new day trip to Provincetown, MA last week. What will it inspire soon?

And most importantly, how do you get inspired? Where do you find it?

What inspires you to make food, take pictures, or what inspires you in general?

Blackberry Honey Muffins

makes 10 muffins

2 eggs

1/3 cup (66 g) of lemon sugar

5 teaspoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of almond butter

3/4 cup (135 g) of brown rice flour

3/4 cup (90 g) of almond meal

1/4 cup (45 g) of white rice flour

pinch of sea salt

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

1/8 teaspoon of lemon extract

1/2 cup (170 g) of honey – I either use a chestnut honey or buckwheat honey for bold flavors.

1 cup (145 g) of blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C).

Prepare a muffin pan with muffin/cupcake papers.

In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer for 2 minutes until light and creamy.

Add the oil and almond butter and continue to mix for 1 minute.

Sift the flours over the bowl. Add the salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix well with a spatula until well incorporated.

Pour the lemon extract and honey slowly. Stir.

Fold in the blackberries and stir slowly.

Divide the batter to make 10 muffins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Let the muffins stand and cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Remove from the muffin pan and continue to cool on a rack.

Lobster Salade Niçoise with Green Peppercorns

for 4

2 lobsters or lobster tails – cooked and cut in chunks

8-9 oz (250 g) of small French green beans

4 tomatoes – roughly chopped in wedges

8-9 oz (250 g) of lettuce – feel free to mix your lettuces (arugula, mixed greens, Boston, Romaine) – roughly chopped

12-15 olives – niçoise or Kalamata

4 hard-boiled eggs – cut in wedges

2 garlic cloves – minced

1 teaspoon of strong Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon of lime juice

1 shallot – chopped

5 anchovy fillets – minced

1/3 cup (80 ml) of olive oil

2 tablespoons of green peppercorns – freshly crushed

Cook the lobster ahead of time so it is cold when the time to put the salad together comes. I prefer to steam lobster rather than boiling it.

Prepare a pot of salted boiling water. Remove the ends of the beans, cut them in half and drop them in the boiling water for 3 minutes.

Drain and stop the cooking process by placing them under cold water until completely cool. Set aside.

Prepare the vinaigrette by placing the garlic, mustard, vinegar, lime juice, shallot and anchovy fillets in a bowl. Slowly pour the olive oil over the ingredients and start to whisk until smooth. Set aside.

Place the lettuce, beans, tomatoes and olives in a bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over and toss with your clean hands or serving utensils.

In a big round serving dish, place the freshly mixed salad and decorate it with the egg wedges and the lobster meat/chunks.

Sprinkle the crushed green peppercorns on top.

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