Archive | France RSS feed for this section

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 les Fêtes – New Year

12 Jan

Sunny and warm in Le Mans. Cold and brisk in Paris upon arrival.

A mere 55-minute fast TGV train ride later transported into the bustling busy heart of the capital.

It’s like I haven’t left. Same bearings. Just that easy.

How the weather can be drastically different 130 miles (210 km) apart remains a mystery.

Goodbye Christmassy Le Mans. Bonjour New Year à Paris !

Grandma’s welcoming cosy apartment hasn’t changed. Sorry, it has.

With the winter coat still on and heavy bags in my cold and swollen hands, a careful inspection of the new installed modern windows is inevitable.

And the couch has been firmed up too. We do need to sit down to christen it.

One by one, the fresh exciting new additions of the comfortably decorated home are pointed out so I am briefed and caught up on all things current.

Regarde, c’est nouveau aussi, ça !

Nouveau or old, the place is full of memories and in my eyes a time capsule filled with visions of a past not to be forgotten – even with new windows!

Why don’t you replace this framed painting? You realize it’s been on the wall for 25 years. Here, there’s this new frame you have in the closet just dying to be hung and seen. Just sayin’.

And just like that – out with the old and on with the nouveau. The faded painting was swiftly replaced.

That’s what France is all about – a charming delightful shuffle of different eras and genres.

Just like in the post about New York City, discovering new places and neighborhoods in Paris is a favorite hobby of mine par excellence.

Loosing oneself in unknown territories, taking an uncertain turn only to end up somewhere familiar and suddenly guffawing I didn’t realize this was here!

It’s the magic of Paris. Big city, big crowds, quiet corners and silent escapes with photo opportunities at each foot step. Even when lost, familiar reference points pop unexpectedly.

The pleasure of the unexpected.

This year, my wandering mind was set to explore the areas of le Parc Montsouris (14th), la Butte aux Cailles (13th), Passy (16th) and… the list is quite long and there won’t be enough time.

La campagne à Paris (20th) and le Canal St Martin (10th) will just have to wait.

Finding different itineraries emanating provincial resonances in the heart of the city. J’adore !

A celebratory mood was floating in the air. The family was boiling with excitement.

Christmas, New Year, oui ! But also birthdays to celebrate. Gran turning 80 and Dad 53.

Just the special occasion needed to dress to the nines and dine at fancy brand new restaurant Cobéa.

Black, white and gray shaded, Cobéa served a delicate innovative tasting menu. Impressed is not the right adjective to describe the experience.

Amazed, possibly. Astonishingly and deliciously prestigious would be more appropriate.

An exceptional night to remember.

Spending time in Paris is also a way to uncover and hunt for new food places.

A morning visit to Au Petit Versailles du Marais bakery, which a dear friend recently renovated and reopened a month ago proved to be a perfect Parisian breakfast stop.

Belle Époque ceiling, tiles and mirrors. A sunny illuminated corner. Delicious breads and pastries. A restful nook for a French breakfast experience.

Americans should enjoy this spot for it provides several tables, which is a rarity in a Paris bakery.

If you happen to walk by the St Paul subway stop on line 1 and venture up to the corner of rue Tiron and rue Miron (4th), you’ll find this gem.

The early hours of the morning will brighten your day as the sun rises on your fresh and crispy pain au chocolat.

A visual pleasure.

Another day, another bakery visit.

I. Can’t. Stop.

Sébastien Gaudard opened a month ago as well on chic rue des Martyrs (9th).

Clean and refined surfaces for a bright crisp pâtisserie shop.

Uncluttered atmosphere.

The sophistication of the splendid pastries made the visit that much more exquisite.

Especially when I left with a rich chocolate tart and a mini buttery kouglof crossed with a pain aux raisins.

Meanwhile, the outdoor plentiful Christmas markets are in full swing.

Food, fabrics, Christmas gifts – it’s a gastronomic Tour de France where regional specialties collide in one spot.

A cup of mulled wine in one hand. A Nutella almond crêpe in the other. The markets swarm with crowds looking to get a taste of something they’ve never heard of before.

The Alsacian and Corsican booths are always the busiest.

But the enormous gooey cheesy tartiflette spread displayed in a giant pan at the Savoie corner attracts the biggest gatherings and gasps.

Contrasting with this country vibe, the sparkling and fully decorated shiny Grands Magasins next door provide an elegant getaway from the rustic markets.

Everybody knows that gazing at the department stores’ windows is a must-do when in Paris for les Fêtes.

On December 31, the city magically emptied itself. Subways, shops and streets.

Alone in St Germain. And alone again at Châtelet.

An end-of-year special treat while last-minute food shopping out and about.

A quest for the impromptu while consciously making lists in my head about the New Year’s Day feast menu striding along the streets.

Foie gras, duck confit, Corsican bean ragoût, mandarin-chocolate bûche – we’re all set.

A final purchase. Bon réveillon Monsieur ! Small storekeepers and customers alike glow with a joyful glee at the idea of a festive evening spent with friends or family.

At home, the apéritif and petits fours already await.

Midnight in Paris. A balmy 55 degree (13 C) night. 2012 is ahead of us.

Crowds dancing at the St Michel fountain.

Men and women kissing and hugging each other as they curve their walk to follow the winding Seine.

Champagne bottles heard popping on the 3rd floor of 25 rue du Temple.

Music playing throughout the streets between Odéon and le Champ de Mars.

And after a copious New Year’s Eve dinner with friends, a gentle 2-mile stroll with coats wide open and no scarf to admire the city at night was the best way to start a new year.

The warmest since 1883 or so they say.

And the first meal of 2012?

Delightfully prepared with love and care.

Abundantly colorful, rustic and tasty.

A simple yet stunning time spent around a cheerful table.

The wines kept for 15 years in the cellar made a [too-brief] appearance on the table.

In all honesty, they disappeared too quickly.

2012 was celebrated the entire day until dessert, coffee and 50-year old liquors and brandies were poured. Even then there was still room to ingest more.

Good wishes and steady health. A prosperous new year ahead.

Recurring thanks and wishes flying out of everyone’s mouths.

And as all good things come to an end, the trip nearing completion with a myriad of Paris memories thronging, we’ll remember while closing the 2011 window to widespread espèrance – hope – and optimism in the new year.

Bonne Année à tous.

Frenchie and les Fêtes – Christmas

10 Jan

I’ll be home for Christmas.

Jazzy Christmas songs playing in the background while packing the suitcase. Unfocused. So many things to bring and think about.

Swanky Christmas parties were going full swing in Boston. France was waiting for me at the end of the tunnel.

But not before a quick hop to Milwaukee, WI to celebrate the Holidays with friendly faces and midwestern friends.

And from there, time seemed to have granted my wish to fly as fast as possible while I put my suitcase down in front of a familiar French door, pressing on the doorbell and waiting impatiently for someone to come and open it.

Enfin arrivé !

A cold frosty December morning but a warm house. The yellow light piercing through the windows is soft, peaceful and inviting.

For days now the white-walled bedroom has been carefully prepared for my arrival.

As I place my bags next to the hot radiator, I can’t help but notice the welcoming French sun already warming the garden and the twinkling grass all around. The white shiny frost will melt fast enough that we can probably leave the windows and doors wide opened this afternoon.

It’s cold in the morning but unusually warm by mi-day.

Ce n’est pas normal en décembre.

A quick lunch is in order though. Something easy, something small.

We have 3 soups ready in the fridge.

We can make a tri-colored soup bowl.

Mais oui, une tri-soupe.

Saucissons – oui !

Let’s peel some potatoes and cook them in the fireplace.

And I’m sure the fish guy next door has some pollock for us.

Look at this dark wild blackberry home-made jam, it will pair royally with the tart we made.

As I said, effortlessly easy and small.

Il y a du fromage aussi !

Jet lag now digested, it was time to decorate the Christmas tree. Une tradition.

The dusty boxes and old suitcases full of Christmas decorations were brought up from the cool cellar next to the wine arousing amazement and joy in the bright eyes of young and old alike.

Colorful shiny tinsel writhing on the floor, old familiar ornaments slowly climbing the tree with small and big hands placing them carefully on the aromatic spiky green branches.

As kids, my brother and I used to split ornaments according to our favorites so we would only hang the ones we each liked.

Needless to say, I had already coveted some of his ornaments. But then I started to wonder if I would still be able to get away with stealing and hanging 2 or 3 from his pile of ornaments like I used to do.

Ironically, my mum proactively interjects – les garçons, no fighting!

Embracing the old with the new, we deliberately settle for treating ourselves with different flavors during the Christmas Eve dinner – called le Réveillon.

No particular liking in keeping with the traditional oysters, foie gras, roasted capon and chestnuts, potatoes, apple compote and Christmas dessert (bûche).

Our feast would include trout mousse spread, savory petits fours and foie gras. And this was not even the appetizer!

All night long, the table witnessed a parade of courses and dishes – tasty oysters, a velvety watercress soup, a citrusy prawn curry with pineapple, a plentiful cheese tray, a spectacular pyramid of French macarons, a Christmas fruit salad with ginger and black peppercorns and other delicious dishes and variations of traditional well-known recipes.

Pouring another glass of Champagne, reaching for yet another macaron and pretending the night is still young, we discerned signs of fatigue through the joyful promise of staying up all night.

And then came Christmas morning.

I can’t tell you why it’s difficult for me to sleep on Christmas morning. I try and try again to stay quietly in bed but to no avail.

And right by my side, as the sun caresses the chair I can barely see from the bed with its first morning rays, all I can think of is Christmas breakfast.

Waiting for everyone to awake in order to open presents is a growing harrowing pain that shouldn’t be described.

Everyone’s polished and shiny shoes were delicately placed under the glistening tree since the night before – waiting for Santa. They are now filled and stuffed with presents. Presents all around them.

Yes, stockings in the U.S. and shoes in France. But not your everyday casual shoes. Non, non ! Your best dressed shoes are required. And they should be clean and sparkling – don’t want to offense Santa!

It’s an unusual Christmas morning.

It’s warm. Really warm.

We could almost eat outside!

And we do!

Amidst the scattered pieces of noisy wrapping papers and bright-colored strings, we managed to play in the pleasantly floodlit garden, say Joyeux Noël to farm animals and frugally eat a casual lunch-snack outside.

A warm woolen sweater and a thick scarf are sufficient. The winter coats can stay locked inside.

Even the ladybugs joined us!

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an afternoon family activity.

When the entire city shuts down and celebrations stretch through the day, a walk in the old city of Le Mans would prove to be the perfect Christmas outing for everyone.

The oldest buildings date from the 14th century but most are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

I’ve walked these streets a million times but always take a detour to go back, admire and recapture the dramatic feeling of times past with elegant, iconic quaint scenery.

Winding and undulating, the streets of le vieux Mans are uniquely well-preserved.

And that’s what les Fêtes (The Holidays) are in France – probably a lot more subdued and modest than in the U.S.

But above all, a time spent with family around a beautifully decorated tree and table where food, quality time and laughter take a center stage.

Next stop: Paris – coming soon!

A special thank you to BostInno for placing a special order of Holiday cocktails before Christmas and publishing the article.

%d bloggers like this: