Assiette de canard et melon

duck melon2When the French say melon, they are generally referring to one particular type of melon. It is small and round, about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) in diameter, with dark green stripes over a pale exterior and an intoxicatingly sweet orange interior. It is similar to cantaloupe, but more fragrant. The most highly reputed come from Cavaillon, in Provence, while the most widely sold are called Charentais. All pair delightfully with duck.

Assiette de canard et melon / Duck and melon plate

The season for melon (pronounced muh-LOH, with a nasal twang at the end) begins in July and runs into the autumn, so we were in mid-season last weekend when I created this dish. A friend and I were spending a couple of sultry days in the Burgundy countryside. We had grilled a duck breast on the barbecue the evening before, and there was enough left over to compose a lovely plate. The melon perfectly complemented the duck.

The combination is not encountered frequently here. Melon is most often paired with cured ham, for example jambon de Bayonne, from the southwest, or prosciutto, imported from Italy. In decades past, another common starter was melon au porto — the melon was cut in half, and the cavity was filled with sweet port wine.  This has faded from fashion, which is a shame because it was fantastic (watch this space).

melonIt is a mystery why the melons over here are so much sweeter than those found in the States. Perhaps because the sun in southern France is more intense, or maybe there’s another reason. If you have an idea, please let us know.

Meantime, here’s something that may interest  readers in Paris. A friend of mine, the author Ann Mah, is sponsoring an event called Food Lovers For Hillary that will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18. Major stars of the culinary firmament will be in attendance — Patricia Wells, David Lebovitz, Alexander Lobrano and Dorie Greenspan. Each will offer a prize, such as a cooking class or a market tour, to be bid for in a silent auction. The aim of the event is to raise money for Hillary Clinton, so the price of entry is a $100 donation. It is, in the opinion of this everyday French chef, a worthy cause.

Happy cooking!

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Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes

lamb meatballs1When summer finally rolls around over here, our kitchen goes Mediterranean. The sultry breezes make it easy to forget that Paris is in northern France, far from the turquoise waters. Salads from Provence, Spain, Greece, Morocco and Lebanon appear, eggplant and tomatoes in many guises come to the table. And spicy meat dishes can play a starring role, for example meatballs of ground lamb topped with a yogurt sauce and fresh herbs.

Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes / Lamb meatballs with herbs

This dish is fun to make — everyone in the family can get into the act. Don’t expect the meatballs to be perfectly round. They take on new and interesting shapes while cooking. But the result is succulent and richly flavorful. Make plenty, as there will be calls for more. (Full disclosure: I adapted this dish from a similar recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, eliminating certain Middle Eastern ingredients and substituting others to give it a French touch).

Hot-weather-inspired cooking was also on the table in New York, where I recently had the pleasure of discovering one of the city’s fusion restaurants, Asia de Cuba. The restaurant, in a new venue on Lafayette Street in the Village, reopened late last year after a four-year hiatus. As its name implies, the menu melds Latin and Asian flavors. The food was so fantastic that I wanted to tell you about it.

For starters, I had crispy octopus with marinated escabeche veggies, lychee slices and garlic chips. Sounds incongruous, but in fact the different tastes married beautifully. I went on to chili-rubbed scallops nestled in black beans and rice (one of my favorite dishes, taught to me years ago by a Cuban friend), with roasted cauliflower and Japanese aioli. The effect was exotic and toothsome. My dining companion chose a crispy calamari salad with bananas, cashews and hearts of palm, followed by the scallops and black rice.

Part of being a great everyday chef is allowing your creativity to flow free, and the Asia de Cuba experience was a brilliant example of how this can work. It doesn’t matter where you live — you can adapt a foreign dish to the cuisine of your home country by substituting local ingredients and coming up with something new. It may not always work, but when it does, the people around your table will applaud you.

Happy cooking.

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Fromage blanc aux herbes

fromage herbes2Dear readers of The Everyday French Chef: Normally I only post on Fridays, but today I am giving you a bonus recipe to compensate those of you who may have tried to access my site and instead found a blank page. Yes, you guessed right. My site was hacked again, and was down for about 24 hours. The problem is partially resolved now, allowing me to post this recipe for a delightfully light starter for a summer meal, or anytime of year.

Fromage blanc aux herbes / Fromage blanc with fresh herbs

Fromage blanc is found in various guises in different countries. It’s a fresh, smooth cheese which, as it’s name implies, is white (blanc). If it’s not available where you live, Greek yogurt makes a fine substitute. Fromage blanc is served in France either on its own, for example for breakfast, or as a dessert (maybe with jam, honey or chestnut purée added) or as a savory dish, like this one. The fresh herbs are chopped and added to the cheese along with a little salt and pepper, et voilà — a light and tasty dip for veggies or spread for bread.

And now let us turn from fromage blanc to the page blanche (blank page). I discovered the hacking problem yesterday upon my return to Paris from New York. When I tried to consult this site, I found an error message saying that the home page did not exist. All the other pages on the site appeared to be functioning. Today I called my host company, GoDaddy, and a very nice tech guy called Kyle informed me that someone had broken into the site and inserted a lot of extraneous pages with something called 64D code on them.

I had a question. Why would anyone do this? ‘Sometimes, just because they can,’ Kyle replied. But other times, the malicious coding can cause a page to redirect to another site, perhaps trying to sell something. When I got hacked in 2013, ads for ‘payday loans’ appeared on my site. I investigated this intrusion — after all, before becoming a food blogger I was a journalist, with experience in investigative reporting — and published a post on what I found. It turned out that the malicious intruders had links to Czech Republic, Russia and Germany.

So now I have been hacked again, in a different way, and the problem is not fully resolved because those extraneous pages — which readers do not see — are still lurking somewhere. I am working on the problem and hope it will be fixed by the time of my next post, on Friday. In the meantime, dear readers, if you encounter any issues when visiting the site, please let me know via the contact page.

Thanks, and happy cooking.

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Burrata-mesclun-noisettes

burrata5A whole creamy burrata beside a nest of tender greens strewn with roasted hazelnuts and surrounded by a drizzle of raspberry sauce — I wish I had dreamt up this combination myself. But in fact I was served it at a neighborhood bistro, and have been dreaming about it ever since. The combination creates an explosion of flavors that is, frankly, kind of addictive, with the very lightly sweetened raspberry sauce as an exclamation point.

Burrata-mesclun-noisettes / Burrata with mesclun and hazelnuts

Burrata is appearing more and more frequently on Paris menus these days, but I hadn’t thought about it much before encountering this dish. So what is it about burrata that’s so special? I had to look it up, and discovered that it’s basically a cream-filled mozzarella. When you cut into it, the creamy center oozes onto the plate. The flavor is mild with a just bit of tang. Ultra-sensual. Need I say more?

The raspberry sauce is easily prepared. You cook the fresh berries with a little water and sugar, then strain the sauce and reduce it. In fact, the whole salad can be made in about 20 minutes — and that includes roasting the hazelnuts. It makes a fabulous start to a meal, or  a main course at lunchtime. Serve it with a good bottle of red and some crusty bread.

And speaking of fabulous combinations, I have just discovered a fusion restaurant that crosses Cuban and Asian tastes and style. It’s not in Paris,  but Manhattan, where this everyday French chef is currently on vacation.  The restaurant, Asia de Cuba, is on Lafayette Street in the Village. My first course was grilled octopus with garlic chips, various steamed veggie spears including possibly cactus and, of all things, lychees. What can I say? It was fantastic. This was followed by spice-rubbed scallops and cauliflower on a bed of rice and black beans drizzled with a delicious creamy sauce — just a drizzle.

I was invited to this dinner by a friend who had been to Asia de Cuba before and was hoping I’d have insights about the ingredients. In other words. how do they do it? As this was not immediately apparent, I may just have to go back there for another try.

Happy cooking!

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Tarte aux abricots amandine

apricot tart2A highlight of the French summer is the rosy-cheeked apricot, which arrives from the south, generally Provence, and appears in abundance at farmers’ markets at this time of year. And a delight of the French table is a tart of apricots with almond cream. The flavors marry perfectly, the almonds adding a touch of majesty to the humble fruit. Serve it with a glass of something dry and bubbly, and prepare for applause…

Tarte aux abricots amandine / Apricot-almond tart

If you’ve lived in France, you may know the term égaliser, which takes on a special meaning at the table. It’s the tendency of guests to cut off just a tiny extra slice of a pie or cake to even the edges — viewed here by the silhouette-conscious as not as guilty as asking for seconds. This is what happened this week when I served the apricot tart pictured above to three friends. By the time they were done, an extra slice had disappeared.

This, of course, is highly gratifying to the everyday chef who decides actually to make a dessert in a country where everything one could possibly want is available at patisseries. Mais non, my friends, not everything. There is nothing like a homemade fruit tart for finishing off a meal on a warm summer night.

Do great minds think alike? As I was sitting down to write this post, a notice arrived in my inbox. The wonderful food blogger David Lebovitz also wrote this week about summer fruit tarts with almond cream. His recipe is more complex — you need to prebake the empty tart shell, which is always a bit of a challenge. But it looks delicious, and he takes fabulous photos. If you’d like to check out his version, click here.

Or you can go the less complex route and try my recipe. As this site says right at the top, ‘The modern cook’s guide to producing fabulous French food the easy way.’

Happy cooking.

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Poulet basquaise

basque chicken1The Basque country of southwest France is much appreciated for its culinary contributions. Across the Pyrenees in Spain, three-star chefs have taken regional cuisine to new heights of refinement. In France, Basque cooking retains its earthy traditions. The dish known as poulet basquaise sets grilled chicken on top of sautéed sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic, with a hint of spice. The result is a rustic, satisfying dish.

Poulet basquaise / Basque chicken with peppers and tomatoes

This is country fare, and there are as many versions as there are households nestled amid the mountains. Sometimes cubes of dry-cured country ham are added, sometimes not. The dish is often flavored with piment d’Espelette, made from mild local red peppers. But whatever the version, the dish is based on piperade — the sautéed pepper-tomato combo.

piments2Peppers are popular throughout the southwest, and come in many varieties, from mild to searingly hot. They are often smaller and thinner than bell peppers. I found some Basque-style peppers at my local market last weekend when shopping for ingredients. They were red, yellow and orange. I added a green bell pepper to achieve the right color combination.

When I served the dish to a couple of friends on Tuesday, a question arose. Why is the dish called poulet basquaise when poulet (chicken) is a masculine word in French, while basquaise is feminine? The answer is that usage has elided the words à la, meaning ‘in the style of.’ The same is true of boeuf bourguinon, and probably many other dishes.

As we enjoyed the dish indoors, there was a raucous tumult outside, for June 21 in Paris marks not just the solstice but also the annual Fête de la Musique, when people pour into the streets to hear the performance of anyone with a microphone and enough nerve. A woman  in front of the pizzeria across the street was giving voice to a barely recognizable version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The crowd started dancing. Noisy, but fun.

We had started our meal with melon and Bayonne cured ham, and planned to finish with strawberries but had to stop. Poulet basquaise, typically served with rice, is quite filling, and we had had enough of everything but wine.

That was Tuesday. Now it’s Friday morning and Britain has voted to leave the European Union. The result is a terrible shock for those of us who believe that the EU, despite its unwieldiness and questionable political decisions, has been a bulwark against the kind of European divisions that led to the second World War. Already we are seeing a domino effect, with rightist populist leaders in France and Holland calling for similar referendums.

My feeling — and this is beyond the usual scope of this blog, so if you are not interested in politics, please don’t read on — is that EU leaders erred badly a) when they opened the union’s borders to citizens of member countries whose poor flooded into richer lands, creating national identity crises, and b) by allowing unelected European policy makers to make decisions affecting national budgets for unrepresented populations, creating resentment over loss of national sovereignty.

I was up much of the night following the British election returns. Until 3 in the morning, the BBC was still running polls predicting a solid victory for the Remain camp. By 6, it was clear that those who chose to Leave had won by more than a million votes. Wishful thinking on the part of the pollsters? Who knows? It is a gray dawn over here.

And on that note, happy cooking.

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Soupe de petits pois à la menthe

pea soup6One of the rites of spring is a trip to the market for fresh peas, which appear in abundance in June. In this recipe, the peas are blended into a textured soup enlivened with a hint of peppery mint. Serve the soup hot or cold, as is or topped with thin strips of Parma ham, a dollop of crème fraîche, a spoonful of coconut cream or finely sliced shallots and mint leaves. Meaning that this is a soup for everyone — omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.

Soupe de petits pois à la menthe / Fresh pea soup with mint

Another rite of spring here in Paris is the French Open tennis tournament, and now we’re starting a month of championship soccer (football). This affords the opportunity for occasional sports fans such as myself to spend happy moments shelling peas in front of the TV. But here’s a secret. You can use frozen peas for this recipe, and the results will be equally fine. Just don’t tell anyone — they’ll never know.

Meantime, with summer around the corner, I have updated the Menus section of The Everyday French Chef with new seasonal recipes. Check it out when you have a moment — it’s an easy way to figure out what’s for dinner without sorting through all the recipes on the site. There are separate pages for everyday and weekend menus, including special pages for vegetarians and vegans.

And now, as the sun has finally broken through in France after weeks of rain (and floods),  I am off to the country to tend my garden.

Happy cooking!

Posted in 2. Soups | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gratin d’aubergines

eggplant gratin2It’s been a long rainy spring. We needed a hint of summer. The solution? Eggplant gratin with homemade tomato sauce, topped with bubbly cheese. This is a lighter version of a familiar dish, also known as eggplant parmesan, because the eggplant slices are steamed instead of fried before going into the gratin dish. It’s fun to assemble — the whole family can get into the act. Add a sprig of fresh basil and voilà. Summer has arrived.

Gratin d’aubergines / Eggplant gratin

It’s not just the rain this spring, it’s the general climate in France. They have a word for it over here that translates just fine into English: morose. Strikes plus cold gray weather. I have been waiting for a sunny day to go tend my garden in Burgundy. The sun made a rare appearance this week but I couldn’t make the trip because workers are blockading the country’s oil refineries, leading to a gasoline shortage. I had enough in the tank to get down there, but not enough to come back. Meanwhile, it’s tomato planting time…

If this sounds a bit depressing, it is, so let me move on to other subjects. After I posted the cod with pistachios recipe two weeks ago, I realized I had left out the vermouth-flavored sauce that was served with the original version I’d enjoyed at Gustibus, a neighborhood bistro. If you’d like to try it, make a bechamel and add two tablespoons white vermouth. Spoon around — not over — the fish just before serving.

Meantime, after seeing the cod with pistachios post, a friend sent me a similar recipe — cod with a hazelnut crust. Thank you, Mary Bartlett! It’s apparently a big favorite in Oregon. So here it is:

For 2 servings:
1 (10 ounce/300 grams) cod filet
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or other dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
salt and pepper

Cut the cod filet into four portions and season each with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a shallow dish. Mix the panko crumbs and the nuts together in a small bowl.

Dip the cod in the butter and then in the crumb and nut mixture to coat completely.

Arrange the fish on a small baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 425. Bake the fish until the crust is lightly browned and the center is opaque (about 15minutes.)

Serve with lemon wedges.

Happy cooking!

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Cabillaud aux pistaches

cod pistachios2‘I do not cook, I practice art.’ These words, pronounced by the divine actress Stéphane Audran toward the end of the film Babette’s Feast, give voice to the feelings of many of us when we enter the kitchen. Such were my feelings when I set out to duplicate a dish I had recently tasted at a nearby bistro. The dish? Cod crusted with pistachios, and served alongside a creamy purée of potatoes flavored with horseradish. Simply divine…

Cabillaud aux pistaches / Cod crusted with pistachios
Purée au raifort / Potato purée with horseradish

The bistro was Gustibus, a small place on the Rue St-Sébastien around the corner from me. I had walked past it many times without taking special note. But then a friend visiting from abroad convinced me to try it. The room is warm and intimate, the owner smiling and gregarious. Nadia is also a genius in the kitchen, where she and her husband prepare meals inspired by the cuisine of their native northern Italy.

In this recipe — my interpretation, as Nadia did not reveal her secrets — pistachios are peeled and crushed with a rolling pin, then patted onto the fish. The cod is lightly floured and pan-seared in olive oil. The horseradish purée is a variation on standard mashed potatoes, also very quick and easy to prepare. This versatile purée could accompany many other dishes, from meat or poultry to a vegetarian spread.

artichaut vinaigrette1Over the last couple of weeks, I have been on a cooking spree, revisiting dishes already on the site in order to update their photos. The first is artichauts vinaigrette, or artichokes with mustard vinaigrette. With artichokes appearing in markets now, it seemed a seasonally appropriate choice. It also allowed me to revisit my recipe for the vinaigrette, an attentive reader having noticed a discrepancy between the amount of oil called for in the recipe and a different amount in the accompanying video. This has now been rectified — thank you, reader! — but the bottom line is, for a sharper sauce use less oil. The French standard version would be with more oil for a satiny, flavorful sauce that doesn’t bite.

grillled pork1The second revisited recipe is porc grillé aux herbes de Provence, or grilled pork chops with rosemary and thyme. With summer just around the corner, this is another seasonal dish, as the chops are best when grilled on the barbecue. But lacking a barbecue, you can grill them in a skillet, as I did on a rainy day in Paris. The combination of garlic and fresh herbs produces an aroma that will draw family or guests to the kitchen to see what’s cooking.

smashed potatoes1I have also added a bistro classic that was long overdue — écrasé de pommes de terre, or smashed potatoes. This dish, which has become popular on menus in recent years, is actually a throwback to the time when potatoes were roughly crushed with a fork instead of being puréed with a blender, as is usually done in France. These potatoes marry well with just about everything.

Whether you prefer your potatoes smashed, puréed with horseradish or in any other form is not important. For, as they say in Latin, de gustibus non disputatam — there is no accounting for taste. This is the phrase from which Nadia and her husband plucked the name of their bistro. Another translation: enjoy, enjoy.

Happy cooking.

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Purée de fèves épicée

Fava spread2Consider this a Mediterranean version of guacamole. Fava beans (aka broad beans) are cooked to tenderness and puréed with olive oil, lemon and garlic, with a little cayenne pepper for bite. A perfect spread as warm spring days edge toward the sumptuous evenings of summer. Right? That’s what I thought when I made this spread for guests a couple of weeks ago. But I was wrong. April in Paris was a bust this year. Truly the cruelest month…

Purée de fèves épicée / Tangy fava spread

But even on cold, gray, rainy days, this spread will brighten up a meal. It may be served during cocktail hour on toast, or at the table as a starter alongside other Mediterranean salads — topped with roasted pumpkin seeds or a bouquet of fresh mint or cilantro. It is definitely a dish for spring, when fava beans are in season. You can find them in outdoor markets in France beside other seasonal produce — artichokes, peas, strawberries.

Fava beansI first encountered this spread maybe 20 years ago at the home of a Lebanese woman who lived around the corner from me in Paris. A superlative cook, she used canned fava beans for the spread, and this is a fine option in other seasons. You can also make the spread with frozen fava beans, a huge convenience as it allows you to dispense with shelling the beans (and they need to be shelled twice…). But in spring, fresh beans are best.

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Petit Larousse des recettes du potager (Larousse, 2008), a compendium of recipes featuring garden veggies. Their original version of the fava spread uses sesame seeds instead of pumpkin seeds, and ground cumin in place of cayenne. Try it that way too.

The Larousse, which calls favas  ‘the princess of peas’, has three more recipes featuring the humble bean: cold blended soup of favas and cottage cheese; a salad of baby favas, green beans, alfalfa sprouts, mint and quinoa; and a warm salad of favas, ginger and green onions. And that is just the fava part of the 37-page bean section, which also covers coco beans, green beans, peas and snow peas. It is a wonderful book for anyone interested in healthy cooking, and may hold special appeal for the vegetarians and vegans among you.

And on that note, I will wish you all warm sunny days in May. Frozen ice was falling from the sky in Paris three nights ago. May it return to the clouds and stay there till next winter.

Happy cooking.

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