Porc aux légumes d’automne

autumn pork2There’s a wintry chill in the air in Paris, and nightfall comes early these days. It’s the time of year when comfort food makes a welcome appearance on the table. In this recipe, succulent fillet of pork is surrounded by autumn vegetables and slow-roasted in the oven. The aromas will tantalize your guests as they tuck into a first course, for example a spinach salad with roquefort or a plate of briny oysters with some lemon on the side.

Porc aux légumes d’automne / Roast pork with autumn vegetables

Speaking of oysters, this is definitely the season. I bought a dozen at the market on Sunday, wrapped them in a damp tea towel, and headed for my cottage in the country. The scene that evening: a roaring fire, a plate of freshly opened oysters on the table, and three people expectantly awaiting the feast. One of those people — me — was sporting a bandaid.

Yes, I impaled myself while opening the oysters. It’s not my favorite sport, but I will do it if necessary (i.e. if no volunteers are around to help out). You need a strong sharp knife, or a special oyster knife, to get the shells open. I will post about this one of these days. But as I was struggling in the kitchen, with soul music pouring from the speakers in the other room, I have to say I started musing about how much easier it must have been to open oysters in another age — the Stone Age, to be precise.

As I may have mentioned before, I am now involved in a project about our prehistoric ancestors, and this has led me to think about how the women who preceded us managed to get dinner on the table. You can picture the scene — the kids clamoring for their evening meal, their father still out hunting with the guys. All their mother has on hand is the nuts and berries she gathered that afternoon and, if they live by the sea, perhaps some oysters. Metal tools have not been invented yet, so what does she do? She simply smashes the oysters open with a rock. Which is what I may try next time…

Whether you opt for oysters as a starter or not, you can follow this week’s roast pork with a cheese platter or just go straight to a seasonal dessert — for example, an apple tart or caramelized pears. It will make for a satisfying autumn meal, for family or friends.

Happy cooking!

P.S. If you’re interested on following my progress as I research the deep ancestry of myself and my adopted daughter in hopes of finding our most recent common mother, you can visit my new Facebook page, Footprints Through Time. It tracks recent advances in human evolutionary genetics, and raises the personal issues I’m encountering as I go back in time to find the link between my East European Jewish ancestors and the lineage of my daughter, who was born in Mali of unknown parents.

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Prunes poêlées à l’eau de vie

sauteed plums2Okay, okay, plums are no longer in season — at least, in the northern hemisphere. But when I happened upon some beautiful blue plums (imported from Spain) at the market last Sunday, I couldn’t resist … because I’d seen a dessert listed on the menu of a neighborhood bistro and wanted to try it out. The chef’s helper told me how to make it: sauté the plums in butter and sugar, add some brandy and spoon the warm fruit over vanilla ice cream.

Prunes poêlées à l’eau de vie / Plums sautéed in brandy

How did it turn out? I’ll just say it was consumed with delight at my table. The recipe hails from Le Repaire de Cartouche, which I’ve mentioned before on this site. (I even interviewed the chef, Rodolphe Paquin, a while back.) The trick is to go light on the brandy, whichever type you use. I happened to have some slivovitz on hand — East European plum brandy, which was perfect. But cognac or a local brandy or another fruit alcohol would also work very well. The ice cream gives a bit of a bite to the warm fruit: winter and summer combined, which is about where we are now in the calendar.

Happy cooking!

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Pizza saucisse fenouil maison

pizza saucisse fenouil1This is what is called in French a pizza blanche (or in Italian a pizza bianca), meaning there is no tomato sauce. Instead the pizza dough is coated with olive oil and then scattered with broccoli, smoked mozzarella and … homemade spicy fennel sausage. That’s right, you spice the sausage yourself, which is actually fun and — if my guests are any judge — ever so delicious. Succulent, smoky and a little mysterious…

Pizza saucisse fenouil maison / Pizza with homemade fennel sausage, smoked mozzarella and broccoli

It’s actually quite easy to prepare, providing you can find some high-quality sausages to work with. You then discard the casings and spice the meat with fennel seeds, dried herbs, garlic and cayenne. The smoked mozzarella — scamorza in Italian — is grated and scattered on top, along with tiny steamed broccoli flowerets.

I was inspired to make this pizza by a visit to Buona Forchetta, a fabulous pizza joint in San Diego. They had a similar item on the menu, the only difference being that the broccoli they used was rapini, a leaf broccoli that’s not available everywhere. So I substituted the flowerets and it worked out just fine. My one concern was whether I’d find the scamorza, but in fact when I checked at my local supermarket it was right there on the shelf. If you can’t find it, just use regular mozzarella instead.

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to my cousin Janice, who with her husband, Jack, took me to Buona Forchetta and many other fine places in San Diego this past summer. By the way, Janice is a writer, and here’s a link to her latest book, The Tin Horse, an award-winning mystery set in an old Jewish quarter of ’20s-’30s LA. It’s a great read, translated (or being translated) into seven languages (including French). Worth checking out.

And happy cooking!

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Moules marinière

moules marinieres3This is the best time of year for shellfish in France, and of all types one of the most beloved is the humble mussel. Moules marinière — mussels steamed in white wine — are joyously consumed throughout the country, particularly in northern regions where they rank among the most popular dishes. They are as easy to prepare as they are tasty, and make a fine lunch or a lively starter to a more ambitious meal.

Moules marinière / Mussels steamed in white wine

And why marinière? The word means mariner-style or, more loosely, prepared in the manner of seafarers and fishermen, who cook the mussels straight from the sea (and have most likely been doing so since the invention of fire in prehistoric times).

There are many variations on this theme — with or without cream added to the broth, with or without curry or saffron. Sometimes bacon is added, sometimes tomatoes or peppers. In Normandy or Brittany, you may find mussels steamed in hard cider instead of wine. But I prefer the original, in which minced onion is sautéed in butter before the mussels are added to the sizzling pot and steamed open in dry white wine. A sprinkling of parsley completes the dish. Fabulous.

Meantime, I am delighted to report that quite a few people have signed up to follow The Everyday French Chef since the launch of my autumn subscription drive last week. The reward for referrals is a personal recipe in the category of your choice. Please remember to notify me if one of your friends signs up. Just send me a note via the Contact page.

And happy cooking!

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Omelette aux broccolis et chèvre frais

omelet broccoli2It’s nearly lunchtime, the phone rings, a friend is dropping by. What is to be done? Whip up an omelet. It’s easy, it’s quick and you can pair the eggs with just about anything. I’ll never forget the time when one of the women who cooked with me at the Café Dewitt in Ithaca had me over for lunch and served me … a spaghetti omelet. And delicious it was. This omelet pairs broccoli with tender goat cheese, a lovely mix of colors and flavors.

Omelette aux broccolis et chèvre frais / Omelet with broccoli and goat cheese

One of the tricks to making a great omelet is to use the very freshest free-range eggs you can find. It makes a huge difference in terms of flavor and texture. Another trick is to use a well-seasoned omelet pan, as explained in the recipe. And here’s an astuce (a tip) I learned at the Café Dewitt: always add a little water to the eggs when you whip them. It lightens the omelet, ensuring it will be fluffy and tender.

Meantime, I’d like to announce that I’m having a new autumn subscription drive. Anyone who adds a new subscriber to the site will receive a personal recipe that has not yet appeared on The Everyday French Chef. The recipe can be in the category of your choice. Just be sure to let me know that you’ve signed somebody up. Add two subscribers and I’ll send you two recipes. Et cetera. The more the merrier, and …

Happy cooking!

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Fricassée de poulet aux figues

chicken figs1Figs, apples and pomegranates have been much on my mind lately — partly because they are at their ripest and most delicious in the autumn, and partly for other (historical, anecdotal) reasons. One consequence is the creation in my kitchen this week of a chicken fricassée enhanced with the flavors of saffron, cinnamon and cumin and sweetened with honey and fresh figs.

Fricassée de poulet aux figues / Chicken with fresh figs

Now then, about the fruit. When I was a child growing up in Wisconsin, the only figs we ever saw were the dried variety, prettily wrapped in cellophane and delivered to our home as gifts from relatives for the December holidays. It wasn’t until I reached the southern French city of Avignon at the age of 19 that I encountered a fresh fig, its sensual purple skin hiding a lush, red interior. When I bit into it, I felt like I was committing original sin.

And why not? The fig, after all, goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who used fig leaves in the Garden of Eden to cover their nakedness after tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And what was that fruit? It is typically represented as an apple — the fruit that Jews around the world are dipping in honey this week to mark the start of the new year — but I suspect it may actually have been a pomegranate. Why? For one thing, the pomegranate is native to Persia and the Holy Land, where the earliest civilizations thrived, while the apple is believed to be native to Turkey, which was settled by early humans later. For another, the apple (pomme in French) and the pomegranate have etymological ties. Both words derive from the Latin pomum. One can easily imagine that there may have been linguistic slippage at some point along the way among the first drafters of the Bible…

Or was it a fig? My deeper interest at the moment, tied to my new book project, is in human prehistory — and here’s an interesting factlet. Archaeologists believe that cultivation of figs goes back at least 11,000 years. They have dated fossils of sterile varieties of the fruit that were found in the Jordan Valley north of Jericho. That makes the fig one of the oldest foods ever produced by the world’s first farmers as humanity segued from millennia as roaming hunter-gatherers into settled communities of cultivators.

All I have to say to those early ancestors is, ‘Thank you.’

And to you, dear readers, ‘Happy cooking!’

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Tagliatelles aux girolles

girolles2With the autumn mushroom season bursting forth in all its glorious bounty, there’s only one thing to do: go hunting. In my case, given the dearth of forests in Paris, this means heading down to the local street market. What I found this week was an irresistible haul of girolles — chanterelles. Richly golden, thickly succulent, they make a perfect match for pasta. Snip in some herbs, add a little cream and voilà! Dinner is ready.

Tagliatelles aux girolles / Tagliatelle with chanterelles

girolles1Now then, about chanterelles. They come in different shapes and sizes and, to be honest, I prefer the beautifully large and fleshy, yellow-orange variety (shown at right). According to Le Petit Robert, my favorite French dictionary, the word girolles dates back to the 16th century. It derives from girer, to turn, and indeed the little ridges beneath the caps appear to rotate slightly.

girolles at marketChanterelles sometimes come in a thinner shape, but the flavor can be just as fine. At French markets these thinner mushrooms (shown at left) are, curiously, known as chanterelles, and not girolles. They have the advantage of being less expensive. But whenever possible I’d prefer to pay more and get the heftier, golden-orange variety — with an important caveat. If you live in Europe, it’s best to ask about the provenance of the chanterelles before making a purchase. I avoid those from countries that were exposed to heavy doses of radiation from Chernobyl, even though the accident there took place 28 years ago.

Whichever variety you choose, you will find your kitchen enveloped in a delicious woodsy-fruity odor when you begin to cook your chanterelles. A perfect prelude to a fine meal. This is the third recipe with girolles on this site (after pan-seared scallops and a wild mushroom first course), and I expect it won’t be the last. Happy cooking!

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Pêches caramélisées aux figues et pignons de pin

caramelized peaches2Peaches and fresh figs are piled irresistibly on market stands at this time of year. So I didn’t resist … and combined them to create a late summer dessert. What makes it special is that the peaches are caramelized before being mixed with the figs and nestled on a mound of creamy fromage blanc (or Greek yogurt). Pine nuts and mint add a Mediterranean touch. It’s light, it’s bright — perfect for savoring the last warm days before autumn sets in.

Pêches caramélisées aux figues et pignons de pin / Caramelized peaches with fresh figs and pine nuts

The inspiration for this recipe came in part from my recent trip to California. While visiting the ranch of my brother’s friends Tom and Gayle — a magnificent place in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada — I decided to make a tart, and used the fruit that happened to be on hand. Peaches and figs. The result turned out to be a crowd-pleaser. If you’d like to try that, go to the Plum Tart recipe on this site and, instead of plums, arrange peach slices in a outer ring and place quartered figs in the middle.

Meg 1980sNow then. This week marks the start of Year Three of The Everyday French Chef. And not only that, it marks the 40th anniversary of my arrival in France. Ah oui, mes amis. I arrived here in 1974, when Paris was less crowded and far less globalized. It was a different kind of place, with romance in the air, and of course I was much younger. What can I say? Thanks for the delicious memories. It’s been a great ride.

Because it is an anniversary week, I was particularly touched to discover that a new food blogger, Allison Stubbings of Classic Taste, picked up an Everyday French Chef recipe a few days ago for her first food post. She chose Mussel and Saffron Soup, which went up on this site in March 2013. Her idea is to record a year of learning to cook great French dishes by consulting a range of cookbooks and blogs. It was fun to read about her struggles with the mussels, and her ultimate success with the dish. So — welcome, Allison.

And happy cooking!

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Salade souterraine

underground salad1There’s nothing subversive about this ‘underground salad’. It’s simply made of veggies that grow beneath the earth. Carrots, finocchio, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, beets, radishes — it’s up to you to choose. Add a few leaves of arugula or another tender green, and you have a dish that’s lovely to behold as well as crunchily pleasant to eat. I owe the inspiration for this salad to my Parisian friend Jocelyne, an aspiring vegan, and to the menu of a cool Italian restaurant where I dined in San Diego, La Buona Forchetta.

Salade souterraine / Underground salad

Yes, that’s San Diego, California. It was the last stop on our summer road trip and, as promised in July, I’ll now write a few words about California cuisine. Fresh, inventive and modern, with accents from both France and Mexico, it was a revelation for both me and my teenage daughter, although her highlights would be different from mine (see below).

Mint margheritaSome of my favorites (with recipes to follow in the weeks ahead): my brother’s gazpacho; a fig, caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza to die for at Greens in San Francisco; Tom’s mint margueritas at his ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada; the world’s best barbecued ribs at Everett & Jones in Oakland; melt-in-your-mouth skirt steak gorditas (like mini tacos) at The Cliffs north of Pismo Beach; incredible sushi (served warm) at Sugarfish in Santa Monica; and the amazing fish tacos at Duke’s in Malibu. I should mention that many of these meals were enjoyed at places overlooking the Pacific, which added a little je-ne-sais-quoi to the flavors. Just delightful.

wheyOf course, we also encountered unusual (from a French point of view) food items, which I immortalized in a series of photos. Among them: organic peanut butter balls, packaged protein smoothies and a lot of whey (whatever that is). My daughter’s favorite was a crepe called S’Mores — topped with toasted marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate kisses at a place called Crepevine in Berkeley. (I took a pass on that.)

MalibuWould we love to go back? Absolutely, although not in the immediate future. My pocketbook needs time to recover first. But I will be experimenting through the gray Paris winter with ideas gleaned along the sunny Pacific Rim. And I may just make myself a mint marguerita. Happy cooking!

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Foie gras

foie gras3Let’s face it — foie gras is controversial. Beloved in France, where it is served as a special treat on festive occasions, it is shunned elsewhere by people who object to the force-feeding of geese or ducks to fatten their livers. Two years ago, the state of California actually banned foie gras, and this summer India followed suit. Other countries, among them England, have sought to find alternative methods of fattening the fowl. And yet this controversial food is not only considered one of the finest products of French gastronomy, it has ancient roots. Foie gras was enjoyed by early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and by East European Jews for whom the fat could replace butter. Its use spread from Hungary to the Urals before it made its way to France via Alsace a few hundred years ago.

Foie gras / Foie gras

Since then it has been joyously consumed by the French, the world champions in foie gras production. They serve it as an elegant canapé at cocktail hour, with Champagne or a chilled sweet white; on a salad of tender leaves and green beans (known here as salade folle, or crazy salad); or in large slices as a first course on Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

There is an art to serving foie gras that may appear obscure to the uninitiated but is actually quite simple: it has such star power that it needs no embellishing. Foie gras, as a canapé, should be served on its own. I was asked recently whether it could be accompanied by cheese and crackers. The answer, most emphatically, was ‘No!’ If you need to serve an assortment of canapés, choose something with equal star power, and serve it on a separate platter — red salmon caviar on buttered rounds of toast, for example.

Apart from Champagne, which adds a festive air to any occasion, the best wines to serve with foie gras are those from the region of southwest France where the duck and geese are raised. At cocktail hour, choose a chilled Monbazillac or Sauternes, sweet wines with a sublime flavor imbued by the use of grapes affected by ‘noble rot’, which increases the concentration of the grapes’ natural sweetness. If foie gras is served at the table, it marries well with sturdy reds like Bordeaux — or Monbazillac, or Champagne.

However you choose to serve it, foie gras will add an unmatchable gourmet touch to your occasion. And any occasion can be a fine one. It’s the end of summer? Vacation’s over, the kids are heading back to school, you’re back to reality? Perfect. Get out the foie gras.

I have included three ways of preparing foie gras on the recipe page that accompanies this post. Happy cooking!

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