So at some point in the past two weeks winter decided to come to Paris. Man, oh man, do I hate winter now. Especially in a place like this, where it more often than not means gray, overcast day after gray, overcast day, with a fair amount of freezing rain and howling winds on the side. I keep buying coats with the idea that I will eventually find one that keeps me warm but doesn’t render me a sweaty, overheated mess when I go from the cold street into the hot, crowded métro. I haven’t succeeded yet, though I did sink my clothing budget for the month into a pretty serious puffy down coat from Uniqlo. I could tell you about how it is Jil Sander’s line and looks nothing like the puffy coat my mother wore to shovel the driveway when I was a kid, but I’d be lying through my teeth. Like most things in my life, it is symptomatic of the fact that my mom was usually right about things, and I had my head up my ass. The universal realization of growing up, I suppose.
Anyway, all this WINTER has meant that we have been making a lot of SOUPS. Some of them have been less stellar than others, but a few have been knockouts and I suspect that they will become a regular part of our schedule. One that already has near-weekly place in the rotation is my lentil soup:
You see lentils and you think “healthy,” right? Wrong! I mean, I guess these are healthy in an abstract sense, but like most things in my life they actually contain a lot of pork fat and booze. Surprise, surprise! But they are seriously delicious, and get increasingly so if you make enough for leftovers. They are easy and a hearty dinner in their own right, especially if you pair with some fresh bread (we buy our baguettes from the amazing Huré, 18 rue Rambuteau, Paris 75003, Métro Rambuteau, and will never pledge this kind of devotion to another bakery again) and a big green salad.
T’s Weekday Lentils
2 small, or 1 large, package of lardons (Lardons are matchstick or cube-cut pieces of bacon or larding fat cut from the belly of pork. In France, you can buy them in any supermarket in convenient packages. If you live in the States, you can ask your butcher if they sell pre-cut lardons, or you can buy pork belly and cut them yourself with a sharp knife. Alternately, you substitute cubed bacon. I’m a huge fan of Niman Ranch’s Applewood Smoked Bacon. One package cut into strips would do quite nicely.)
3-4 large garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 large (or two small) purple onions, diced
3-4 big carrots, diced
5 tablespoons of San Marzano tomato paste (or whatever you have, but seriously, spend the extra buck and get the San Marzano tomatoes from now on. They will change your life.)
2 cups of chicken stock (We make our own, not because we are so sophisticated but because we eat a positively absurd amount of rotisserie chickens and my boyfriend is terrified of wasting anything.)
2 bottles of a burly red wine (One for the soup, one for you to drink with dinner. By burly, I mean that this isn’t the time for a merlot or a pinot noir. This is the time for a Bourgogne or a Côte du Rhône. Maybe one of those punchy Australian syrahs would be nice! I’m not a wine snob, so just buy something cheap enough that you don’t mind cooking with it but decent enough that you enjoy drinking it.)
3-4 cups of French green lentils, rinsed and picked through for stones (I guess you could use a different kind of lentil, but it might change the amount of liquid you need. All the more reason to buy and extra bottle of wine and eat another rotisserie chicken).
2 tablespoons of dried herbes de provence (I put this in everything, and it’s always good).
Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes (or Srichacha), to taste
Put a big pot on the stove over medium-high heat. When hot, throw in your lardons. Cook, stirring occasionally, past the point where they release all their water, to the point where all the fat melts and they start to brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the lardons from the pot, leaving the fat in the bottom. You should have enough to cook your veggies, but if it looks like they weren’t particularly fatty you can add a bit of olive oil. Return the pot to the heat and add your onions. It should smell amazing. Once your onions have started to become translucent, add the garlic, carrots, herbes de provence, and browned lardons. Cook for a few minutes stirring regularly until everything has softened up. Then add your lentils, stirring so that they become well-coated with fat. This is a trick B learned from a French lady, and it really does help your lentils cook. Then, when everything is nice and hot and starting to sizzle, add the tomato paste. Stir around, and then slowly begin adding wine. You want to keep the temperature up, so don’t add your liquid all at once. I usually put in about three-quarters of a bottle of wine. You can do more or less, based on your own taste. I arrived at this magical amount because I usually drink a glass while I’m cooking, and give another to B when he gets home from work. Once I’ve added all the wine and the pot is simmering, I top it off with chicken stock until it reaches the top. I’ll be honest, the lentil to wine/stock ratios aren’t exact here, as different lentils need different amounts of cooking liquid. Remember, you can always add more liquid if they start to burn, but you shouldn’t add wine too close to end of the cooking process because it won’t have time to mellow out. Turn down to low heat, partially cover, and walk away (stirring occasionally). It usually takes about two hours for this to turn into something magnificent. I add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes once the lentils have cooked, as I’ve found that I tend to over-salt if I do it beforehand. You’ll know it’s done when everything is tender and thick.
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B is a well-documented mushroom maniac, so when the chanterelles, death trumpets, oyster mushrooms, and enormous cêpes began showing up at the vegetable market, he became a jittery mess. I suggested that he make an autumn mushroom soup, which was perhaps the best suggestion I’ve ever made. After tinkering around with some recipes he found online, he created the following masterpiece.
B’s Manic Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup
1 pound, or thereabouts, of assorted wild mushrooms (we bought giant cêpes, death trumpets, and golden chanterelles, though shitakes and oyster mushrooms would have been terrific as well), cleaned and roughly chopped
1 large leek, cut on the bias
White wine (I believe we used a Mâcon-Villages, though anything dry and not too sweet would work just fine)
Container of crème fraîche (or heavy cream for those stateside)
Salted butter (please don’t insult mushrooms like these with margarine or oil)
Set about one-third of your mushrooms aside (we set aside the otherworldly chanterelles). Sauté the remaining two-thirds along with the leeks in butter until browned. You will have to do this in batches, as it is important to not crowd your mushrooms as they cook (thanks Julia Child!).
When slightly browned, sprinkle with flour and brown a bit further until it looks and smells really yummy (highly scientific, I know). Once you have browned all of the leeks and two-thirds of your mushrooms, gradually put the mixture in the food processor, using chicken stock as a liquid to get things moving. You should be left with an paste, which you should add to a pot with equal parts white wine and chicken stock. In another frying pan, brown up the mushrooms you reserved. These will not be pureed and will give your soup some texture.
Once browned, add to your burgeoning soup, along with the crème fraîche, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about thirty minutes over low heat, be careful not to boil this delicate soup. Serve with white wine, crusty bread, and a big salad (are you noticing a theme here?).
* * *
Finally, I’d like to share with you a soup that can be added to the annals of “growing up is good!” As my mom will certainly attest, I was kind of a weird kid when it came to food. I wasn’t a fan of many of the staples of American childhood, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple juice, or tomato soup. And while the idea of peanut butter and jelly still makes me nauseous, I’ve been coming around on tomato soup, especially when pair with a classic grilled cheese. Now everybody has their own version of the “perfect” grilled cheese (mine is with buttered wheat bread, Colby cheese, and should slightly burned on one side). Lately, in the absence of my beloved Colby (you can take the girl out of Colorado…), I’ve been making French grilled cheeses with a combination of Mimolette and Emmentaler. At the suggestion of the genius Aarti Sequeira, whose show and internet videos you should be watching if you aren’t already, I’ve begun adding carmelized onions to my grilled cheeses. Amazing and very grown-up.
I’ve struggled a bit more with the tomato soup part of the meal, as I find conventional canned tomato soups to be pretty gag-worthy. I started playing around with combinations I liked and last night I found the holy trinity: tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and basil. This ain’t your momma’s tomato soup, that is, if your momma was in the habit of opening a can of Campbell’s. But it’s pretty stupidly easy and paired with a grilled cheese it makes for a yummy winter meal.
T’s Consummate Tomato, Roasted Red Pepper, and Basil Soup
Extra-virgin olive oil for sautéing
1 white onion, diced
2-3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 cans of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (seriously already! Life changing!)
1 jar of roasted red peppers in water, chopped and keep the water (approximately five whole roasted peppers if you are fancy and burdened by so much free time that you want to roast your own)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup chicken stock (or ½ cup chicken stock and ½ cup of white wine)
2 tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar (when buying Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, make sure you pick a brand with the seal and the cream-colored cap, which means that it was aged for at least 12 years. If you roll like Daddy Warbucks, splurge on the gold-capped variety, which has been aged for 25 years)
1 bunch of fresh basil (about 20-25 leaves)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 container of crème fraîche (or heavy cream, or half and half, as you like)
Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add cans of tomatoes, red peppers, red pepper water, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, and oregano. Simmer over low heat for about an hour and a half, or until the tomatoes sweeten up. Remove from heat and cool slightly, and then add roughly torn fresh basil leaves. Transfer and carefully process until smooth in food processor or blender (or use your immersion blender, you fancypants). Return to stove and add crème fraîche and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on very low for about a half hour more.
Well that’s it people. I hope you like these. As with everything I cook, I’m always tinkering with the recipe, so if you make any amazing adjustments, let me know. And I’m always looking for new soup ideas, so if you’ve got a real gem up your sleeve, please share!
If I were making a list of things I miss about the United States, Mexican food would be numbers one, two, and three. I know it sounds kinda hysterical, but I really can’t tell you how much of a shift in my diet I had to make coming to live in Paris. I know, cry me a river made entirely of Camembert and Roquefort, right? But seriously, I miss Mexican food in a nearly elemental way. When my mother was pregnant with me, she constantly craved green chile smothered burritos, a decision that left her with a happy fetus and a lot of heartburn. We joke that I’ve loved New Mexican food since I was in utero and we usually make it down to Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque at least once a year for a serious chile fix. Let’s just say Clarence in New Mexico would make Clarence in Paris have an aneurism. The rule of these vacations is that we eat chile at every meal until our gastrointestinal systems mutiny. Barring a trip to New Mexico—or a couple of coolers filled with chiles from Hatch Chile Days and a couple of bags dried red chile pods from the now (sob) extinct Chimayo ranch—my hometown of Denver has some nice stopgap options for excellent New Mexican style food. I’m planning a whole Clarence in Denver feature when I go home at Christmas for the first time in a year and a half. That is, of course, if I’m not too busy warding off culture shock and binge shopping at Target.
I had to acclimate to Southern California style Mexican food when I moved to Orange County in 2005. I’m sure that it is much more authentically Mexican than the “Mexican” I’m really nuts for, which isn’t TexMex either. There are more big square states out West than most people are aware of, and the kind of food I like best is in New Mexico (with nods of recognition to Colorado and Arizona). Anyway, one thing I did really get to like in California is the ubiquity of taco stands and trucks. There aren’t very many taco trucks in the soulless part of Orange County that I inhabited (though the one that hangs out in front of the Santa Ana courthouse on weekdays is killer and sure takes the edge off of traffic school). There are, however, a lot of prime brick and mortar locations for my very favorite alliterated holiday: Taco Tuesday. Mix bargain tacos with drink specials that encourage getting blitzed before midweek and you’ve got yourself a routine. My best friend N and I made a near-religious habit of Taco Tuesdays in the past few years.
Should you find yourself in Orange County on that oh-so-wonderful day of the week, you should definitely check out the bargain eating and boozing options. In Costa Mesa, you can hit Taco Mesa (647 West 19th Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92627), where they have a particularly diverse selection of yummy and healthy tacos, a serve-yourself salsa bar with killer escabeche and salsa verde, and dollar cans of Tecate. Their heated outdoor patio overlooks the parking lot of the DMV, so you can revel in your culinary indulgence while watching your fellow citizens’ brains explode with frustration. Maybe you can invite a DMV-disgruntled stranger over to your table! At a mere two bucks for a taco and a beer, everybody can afford to be generous! Make sure you splurge an extra buck and get yourself a blackened chicken taco. You won’t regret it.
Should you find yourself coast-side in Laguna Beach, treat yourself to a few fish tacos at Taco Loco (640 California 1, Laguna Beach, CA 92651). If you can get over the tacky tourists, the screeching traffic on Highway 1, and the kind of annoying teenagers that spawned an entire generation of reality television shows, Taco Loco has some of the lushest fish tacos in the area. Served with little more than a chucky avocado salsa, the blackened fish, swordfish, shrimp, and calamari can’t be beat. Skip the chicken and beef variations, and splurge on the seasonal lobster taco when it’s on the menu. The prices are steeper, but it will still be the cheapest thing you’ll eat in Laguna.
Finally, if your main goal is to just tie one on and eat some tacos in the process, I can’t recommend enough the John Wayne airport-adjacent El Torito (951 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660). Taco Tuesday is a real institution at this rather tragic locale, where Irvine corporate worker drones and tired business travelers converge every Tuesday for dollar tacos and enormous bargain margaritas and beers. It’s got everything you want in an Orange County Taco Tuesday: an assembly line of skillful chefs who make the tortillas to your order, a light rock soundtrack, a hearty helping of bad plastic surgery, a parking lot full of BMWs, and the stench of quiet desperation. Swear to God, N and I were once debating if we should call a cab outside of El Torito and a strange woman asked us if we wanted to use the breathalyzer that she had recently picked up at Costco. The more you know, I guess? Anyway, it’s a real train wreck of a place and I miss spending my Tuesday nights there.
Every Tuesday since moving to Paris, I forlornly remember that somewhere in the world people are eating bargain tacos and getting sloppy. Since such an item isn’t on the agenda here in France (c’mon Chipotle! You could make a fortune on the drunk study abroad kids alone!), I woke up today with a clear sense of purpose: fish tacos and beer for dinner, dammit.
This was no small proposition. While there is a “Mexican” foods section at most large Monoprix in Paris, the offerings are horrifying. Most stores will sell something they call “Mexican style chili powder,” usually with ginger and paprika as the first two items on the ingredient list (huh?). It’s virtually impossible to find fresh hot chiles at the many vegetable markets in Paris, and I’ve found it’s difficult to use Thai and Vietnamese chiles you can buy in the Asian markets here in comparable proportions to my beloved jalapeños, serranos, and poblanos. I have discovered that you can buy some decent dried chiles and corn flour at L’Epicerie de Bruno (30 rue Tiquetonne, 75002 Paris) and Izrael (30 Rue François Miron, 75004 Paris), and I make a habit of requesting black beans, cans of roasted green chiles, and pickled jalapeños whenever anyone comes to visit from the States.
After some brutal run-ins with French packaged tortillas, I threw in the towel and gave up. Fortunately, among the many other skills he possesses, B is an avid home tortilla maker. I was skeptical at first, but now I can’t believe I haven’t been making tortillas from scratch my whole life. They are easy, stupidly cheap, and much more delicious than their shelf-stable brethren. The proportions are simple: roughly 2 parts masa to 1 part warm water. In a bowl, combine your masa with a couple pinches of salt. Then, slowly add the warm water, integrating it as you go along until you have a firm dough. You may need more or less water, obviously.
Then roll the dough into little balls, and smoosh them between two nonstick surfaces. We have fashioned a tortilla press out of a wooden cutting board wrapped in cling wrap and the back of a frying pan. If you find your tortillas are sticking to the pressing surface, dust it with a bit of dry masa.
Heat up a nonstick pan until it’s super-smoking hot. Then drop your tortilla onto the dry surface and cook about 10-15 seconds on each side. It should be easy to flip them without using a spatula, as nothing should be remotely sticky. This is ideally a two-person operation. B and I had a rather nice rhythm going tonight where he pressed and I cooked and flipped. Stack your tortillas in a teatowel, rewrapping your little bundle after each addition to keep them warm.
While these buggers could obviously be the delivery device for a million different things, tonight we ate:
T’s “Take That France!” Tuesday Tacos
For the fish:
1 pound cod filets, skinned and cut into 1-2 inch pieces (sole, halibut, mahi-mahi, swordfish would all do the trick)
¼ red onion
1-2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 large handful of fresh cilantro (stems are not a big deal here)
1 tablespoon of the hottest chili powder you can find (I used my dwindling supply of Chimayo red chile)
A couple of shakes from a rather old bottle of Tapatio abandoned by a fellow expat (untraditional in a marinade, but surprisingly delightful)
2 tablespoons olive oil
the juice of ½ of a lime
Combine everything except the fish in your food processor and pulse until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste, then cover your fish with the marinade.
While this is marinating, you can make my ode to the Yucatan: green mayo. This my attempt at a Parisian homage to the ineffable combination of mayonnaise and habenero salsa that you find in plastic squeeze bottles at every taco stand in the Yucatan. Obviously, if you have access to proper habenero salsa, you can skip this step (though my extemporaneous sauce was pretty fantastic).
Combine the following in your food processor:
4 tablespoons Maille or homemade mayonnaise (mayo snob!)
1 large handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 large handful of fresh mint leaves
juice of ½ of a lime
1 teaspoon of dried cumin
a couple of shakes of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Pulse until smooth, and refrigerate until serving.
Fry up your marinated fish in a hot skillet, cooking just until flaky. My cod was really delicate and fell apart, but who cares when it’s in a taco? I served the warm corn tortillas and fish with homemade guacamole, strips of purple cabbage, and a drizzle of my green mayo. It might just be that I haven’t eaten fish tacos in over a year, but holy shit these tasted good. The spiciness of the fish against the creamy avocado and minty mayo with a bit of crunchy cabbage in a fresh warm tortilla – I wish I ate like this everyday. We cracked open two bottles of the one decent French beer we’ve found and dug in, quickly annihilating twelve tacos between us. Sated and blissed out, B declared “It’s a good day to be me!” which I took as a highest-order compliment of my fish taco skillz. Obviously this would be a bit labor-intensive if you are in a place where you can just go out for dollar tacos on Tuesday, but it’s a nice stopgap measure if you find yourself in taco-free Paris (read that last part so it rhymes, okay?).
B has been working hard on learning Hebrew the past few weeks with the eventual goal of reading the Old Testament. I’ve been working less hard, spending my time buying books that relate to my dissertation and putting them in stacks, working on my origami, and marveling at B’s capacity for filling notebooks with lists of words and conjugations for hours on end. I spent the last few lazy afternoons reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which my mother loved when it first came out in the 60s and I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It was pretty great, though it made me thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t born in a different generation. As I have a penchant for loving jerks in literature, my favorite character was Norine Schmittlapp, the nemesis of “the group” and the closest thing to a real radical that McCarthy’s 1930s New York has to offer us. Even so, her portrait is terribly bleak, if surprisingly funny. After her first marriage fails, she marries a wealthy Jewish banker whose family has changed their name from Rosenberg to Rogers, a fact that she shares with “a particular kind of relish” with her aghast acquaintance Priss.
In fact, Priss’s chance encounter with Norine near the end of the novel was one of the best and sharpest parts of the book. Priss meets Norine in the park, where Norine is pushing her infant son Ichabod (“‘Aren’t you afraid he’ll be called ‘Icky’ in school?’ she asked impulsively. ‘He’ll have to learn to fight his battles early,’ philosophized Norine. ‘Ichabod the Inglorious. That’s what it means in Hebrew. No glory.’”) around naked in his expensive stroller. Norine casually pats her son’s penis, a practice that scandalizes Priss, who is terrified of arousing her own toddler son and would almost rather “he be dirty than have him get an Oedipus complex from her handing him.” Norine insists that Priss come over to her lavishly furnished but disheveled home that nevertheless the site of a well-regarded bohemian salon. There, Norine recounts to Priss her affair with another woman’s husband and is brashly matter-of-fact about her sexual proclivities and experiences. When Priss attempts to describe her (or more accurately, her husband’s) behaviorist theories of child-rearing, Norine condescends the poor woman. “‘You still believe in progress,’ she said kindly. ‘I’d forgotten there were people who did. It’s your substitute for religion. Your tribal totem is the yardstick. But we’ve transcended all that. No first-rate mind can accept the concept of progress any more.’” When Priss accuses Norine of having abandoned her political radicalism, Norine declares that she leaves politics to her husband Freddy:
“Being a Jew and upper crust, he’s profoundly torn between interventionism abroad and laissez faire at home. Freddy isn’t an intellectual. But before we were married, we had an understanding that he should read Kafka and Joyce and Toynbee and the cultural anthropologists. Some of the basic books. So that semantically we can have the same referents.”
According to Norine, Freddy tolerates this curriculum requirement because
“Freddy’s philopregentitive; he’s interested in founding a dynasty. So long as I can breed, I’m a sacred cow to him. Bed’s very important to Freddy; he’s a sensualist, like Solomon. Collects erotica. He worships me because I’m a goy. Besides, like so many rich Jews, he’s a snob. He like to have interesting people in the house, and I can give him that.”
In her own self-diagnosis, Norine’s only real problem is “her brains”:
“[I was] formed as an intellectual…Freddy doesn’t mind that I can think rings around him, he likes it. But I’m conscious of the yawning abyss. And he expects me to be a Hausfrau at the same time. A hostess, he calls it. I’ve got to dress well and set a good table. He think it ought to be easy because we have servants. But I can’t handle servants. It’s a relic, I guess, of my political period. Freddy’s taken to hiring them himself, but I demoralize them, he says, as soon as they start in the house. They take a cue from my cerebralism. They start drinking and padding the bills and forgetting to polish the silver. […] I’ve been trying to turn over a new leaf, now that we have a new house. I start out with a woman who comes to massage me and give me exercises to relax. But before I know it, I’m discussing the Monophysites or the Athanasian Creed or Maimonides. The weirdest types come to work for me; I seem to magnetize them. The butler we have now is an Anthroposophist. Last night he started doing eurhythmics.”
When Priss asks if Norine really regrets the Vassar education the women shared, Norine declares “ ‘Oh completely…I’ve been crippled for life.’”
Of course it’s obvious to both Priss and the reader that Norine’s real problem is not her cerebralism but her narcissism and anti-Semitism, which become apparent when calls her own husband a “Yip” and asks Priss with more than a touch of anxiety if she thinks that “Ichabod looks Jewish.” Norine is the great satirical monster of the text, a totally unsympathetic character that is an ingenious cipher for the other women’s anxieties, be they about housekeeping, sexual prowess, education, or parenting. But in her own right, she is such a riveting mess, with the neck-rings on her blouses and her dirty polar bear skin rug; her theories about underlying lesbian drives, oral gratification and penis-envy that are coupled with her brassy declaration that “Freud is out of date”; and her ad hoc parenting cues taken from anthropological texts about the Pueblo Indians. She wears little Ichabod in proto-Baby Björn to a funeral and declares that it serves the same function as a papoose, allowing her to give Ichabod the experience of death early, rather like the mumps. She serves enormous wedges of chocolate cake to the children for lunch. I rather loved her.
Anyway, I don’t know if it’s my boyfriend’s newest obsession with acquiring Hebrew or reading about old-school New York and the dangerous shiksa Norine for the past few days, but I’ve been longing for some serious kosher deli food. I usually get my fix in Paris with a quick trip to Florence Kahn (24 rue des Ecouffes at the corner of 19 rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, Métro St. Paul), a fabulous Jewish traiteur in the Marais with one of the best tile mosaic storefronts you’ll ever see.
Inside, you’ll find an amazing selection of fresh bread and pastries, pickled herring and other smoked fishes, blinis, pickles, goulash, latkes, and pierogis, as well as house-cured and smoked pastrami, corned beef, and tongue. My go-to choice:
The Big Pletzel Sandwich. That’s really what it’s called, meaning ordering it always feels kind of silly: “Je voudrais un Big Pletzel Sandwich, si’l vous plaît.” For about seven euros, you get an enormous fresh bun filled with layers of homemade pastrami, pickles, roasted red peppers, fresh tomatoes, and some kind of unidentified special sauce. You can get it warmed up and take it to go, or you can sit in their lovely outdoor seating and watch the rue de Rosier hoards line up at L’As du Falafel. Florence Kahn is a great alternative to falafel if the lines at L’As are daunting or if you want a real carnivore fix. It’s also a lovely place to buy the fixings for a picnic or an easy dinner, like this one I made earlier this week:
I bought the blinis and the glorious lox at Florence Kahn. I gave the blinis a quick shake in some melted butter in a pan, and added some crème fraîche, capers, and red onion that I had in my fridge. Much fancier and more delicious than it had any right to be, especially given how easy it was to prepare.
The one thing I hesitate to buy and reheat, however, are latkes. Somehow preprepared or frozen ones are never quite right, even if you fry them in oil. Ever since I saw a soggy tray of them at Florence Kahn, I’ve had proper latkes on the brain. Today I pushed up my sleeves and got to work. I’d never made them before, so I got some ideas from Epicurious and the food section of the New York Times online. I settled on this compromise recipe (based on what I had on hand):
9 all-purpose white potatoes, peeled, grated, and drained
½ of a white onion, grated
1 shallot, grated
3 eggs, beaten
¾ cup of baguette breadcrumbs (you’re supposed to use matzo meal, but all the kosher stores are on vacation, just like the rest of Paris in August)
Salt and pepper
Canola oil for frying (I used extra virgin olive oil, because my kitchen is too small for ingredients I rarely use)
Applesauce and sour cream for serving (crème fraîche if you’re on this side of the pond)
After peeling and grating for what seems like forever, incorporate your potatoes, onion, shallot, and eggs together. Then, add breadcrumbs (or matzo meal) gradually to soak up the excess liquid. Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat up about two tablespoons of oil in a deep frying skillet. When crackly, add a heaping tablespoon of the batter to the oil, patting it down with the back of your spoon to form a thick pancake. Fry each side 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and lacy at the edges. I was able to fit three latkes in each batch, and each batch took approximately one Róisín Murphy jam to cook. I incurred only two minor splatter burns in the whole process (the cost of doing business if you ask me). I may or may not have been pretending to be Polly, the most sympathetic member of The Group, who cooked grandiose meals every night for her publisher lover (scandalous!) on her tiny hotplate.
Drain on papertowels.
Keep the earlier batches warm, either in a low oven (aren’t you a fancypants!) or in a covered pan.
Serve with sour cream and applesauce, preferably to a bewildered student of Hebrew, who will likely seem very impressed at your labor-intensive weekday lunch.
My blog might suggest that I lead a louche life of perpetual dining out, which is hardly the case. In fact, despite the absurd percentage of my monthly budget that I devote to food (and books about psychoanalysis), I actually am living here on a pauper’s salary. This means that I eat most of my meals at home. I was quite the adventurous cook when I was living in States, probably because I had proper American kitchens at my disposal. While I was thrilled to find my Marais apartment on account of its enviable address and unheard-of wall between bedroom and living area, I was pretty dismayed to discover the pathetic excuse for a kitchen that they’ve installed in this bitch. We’re talking two glorified hotplates that they have disguised as burners (two settings: scorching and off), a mini-fridge, and a sink. All in one crappy, drippy stainless steel unit. Initially I figured that this would be the death of my culinary aspirations, but I’ve actually gotten pretty handy in my miniature kitchen. As the weather has gotten hotter, I’ve been forced to bust out some of my best summer dinners. I’d never presume to be so culinarily skilled as to tell anybody anything about cooking, but both B and M thought that this might make for an interesting entry and I’m nothing if obliging of my two best readers. And as someone who has certainly Googled “dinner ideas please help!” at one point or another, I thought I’d add my voice to the chorus. So here’s what I like to pull together on a hot evening. While some of these ingredients are rather special, I’ve seen most of them at this point at the City Market in rural Utah, so I don’t think I’m being too much of a Coastal Elite by posting these recipes. Tweak to your taste and enjoy!
1) Carpaccio-Style Bresaola
There isn’t much I love more than a proper raw beef preparation, be it a steak tartare or a beef carpaccio. But for whatever reason, I’m pretty squeamish about preparing raw beef for myself or my friends. I guess at the end of the day I just don’t want to poison anyone. Enter bresaola, that lovely wine-colored, air-dried and aged salted beef that you can find in the deli section of your local market or Italian specialty store. In both French and American grocery stores, I usually go for the Citterio brand for Italian cold cuts. They cost more, but they are usually better than whatever your supermarket is shilling. And no, Citterio isn’t paying me to say this, but if they would like to pay me or send me crates of cured meat, I certainly wouldn’t complain.
This “recipe” is stupid easy and I can’t even believe that I would condescend to my dear reader’s intelligence by writing it out, but here we go.
A package of bresaola (or approximately 4-5 slices per person)
Two large handfuls of baby arugula per person (Is anyone still buying tough bitter adult arugula? Stop that immediately.)
A wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Don’t worry, you won’t use it all. Is anyone still buying pre-grated Grana Padano? Stop that immediately.)
Some extra-virgin olive oil (I’m not particularly snobbish about this, surprisingly.)
Take a pretty salad or dinner plate. Lay out the bresaola slices evenly on the surface. I like to make it look like a flower, though I’m sure nobody has ever noticed this. Deposit handfuls of baby arugula in the middle. Leave the edges of your bresaola peeking out for aesthetic interest. Grate big flakes of parmigiano-reggiano over the top using a proper cheese grating device, or like me, an all-purpose vegetable peeler. You can do all this even a few hours beforehand. Then, right before you serve it, drizzle olive oil over the whole thing and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with lemon wedges and forcefully encourage your guests to squeeze said lemon slices over the top. If you are feeling fancy or improvisational, you can add all number of things to this dish, including capers, finely sliced red onions, or diced tomatoes. Don’t be surprised if your friends think you are more sophisticated that you actually are if you serve this on a weekday.
For the summer meal pictured, I served carpaccio-style bresaola with pre-packaged oil-marinated anchovy filets and mini-calamari, demi-sêche tomatoes (have you eaten these yet? They are revelatory if you always felt, like I did, that fully dried tomatoes were too chewy), ricotta with fresh mint and crusty bread, and Campari spritzers (recipe below). Everyone seemed unduly impressed despite the totally minimal preparation time on my part.
2) Terry’s Mother’s Tabouleh
One of the more idiosyncratic things about my dad is that he is a big believer in hitchhiking. He hitchhiked across the United States in his younger days and New Zealand in his first year of retirement, and still doesn’t hesitate to throw out a thumb if he finds himself in need. He’s also pretty unflagging in picking up hitchhikers, which I guess you have to be if you are buying into the whole operation. When I was a kid it wasn’t especially strange for him to bring home someone for dinner who he had picked up along the side of the road. Perhaps more remarkably, he has befriended many of these people over the years and they have stayed in touch over time and distance. One such fellow, a Lebanese guy named Terry, ended up becoming a dear friend of my family and a regular attendee at my mother’s epic Thanksgiving dinners when I was a child. Among the many lovely things he gave my mother over the years is his mother’s tabouleh recipe, which has been a standby at potlucks in our circle ever since. I like to make this at the end of the month when I’m feeling a bit more cash-poor as it filling, cheap, keeps for a couple of days in the fridge, and works well as both a light main course and as a side dish. My mother will probably kill me for sharing this with the world, but it’s really good and worth the ink.
1 cup bulgar wheat, uncooked
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use extra-virgin olive oil because it’s all I ever have)
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaved)
2 teaspoons fresh chopped mint (or you can use dried mint if the fresh stuff costs fifteen dollars at the market and you aren’t savvy enough to have a windowbox herb garden like yours truly)
1 bunch of chopped green onions (including white tops)
3-4 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
Pour the boiling water over bulgar wheat in bowl. Cover with a towel and let stand for one hour. Drain well if there is any excess liquid. Add tomatoes, onions, herbs, and oil, and stir. Then add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste and blend well. Chill for at least four hours before serving. I usually double the recipe because it just gets better over the next few days in the fridge.
3) My Mother’s Gazpacho (tweaked slightly)
I’m sorry, but I just have to say it: my mother’s gazpacho is better than your mother’s gazpacho. It just is. I’m sorry. Your gazpacho is runny and sad. My mother’s gazpacho (especially since I tweaked it) is gazpacho for a new generation. I don’t care that you are from Spain. I don’t care what Gwyneth Paltrow says, Spanish food is usually bland city. This is awesome, and I’ll fight you if you say any differently.
3 large tomatoes chopped and peeled (or not peeled, if you are lazy like me)
1 chopped yellow or orange bell pepper (My mom’s recipe calls for a green bell pepper, but let’s be honest here. Yuck! Who eats green bell peppers anymore? They should be reserved solely for convicts and B’s limb-quiveringly good gumbo).
1 English cucumber (these seem to hold up better than the hothouse varieties)
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1-2 finely diced raw jalapeno peppers (Less if you’re a wimp, more if you agree that Spanish food could use some heat.)
4 cups tomato juice
3-4 tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all the veggies and the juice. Then add vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Now, if you’re a purist, puree the whole mess in batches using your food processor or blender. Or, if you’re a renegade like my mom, leave it alone and watch your guest marvel at the delicious crunchiness of the vegetables. Or, if you’re a sad compromise formation like myself, puree half of the soup and then reincorporate it into the chunky half. Either way, let it marinate in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Then, immediately before serving you can add any of the following to the top:
Ripe avocado slices
Cooked shrimp (Aren’t you fancy! My mom always served small salad shrimp, but anything you can find will do nicely.)
Sautéed Scallops (I like the bay scallops for this, as they are bite sized. Actually, in my opinion, bay scallops don’t get nearly as much play as they ought to!)
Crab meat (Okay, so you’re really fancy! You can buy some pretty killer canned crab meats now, especially if you look in the refrigerated section of high-end markets.)
Croutons (Make your own by liberally dousing cubes of nice bread with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them evenly on a cookie sheet and stick sheet under the broiler, shaking every minute so they brown evenly.)
4 and 5) Canned Fish Sandwiches
Are you on the canned fish bandwagon yet? No?! Immediately block out a few hours of your life to browse the website for the Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine. In addition to being all things that a good blog should be, this wonderful website is full of recipes and serving ideas for one of the cheapest, healthiest, and yummiest things that you just might not be buying at your local grocery store. I’ve always been a big fan of sardines and have recently become an anchovy fanatic. But I don’t think I ever quite realized how versatile they are and how many different kinds things you can incorporate these omega-3 fatty acid, calcium, protein, and vitamins D and B12 packed foods. And if you’re squeamish about the bones and skin (FYI, that’s where all the nutrients are!), you can buy really lovely sardine filets these days. Spend a few extra bucks on your cans and you’ll be surprised how sweet, tender, and totally delicious these guys can be. They are still one of the cheapest animal protein sources you can buy. The Sardine Society’s website is full of reviews of both American and French brands, so give it browse before you go shopping.
One of the best things that came out of reading the Sardine Society was Alton Brown’s Sardicado Sandwich. Alton Brown usually annoys me, but I quite enjoyed this clip from his show, probably because I too spend a lot of my time proselytizing about the virtues of sardines to the people I love. I tweaked the recipe a little bit based on what I had in my kitchen. I used a fresh baguette sliced lengthwise instead of sourdough (I’m in France, remember?) and balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar in the dressing. Finally, I had some dreamy sweet plum tomatoes that I sliced and put over the top, an addition I’d highly recommend.
I also am pretty sweet on what I’ll call Cefalù Style Anchovy Sandwiches, the prototype for which I ate while we were staying in Cefalù, Sicily. It’s a simple combination: good anchovies (I usually buy the kind in oil, but am curious to try these Ortiz salt-packed one that all the foodie blogs are nuts for), drained half-dried tomatoes, and thin slices of pecorino cheese. Place the three of these on the inside of a baguette and wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic wrap for an hour or so to marinate. Then, before serving add some fresh arugula.
As for drinking, my ideal summer cocktail is three things: fizzy, seriously boozy, and kinda sweet. There’s nothing better than a whiskey and ginger ale on a hot evening. Or, experiment with making Bavarian Radlers (beer and sparkling lemonade) at home. If you’ve jumped on the Aperol and Campari bandwagons (judging from my Google results, many of you have!), I’d encourage you to fool around with the basic formula of an Aperol/Campari spritz. While the basic formula combination is Aperol or Campari, Prosecco, and soda, I like to add citrus juice instead of soda (clementine, tangerine, blood orange, and pink grapefruit are all really nice with these flavors).