25 December 2007

Warm Brussels Sprout and Shallot Salad with Pecans

Like most people I know, I look upon the end of the year as the beginning of a new one. The Christmas presents are barely opened when I begin making plans for all the projects I will finally get around to doing in the year ahead.

This year, the purchase of a new piece of furniture necessitated a bit of cleaning
and reorganizing - which meant I had to sit around paging through the 100 or so magazines piled in corners of the living and dining room. That was how I stumbled across a recipe for warm Brussels Sprout Salad, which inspired the following dish.

I buy Brussels sprouts each week; along with broccoli and red pepper; they are staples in my crisper. Shallots are also something I keep on hand.

Warm Brussels Sprout and Shallot Salad with Pecans
  • 16-20 large Brussels sprouts
  • 3-4 large shallots
  • tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • tablespoon unsalted butter
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • dash fleur de sel
Wash and trim Brussels sprouts, removing outer leaves and base. Cut into thin slices. Drizzle with olive oil, toss, and place in a skillet or sauté pan. Brown slightly over medium heat until sprouts are just a bit limp. Remove from pan and set aside, covering to keep warm. Peel and slice shallots; using the same pan, brown shallots slightly in butter. Add pecans. Toss shallots and pecans with Brussels sprouts, adding a dash of fleur de sel and pepper.

I served this with a warm bacon dressing. A cranberry vinaigrette would be nice, too, or a mustard-y oil and vinegar blend.

This was the first course of our Christmas dinner, and it was a hit. We followed it with a big juicy ham rubbed with cinnamon and ground cloves and glazed with a cinnamon-y honey-and-apple-jelly blend and a side dishes of roasted root vegetables and candied sweet potatoes.

24 December 2007

Christmas Eves to Remember

Here in Wisconsin, we are hunkered down once again for a quiet Christmas Eve at home. Tomorrow there will be some travel here and there, but for tonight, we are home.

For the past 18 years, our Christmas Eves have been quiet affairs. During my growing up years, our rituals on this night changed and shifted and morphed. When Mémere was living but approaching 90, the activities focused on the family home where she lived with Grandma Annie and Aunt Patsy, two widows and a spinster. But we all converged on the house on Christmas Eve for wine and tourtiere and other seasonal treats and libations.

After Mémere died, the action shifted to my parents' house. On Christmas Eve and again on Christmas Day, that was where friends and relatives met to watch us play with our dolls, dump trucks, toy theaters and board games. As we grew older, Christmas Eves became quieter affairs; I always sang with my choir at an agonisingly protracted midnight mass.

But in the 1980s, in the decade or so following Grandma Annie's death, we began once again, meeting at the old house in Frenchtown on Christmas Eve. At first, the gatherings were quiet affairs, often just a few of us seating round the kitchen table, with cheese and sausage and the highballs Annie loved, listening to tinny Christmas music from a radio. As we children acquired spouses and as other friends and relatives were widowed, the events became larger and grander, with dozens of different desserts and cookies as well as cheeses and sausages and dips and spreads and chips and breads.

The year my husband and I married - 1989 - was the largest such event, with nearly 20 people in and out, all bearing gifts and bottles. It was the last, too, because the following year began a series of deaths that decimated our family ranks.

Today, we are a spread-out family, with members in Illinois, California and Texas as well as Michigan and Wisconsin. Our lives are busy, and some years, not everyone makes it back to the Midwest. I live here, just a few miles from the old house; so does my sister.

Every Christmas Eve, I drive past Grandma Annie's house. In my heart I salute it, for those many years of Christmas Eves and wonderful memories of the old kitchen. As I said in an earlier post, I am so happy that Denise, its new mistress, is an ardent cook and baker. The light hand on her shoulder is merely my lovely Grandma Annie showing her approval.

Cherish the ones you love tonight.

I will.

About the photo: That was the view from my kitchen door about 4:15 p.m. last night. It is just that color now as I post this.

22 December 2007

The Faraway: A Drink with Cranberry and Orange Juice

Each Christmas brings with it some lovely moments. For us - my husband and me - those moments usually involve impromptu shopping trips, lunches, snacks or other celebratory events we indulge in because (1) 'tis the season, and (2) we have time off from work.

On Friday we celebrated with a long lunch at a local inn, an old mansion perched above the river. Our table overlooked not the water but a back garden and carriage house. It has been gray and foggy here the past few days and that is typical for our part of Wisconsin when the weather is not cold. So to me, such days are part and parcel of Christmas and they lend an aura of mystery to the older neighborhood we call home.

Anyway, the mushroom ravioli was wonderful. There were gingerbread and chocolate torte for dessert.

Today, we attended a book signing at an independent bookstore in a nearby city. A friend has written a meticulously researched book of essays on a moment in local history and we wanted to cheer him on. So did quite a few others, and we were happy to see that. The wine flowed and the finger foods were lovely. Later it was good to come out of the fog and settle in for the duration of Saturday.

These simple events will become part of my bank of holiday memories.

Tonight, I'll make a pitcher of what has become our favorite seasonal libation, thanks to Christine of Christine Cooks. We'll light candles, turn on the tree lights and enjoy the simplicity of an early winter night at home.

12 December 2007

Cranberry-Citrus Punch for Parties

Having worked late last night, I managed to sneak home while it was still light out today so I could tramp through the snow to the west side of the house where the Japanese Barberry and American Bittersweet grow rampant, along with a mystery vine that threatens to take over the entire southwest portion of the yard. I shot the photo above and some others that may appear in a later post.

It was mighty cold, but the sun was setting and it was lovely anyway. This morning while dressing for work, I heard and then saw a large male cardinal in the cedar tree, just a yard or so from where I stood. Magnificent.

Since red is my signature color, I consider this a sign of good luck. Unfortunately, I have no photograph.

Speaking of red, if you need a great recipe for a non-alcoholic punch this year, try the one below. I did not get a photo of the punch, either, but I will tell you that it drew rave reviews and second and third helpings.

Ruby Red Christmas Punch

  • 1 two-liter bottle ginger ale
  • 1 48-ounce bottle cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 12-ounce pre-made canned lemonade
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • thin slices of orange, lemon and lime to float on top

Chill the ingredients and blend in punch bowl. I make ice in a round gelatin mold, studding it with maraschino cherries.

I don't have all the ingredients just now, but I am contemplating cobbling together some sort of pink drink tonight with what I do have. 'Tis the season.

Two things that are becoming holiday rituals for food bloggers:

The Menu For Hope project, which raises money to feed the hungry, and the Food Blog Awards, which recognize excellence in food blogging.

Of the former, I will say this: There are so many cool items to be raffled off, I am having a hard time figuring out how to spend my money.

Of the latter, I was surprised but pleased to see that at least one of the blogs that made the short list was eclectic (not strictly food) and that several of my favorites are getting the attention they deserve. Feeding the soul is as important as feeding the body, by my way of thinking, and I like to see deserving people get recognition.

Thanks to Abby for her faith in me.

09 December 2007

Fast and Frugal: Rustic Cauliflower Soup

Rustic Cauliflower Soup with St. Paulin Cheese

Across from Square George Cain, a lovely little park tucked behind Musee Carnavalet, is the Swedish Cafe, part of the Swedish Cultural Center on Rue Payenne.

At mid afternoon, when we visited the museum and the park, the little cafe was deserted and this captivated me, and fired my imagination. I saw the buggy and imagined a young Swedish mother, the wife of a minor diplomat perhaps, visiting with her child. The daily special, said the menu board, was cauliflower soup and I longed for a cup, and a rest in this little sanctuary. But we had shopping and packing to do, and thus a bus to catch. I shot a hasty photo.

The cafe at the Swedish Cultural Center, Paris
It is is cold in Wisconsin today, and I am inside with my own bowl of cauliflower soup, this one made with St. Paulin cheese, which I find easily in France and sometimes locally.

Rustic Cauliflower Soup
  • 1 medium cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken stock*
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup St. Paulin cheese, in chunks
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • pinch fleur de sel

*I make chicken stock using the carcass of a rotisserie chicken, some onion skins and peels, some thyme, and one garlic clove.

Using a large sauce pan or smaller stock pot, cook the cauliflower in 1 cup of the chicken stock until tender. Allow it to cool, drain and then reserve the liquid. Run it through a blender to get a slight puree.

In another saucepan, soften the onion in butter. Add the cauliflower puree, then add flour and milk. Allow the mix to boil and thicken. Then, turning the heat down, add the cheese until the cheese melts. Taste before adding seasoning.

Cauliflower soup does not need much embellishment to satisfy and provide a sense of comfort. I often add a dash of fresh thyme, or even a tiny pinch of orange rind.

This was fine and comforting as it was, with just a few small garlic croutons floating on top.

04 December 2007

Paris: Through Eugene Atget's Lens

On a sunny morning in May we set out to discover the Paris of Eugene Atget (1857-1927) at the old Biblotheque Nationale, just behind the Palais Royale.

Atget, a seaman and actor turned photographer, is known for his Paris street scenes, of tradesmen and merchants, of tipped pushcarts and bulging barrels, of haberdashers and fishmongers. Atget took more than 10,000 photos of Paris life, not for art but for income.

He left behind a legacy for today's Paris lovers, who yearn to see their city as it once was.

Old Paris leaps from these photographs of everyday life. Look at one - any one - long enough and you can feel and smell and hear the color and the cacophony of street life. Gaze into one of his misty photos old overgrown parks and you can feel the damp on your face and hear the cries of birds of prey. You can sense the bosky aroma of untended woods. You are there.

I'd heard about the exhibit, but it was not until we saw a photo of one of our favorite little Left Bank corners (just outside the ancient church of St. Julien le Pauvre) at Musée d'Orsay that we decided to go to the show. I thought my husband, a trained photographer and filmmaker, would enjoy it, and he did.

The photo at the top is one of Atget's, looking west Rue des Ursins on Ile de la Cité to the north of Notre Dame. One of my photos of the same area is just above: I am looking east.

I consider it an honor to walk - even for a short time - in Atget's footsteps with my camera.

30 November 2007

Quelle Fromage! St. Paulin Cheese

Preparing for Christmas always brings to mind Grandma Annie.

Not that I need a holiday to think about my warm and wonderful maternal grandmother.

But, oh, how Annie loved preparing for Christmas! She baked and baked and stashed her cookies in tins stacked inside the big red cupboard in the back kitchen, the room separate from the main kitchen by a long hallway. Classic Christmas cookies, rolled and cut from orange-infused dough and baked and iced with pastel frosting; thumbprints rich with raspberry and apricot jam; and sand tarts, sugar cookies filled with dates.

Annie loved shopping, too, and would have certainly enjoyed the ease of the Internet.

The year I was first on my own, Annie gave me a cheese basket and a cookbook.

Port de Salut was one of the cheeses in that sampler basket. I have loved its creaminess since then, and I equate it with the comfort of Annie, her kitchen and her cooking.

In Paris, one of my first purchases was a hunk of St. Paulin cheese, a sort of sibling to Port de Salut. I bought it in part because of its promised creaminess, but also because St. Paulin, P.Q., was the birthplace of Annie’s mother, Josephine, known in previous posts as Mémere.

St. Paulin, originally made by Trappist monks, was the first cheese made with pasteurized milk, about 80 years ago. It is tender, sweet, and tangy and well suited for soups and macaroni and cheese. Its rind is soft and edible.

I will be cooking with it in a day or two - they say a winter storm is on the way. I'm going to be prepared for it.

29 November 2007

Fleur de Sel

Note: I've noticed an increase in questions from readers recently, just as I did last year at this time. Must be the cold weather or the holidays - everybody is cooking! In order to make French Kitchen in America a bit more reader friendly, I'm beginning a randomly occurring feature that will answer reader questions. Sometimes, as below, some Real Food Expert has already answered the questions, so I'll also post a link.

How do you use fleur de sel?

High-blood pressure runs in my family so I use salt sparingly. A container of Morton's, for example, lasts for years and is usually put to work as gargle when I have a bad sore throat.

On the other hand, I love sea salt, harvested by evaporating sea water until only the salt remains. I use these coarse grains judiciously: A jar lasts forever. (I am still using a container of salt from the Camargue, a gift from Lucy a year or so ago.) It is vastly superior to regular old table salt in every way.

Fleur de sel is a type of sea salt that is hand harvested from the surface cyrstals on a salt evaporation pond. It tastes of the sea.

About four years ago, my local grocery store began stocking fleur de sel. Recently the store added a complete line of sea salts from around the world that come in a variety of colors from salmon to charcoal to white and in an equal array of textures.

One of the best essays on fleur de sel comes from David Lebovitz, perhaps best known for his chocolate and ice cream expertise and his hilarious take on life in Paris. Read it here.

I use sea salt or fleur de sel whenever table salt is called for in a recipe, but I tend to use less. The experts tell you not to use it before cooking, but I have and have not tasted any unwelcome results. But then, as I said earlier, I never use very much.

I also add it to roasted vegetables, scrambled eggs and omelets, and use it as a rub for meats, especially steaks.

You can buy fleur de sel mixed with herbes de Provence. I always use this to remove water from eggplant before making ratatouille.

The salt in the photo below is blended with basil and Parmesan cheese, which gives it an earthy, almost medicinal, flavor. I also have a bottle of fleur de sel that is blended with sea weed; I use a small amount of this when I bake salmon.

For me, it only takes a few grains. Each one is a gift for the taste buds.

26 November 2007

A Traditional Tourtiere

A year ago I was already making tourtiere.

You can make this traditional French Canadian meat pie any time of year, of course, but most of us prepare it for the winter holidays. No Christmas is complete without it, preferably washed down with some Champagne, an incongruous pairing of heavy and rustic with light and sophisticated.

But it works. Perhaps the bubbly is a foil for the hearty meat pie. Why question something that feels so right?

Meat pie, made mostly with pork, is equally tasty paired with merlot or cabernet sauvignon, in my book. I like to pair it with a salad, preferably one with a hint of fruit or tomato.

But I am rambling on here. The real star is the meat pie.

Some recipes call for potatoes, something my aunts, grandmother and great-grandmother never used. I skip them, too, in part top honor the memory of those wonderful women, in part because of the carbs.

Here is my family's take on tourtiere:

Three pounds ground meat: I like a combination of fresh ground pork and ground chuck
One large onion, minced
Dash nutmeg
Dash allspice
Dash freshly-ground pepper
Dash sea salt
1-2 eggs

Prepare your crust. You can use your favorite recipe. My father used to make his with lard, so I have never included it here.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the meat and onion in a large skillet. Season with pepper and spices. Set aside; you can make this ahead and keep it refrigerated.

Pat your bottom crust into a greased pie plate. Before adding the meat, blend in an egg or two, depending upon the size of your pie. The eggs keep the pie from crumbling. I also add the salt at the last minute.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. I used an egg wash on the crust.

You may serve tourtiére warm or cold. You can even freeze it.

Here is another version of tourtiere.

Sweet and Salty Roasted-Nut Bars

In the old days, when we lived in the house on Main Street, kitty corner from O’Neill’s little store with the bell over the door and three doors away from the busy dairy, Sunday night was craft night, especially at Christmas time.

We did not call it craft night then, and it was not planned; it usually occurred organically when my mother was driven to make something she wanted but did not have or could not find. Candles, wreaths, tree decorations, stockings, you name it, she made it, starting Thanksgiving weekend. When I was old enough to be useful, I helped.

Why Sunday? I suppose it was because our big dinner was at noon and supper was catch- as-catch-can, or simply fresh bread or blueberry muffins my father made. Or maybe because weekends were busy, and Sunday nights were quiet as we got ready to slip back into our weekday routine.

We’d gather all the supplies and do our work around the kitchen table after supper. It was a small kitchen – this was a 1915-era house – and by the time we were finished at 10 p.m. and tired (or not finished and cranky), the room was a mess. I am quite certain I left cleanup to my mother, selfish as I was at that time.

This Sunday night, the last hours of a glorious four-day weekend, my dining room table was piled high with greenery and ornaments and a glue gun for I am making a centerpiece. Next week it will be auctioned off with about 30 others to raise money for a good cause. I hope someone buys it.

On the kitchen counter, a pan of sweetness was cooling.

Yes! I made my version (photo above) of the gooey sweet and salty nut bar we sampled last spring from a bakery in Paris. It's a blend of nuts and caramel perched upon a dense, crumbly crust. Here’s my version, inspired by a recipe at Epicurious:

Sweet and Salty Nut Bars

For the crust:

  • 1 1/3 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
  • 1 and ½ sticks cold butter, in pieces
  • 2 eggs

For the topping:

  • 3 cups mixed salted nuts (cashews, pecans, almonds), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup peanuts, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

For the caramel:

  • 2/3 cups honey
  • dash fleur de sel
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons half and half

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend flour, baking powder, sugars and salt. Cut in butter and blend with a pastry tool or fork until meal-like in consistency. Blend in eggs. Place dough on floured board and divide into four parts, kneading each piece only once.

Grease and line an 8 by 13-inch glass baking pan with foil, making sure several inches remain above the edge of the pan. Grease the foil and press the dough into the pan, spreading evenly. Line only the bottom of the pan, not the sides.

Bake for 16-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Reduce heat in oven to about 200. Place nuts in large bowl. Melt one tablespoon butter and add it to the nuts, coating each nut. Add sugar and cinnamon and blend to ensure each nut is coated. Roast for about 45 minutes at low temperature. Set nuts aside. Return oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Blend honey, brown sugar and salt in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add butter and half and half and bring to a boil. Remove from burner and add nuts, coating each nut.

Press nut mixture into crust. Bake for about 20 minutes until caramel mix begins to bubble. Cool. Place another sheet of foil over the bars and press down. Refrigerate.

Sweet and salty, of course, with a hint of spice. Very satisfying.

25 November 2007

Spicy Pumpkin Pots de Creme

This time of year when the skies darken early and temperatures suddenly plummet, it is a relief to come in from the cold at dusk.

But driving home from work in a warm car is not the same as walking home in the late autumn chill after a day of school.

In those days, the warmth would hit me like a surprise, even though I knew it waiting was on the other side of the back door. The Arts and Crafts bungalow of my childhood did not have a mudroom, so I entered the cheery kitchen from a back porch, flung my books down and lunged for whatever was on the table.

If my father was at home, it would be gingerbread or maple fudge. My mother preferred making chocolate or peanut butter cookies. No one ventured into more exotic sweets in those days. No pistachio-cranberry tea cakes or dark chocolate fudge with sea salt topping or lemon-lime muffins in tiny tins.

Truthfully, it did not matter what the after-school treat was, for it made the kitchen smell so good and provided a sugar high before supper, which was never as early as it was at my friends’ houses. Graham crackers with peanut butter were as welcome as from-scratch treats.

It was bloody cold here today. I had no intention of leaving the house in the afternoon as the weak sun sunk lower in the sky, having finally braved the crowds in the morning, much to my regret. Instead, I stayed inside and puttered, and by suppertime, my kitchen smelled of Spicy Pumpkin Pots de Crème, adapted from a recipe on the Website of the newly resurrected Victoria magazine.

This was the dessert I meant to make on Thanksgiving. My first taste of it – or something very much like it – was at a local restaurant six or eight weeks ago. I left vowing to try to replicate it.

Spicy Pumpkin Pots de Crème
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • one tablespoon grated chocolate
  • pinch fleur de sel grains
  • 10 egg yolks

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Using a whisk, blend milk, pumpkin, sugars, vanilla, chocolate, salt and spices in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Remove from heat just as mixture begins to boil. Set aside.

Separate eggs, and whisk yolks, forcing through a strainer and then adding to the saucepan gradually. When thoroughly blended, pour into six small pots de crème. Set pots de crème into a larger baking dish and add water. Water should reach about halfway up the sides of the pots.

Bake for 40 minutes, until firm. Chill before serving. I grabbed a chocolate morsel and grated it for topping.

I added the grated chocolate to the pumpkin mixture for the same reason I always add a bit of instant coffee and some cinnamon to hot chocolate: To provide richness. There are few dishes that are not enhanced by a bit of chocolate.

These pots de creme would make a lovely winter holiday dessert, but they are far too sweet and rich for frequent consumption.

24 November 2007

Kitchen Tools: Essential for a Kitchen Dominatrix

I bought a new whip in Paris.

Really, it's a ball whisk, a relatively new tool which features weighted, vibrating balls on stainless steel rods. This arrangement promises to provide good results with less effort. (I certainly support the notion of less effort.) So far, it has lived up to its promises. Restraint is key: Don't overdo it with this utensil.

It was during our pilgrimage to E. Dehillerin, that dusty commercial cathedral to the art of the kitchen, that I found my new weapon. Actually, it was Kim, the charming salesman who led me to it, after he found me a copper bowl for egg whites.

The ball whisk is excellent for whipping little clumps of flour into submission in any pan or bowl. The balls allow you to reach the insides of pans, the dark little places where the bottoms and sides meet, a feat that is difficult to perform with a wire whisk. To read more, click here.

(As Kim pointed out, the ball whisk can also be used as a scalp massage tool. It feels pretty good.)

When I packed our suitcases, I carefully wrapped the whisk in its original paper and attached the receipt from Dehillerin. Just in case someone rifling through my luggage thought it was a sex toy. You never know about these things.

The whisk got its first real workout when I made Bearnaise sauce for my Chateaubriand on Thanksgiving. It performed admirably.

You don't have to go to Paris to buy one, although I recommend it. You can buy a ball whisk from many online sources.

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23 November 2007

Paris: Shopping in the Village St. Paul

Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, I congratulate myself on the wisdom of avoiding the hordes of shoppers who throng to the mall, the stand-alone stores, and our charming little downtown. I support shopping locally, I always have, but I am not a masochist. Most years, I've worked on this day, and when I did not work, it was because we were traveling.

This year I am home. In the kitchen. Making sense of leftovers and attending to residual cleaning chores.

In my mind, I am, of course, shopping in Paris. Given any place in that lovely, layered city to schlep from store to store, I am pretty certain it would be the Village St. Paul. Tucked away behind the hulking Baroque church of St. Paul-St. Louis and just west of Rue St. Paul, this labyrinth of small and quiet shops is seldom crowded.

To reach the warren of shops you must enter through small, inviting alleys. Inside are courtyards lined with antique stores, tiny artisan ateliers and gift shops. Nothing shoddy here, no little Eiffel Tower key chains. At one shop owned by a Scandinavian, I purchased a small ceramic bowl for a friend's birthday.

It was quiet the Saturday we visited and quiet again the weekday when we returned. Many of the shops were closed,perhaps because it was only mid-spring or perhaps because they had not flourished here.

Something about the Village St. Paul reminds me of the little country shopping centers of Wisconsin's Door County, nearly abandoned in the off-season but bustling during high tourist season.

But according to the book, Quiet Corners of Paris, St. Paul Village is routinely quiet. How sad, because it is a lovely little place, an oasis just steps from teeming Rue St. Antoine.

There are many other quiet spots in Paris and many places to shop. The Village St. Paul is both.

It is worth a visit, near some wonderful bakeries and cafés and very close to one of my favorite bookstores, The Red Wheelbarrow. My husband and I were quite taken with the place and I think on our next visit, we will spend more time there, perhaps grabbing a ubiquitous sandwiche jambon from a nearby bakery and finding a secluded place to share it. But that is a full 300 days in the future (yes, the next countdown has now begun).

Where are you today? In the kitchen or in a store?

18 November 2007

Winter-Fruit-and-Walnut Crisp

Each kitchen has its own unique aroma. When I was young, my mother's tiny yellow kitchen in the apartment she and my father rented near the harbor was redolent with the spicy scents of ginger and cinnamon.

It was that kitchen that came to my mind as I sampled the first bite of my walnut crisp filled with winter fruit drenched in Calvados.

The taste was rich and sweet and layered, which is what I intended. It reminded me of the inside of my mother's spice drawer, or a photograph in a shelter magazine showing a kitchen filled with pine boughs and pewter.

It is entirely my invention, in that I did not seek inspiration anywhere but my own cupboard, intent on using up what I had on hand. There is nothing extraordinary about it - except the taste!

Winter-Fruit-and-Walnut Crisp

  • 1/2 cup dates, chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 4-5 apples, chopped
  • 1-2 small red pears chopped
  • two tablespoons Calvados
  • one teaspoon vanilla
  • three tablespoons sugar
  • dash or two cinnamon

For the topping:

  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat or graham flour
  • 1/2 stick or more cold butter
  • three tablespoons brown sugar

Place chopped fruit in bowl and toss. Drizzle with Calvados. Add vanilla, fructose and cinnamon and toss again. Place in greased 8-by-8-inch baking pan.

In a second bowl, mix chopped walnuts, flour and brown sugar mix. Cut in butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour topping over fruit.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, until topping turns deep golden brown. Cool for 20 minutes before serving.

Even my husband liked it.

17 November 2007

Oven-Baked Crab Rangoon

Asian food has played a huge role in my relationship with my husband.

Our first date was at a long-gone, downtown Madison restaurant with a decidedly urban feel to it. I am certain I ordered cashew shrimp and it was the best I’ve ever tasted.

During our courtship (do they still call it that?), we explored Asian restaurants all over Madison, and later Green Bay.

We had an early afternoon wedding in our hometown and were on the road by 5 p.m. on a snowy and blowy winter day. That night, we ate our wedding dinner at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant, which soon became a regular Friday night stop for us. (There was something about that humble little dinner that meant more to me than a huge wedding feast.)

Late yesterday afternoon, my tastebuds demanded crab Rangoon. It started about 3 p.m. and I could not get those tangy and crispy little bundles out of my head.

We were too tired to go out in search of Chinese food, so I tried one of the local supermarkets, dragging myself and my cart up this aisle and that in search of a pre-made crab Rangoon.

Yes, pre-made. Only I could not find any. So I bought wonton wrappers and crab meat and cream cheese.

And I went home and made crab Rangoon myself. I baked them, rather than frying them, and they were good.

It’s easy. Mix about 1/3 cup of drained and chopped crab meat with about 8 ounces of cream cheese, a dollop of mayo, some chopped green onion or even minced onion and set aside.

Lightly coat 18 wonton wrappers with peanut oil. Drop about a half-tablespoon of filling in each wrapper. Bring diagonal ends together, and give them a little twist. Place them on a greased baking sheet and pop them into a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until they turn golden brown.

They are a bit crunchier than fried Rangoon but perfect when served with a stir fry.

Surely you've had a craving that would have gone unsatisfied, had you not found a substitute or made it yourself.

What was it? How did you satisfy it?

11 November 2007

Sunday Supper: Rotisserie Chicken

Lately we've been eating only two real meals on Sundays. We have omelets at a little harborside café, and find that this meal satisfies us (and certainly provides our quota of eggs for the week) until suppertime.

At that point, one of us makes a run to the Italian market or the other supermarket in town for rotisserie chicken. Sometimes it is accompanied by cole slaw, other times by oven-roasted vegetables.

Until recently, I cooked my own chicken. But time is scarce these days. The chicken we find at local supermarkets is wonderful, and I can see why my mother has loved it all these years.

We found rotisserie chicken all over Paris and were sorely tempted by some we saw on Rue Cler. But my husband purchased what seemed like tons of sausage, and regrettably, we passed it up. Next time. (My next-time list is getting quite lengthy.)

We did buy a bag of rotisserie chicken potato chips, which were OK, but not nearly as delightful as olive potato chips. We wondered if olive was a southern preference.

What is your favorite deli meal?

10 October 2007

Yes, Nice Does Matter

I was delighted the other day when Mary aka Breadchick from The Sour Dough, a fellow blogger and Yooper (that is, someone from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the U.P.) named me in her Nice Matters Awards.

Mary is one of the many bloggers I've met online who is just plain nice. Courtesy, politeness, support and encouragement matter in the blog world as they do in our everyday lives.

My father always said, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." And he was always charming, whatever else he was or wasn't.

He was also very polite. I used to hear him ordering food and supplies by phone. He sounded almost humble, he was so polite.

He also used to say, "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all." I never, never heard him badmouth anyone.

I have not always lived up to those standards. But I do try.

I have been lucky though. I have met all of you, and you have been patient with me over the past few months. You have visited me, even though I often do not have time to repay the visits.

So, in my mind, you are all pretty nice.

But there are several of you who have been with me for more than a year now, really offering advice and encouragement. So, while I salute all my blog friends, I especially mention the following food bloggers, who have visited my site frequently and posted, even when I was missing in action:

  • The lovely and thoughtful Jan from The Traveling Food Lady

  • The gracious and kind Christine from Christine Cooks

  • Another upbeat and witty midwesterner, Katie from Thyme for Cooking

  • A fine fellow food writer with a charitable heart, Lydia from The Perfect Pantry

  • The creative and always cheerful Tanna from My Kitchen In Half Cups

  • Now there are many others who have been helpful, friendly, caring. Erica, Kalyn, Laura, TerryB, Terri, Cyn, CF, Lucy, Judy, Toni, Kristen, Julie, Andrea, and the many newcomers who have surfaced in the last six months. Not to mention my non-cyber friends who visit here (you know who you are). But these five have gone the distance with me.

    I have a hard time narrowing things down. This is tough.

    So, what the heck. You are all nice.

    Oh, yeah, what about the photo? I thought that was nice, too.

    27 September 2007

    Road Food: Pasties

    I love business travel. I enjoy checking into a hotel room, unpacking my things, which always include a good book, bubble bath and the other acouterments of pampering, and a local newspaper.

    My husband says he enjoys it, too.

    “There are no demands on your time,” he says. “At home, you feel as if you should be doing something constructive.”

    Once I am checked into a hotel room, I am usually not interested in leaving. I relax almost immediately and want to get further acclimated to my temporary environment. But I do leave, mainly to search for a local deli. I seldom eat alone in restaurants, and I do not like take-out food.

    In Marquette, Mich., there are some very nice locally owned sandwich shops and delis. But the other night, strapped for time and weary from a long drive, I opted for a local supermarket, expecting to find the usual selection of rotisserie chicken, cole slaw, potato salad and baked beans.

    Instead - being in Yooper country - I found pasties, those meat-and-potato stuffed pastry pockets that Cornish workers took into the iron mines with them. They are a staple here, where the mines have long dominated the local economy.

    My husband, having Cornish genes, loves them. I find them a bit too carb laden. But after more than three hours of driving on an empty stomach, a pasty looked pretty darned good.

    (By the way, that’s a soft A, not a long one. Paa-stee, not pay-stee. The two uses are not interchangeable, either.)

    I bought a pasty, adding some cheese and nuts, and enjoying an apple (courtesy of a friend at the Italian market back home) for dessert.

    As pasties go, it was not the best or the worst I’ve eaten. Doesn’t really matter. I was ravenous, and it was hearty and satisfying.

    What I was really tasting here was a night of freedom. I missed my husband, but had a long phone conversation with my sister-in-law, a warm bubble bath and a good book to sooteh my road weariness.

    When you travel, what do you do? Eat out? Splurge? Choose takeout? I’m curious. My new job will involve more travel, and I may just broaden my horizons at mealtime, too.

    I'll be on the road again Monday.

    23 September 2007

    Pork Tenderloin with Apples, Cider and Calvados

    We awoke Sunday to the sound of gunshots, coming from either across the river or the swampy area to the west of our neighborhood. It is ruffed grouse and wild turkey season, and there are some of the former and plenty of the latter around wooded areas here, in and out of the city.

    The day was warm and sunny, but when the chill set in at dusk I closed the doors against it. I could smell the smoke from my neighbor’s wood fire and hear honking from the Canada geese down by the river.

    These are good nights to hunker down at home with a seasonal meal and a hearty wine.

    Tonight, we continued the apple theme, preparing Pork with Apples, Cider and Calvados, a recipe adapted from Epicurious.

    • 1 pound pork tenderloin

    • 5 tablespoons butter
    • 4 Golden Delicious apples, cored
    • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
    • 2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
    • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
    • ¼ cup Calvados
    • 1 cup half-and-half
    • ¼ cup apple cider

    Slice pork into ½ inch thick slices. Place between wax paper and flatten with a mallet. Wrap or cover and refrigerate.

    Melt twp tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add apples and sugar. Brown apples lightly, for about 5-6 minutes. Remove from skillet, and set aside.

    Melt two more teaspoons of butter over high heat. Add the pork. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until cooked gthrough and lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside, keeping the pork warm.

    Melt one teaspoon butter in the same skillet. Brown shallots, adding the fresh thyme. Add Calvados and boil until reduced to glaze. Blend in half-and-half and cider and boil until entire mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

    Reheat apples and pork. Serve with sauce.

    To round out the meal, I roasted red potatoes and Brussels sprouts in olive oil and salt and pepper. I paired the meal with a simple but robust red table wine. For dessert, there were pumpkin bars.

    When I make this again, I will experiment with other tart apples, red ones this time to give the dish some color. I will likely add more shallots, too.

    16 September 2007

    Chicken with Cider and Calvados

    In college, I devoured young women's magazines, and somewhere along the way clipped an extensive article about Normandy. The accompanying photos of lace curtained windows, baskets of apples and bottles of Calvados formed my ideas of what a French kitchen should be, and I saved them for years.

    I also saved a handful of recipes from the same feature article. Tonight, for the first time, I made a chicken recipe I've saved for more than 20 years. This is the first time I've prepared it.

    It seemed the perfect time for apples and chicken: A sunny but coolish Sunday with heavy overtones of autumn all around, from the honking of geese overhead to the red-tinged leaves on the many maples in our neighborhood.

    Chicken with Cider
    • 1 3-to-4-pound chicken, cut up
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter 
    • 1 Tablespoon cooking oil
    • 2 dashes fleur de sel
    • dash freshly ground pepper
    • 1/4 cup Calvados or brandy
    • 1 3/4 cup apple cider
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 teaspoon parsley

    Coat chicken with flour and brown in large skillet containing oil and butter. Place skin side down, and turn as needed to brown both sides. Season with salt and pepper.

    Pour in Calvados and ignite, using a long match. Allow the liquid to burn until the flame extinguishes itself. Add cider and herbs. Bring to a simmer. Cover and allow to simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.

    Check breasts with a meat thermometer, remove if hot enough. Legs and wings will need to cook longer. Remove the chicken from the skillet, add a bit of flour to the remaining sauce and use a whisk. Pour over the chicken.

    The chicken was moist and tender. The sauce had enough apple flavor to hold my interest. But I think I will add onions and shallots to the skillet next time. The flavor was way too subtle.

    I served this with green beans amandine and herbed potatoes. Wine Pairing: A white merlot.

    09 September 2007

    Sausage Stuffed Red Peppers

    Brr. It is downright chilly here tonight. Out come the winter pajamas!

    At any given time, you will likely find red peppers, sweet Italian sausage and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my larder. Onions, garlic and cheese are givens, as important as milk and coffee. So when I found inspiration in The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, I did not have to venture out for provisions.

    The magazine features yellow bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and cheese. I used red peppers, sausage and olives. The recipe below is an adaptation.

    Sweet Italian Sausage-Stuffed Red Peppers

    • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
    • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
    • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes from a jar, chopped
    • 1/2 cup green and/or black olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce
    • 4-6 red bell peppers
    • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1 teaspoon each rosemary and thyme, chopped

    Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil; set aside. In same skillet, brown sausage, using a wooden spatula to cut into small pieces. Add herbs and, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and spaghetti sauce and allow to simmer about 20 minutes over low heat.

    Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the tops and stem off the peppers. Set peppers on their sides and cut away roughly 1/4 of the pepper and remove seeds and membrane. Place peppers in a greased baking pan. Set aside.

    Add cheese to sausage mixture. Add beaten egg to serve as a binder. Finally, add rosemary and thyme. Spoon sausage mixture into peppers and bake at in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with Parmesan or other cheese (I used a mild cheddar infused with basil and tomato).

    Allow peppers to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. This mild herby and very sweet dish would be perfect paired with a rosé table wine, perhaps something from Provence.

    24 August 2007

    Paris: On the Cheap

    I cannot tell you how much I wanted this raspberry confection in the window at LeNotre near the Bastille one dreary morning in May.

    I craved it. I could taste it. I wanted to consume it.

    Eating it - posessing it - would have brightened my day considerably.

    But it was 40 euros, and it was a big. I should have bought a smaller dessert, which was about 7 euros. But even that is hard for me to do, as my frugality gene rears its practical head regularly when we are on the road.

    The way I see it, you never know when you will need every extra penny you have. So: No frivolous purchases.

    My husband and I often split desserts. We want a taste, not the whole thing. This saves us both money and calories, not to mention carbs, fat, salt and other things that are bad for you but good tasting.

    We restrain ourselves, shooting photos instead.

    I'm not sure if I am entirely happy being so darned prudent and frugal.

    22 August 2007

    Paris: The Quality of Light

    Before you actually travel to Paris, you may have been there.

    You might have imagined, as I did, quays wrapped in light evening fog or gritty neighborhoods of cheap shops and trinket stores. You might have yearned to see Paris come alive in the morning with delivery trucks blocking narrow streets and outdoor vendors already hawking their edibles in street markets.

    I did. I imagined all this, based on photos and stories and books. And then I experienced it all first hand.

    I was never disappointed. Paris fails to disappoint, time after time.

    Much of my early vision of Paris was fashioned by magazine ads for such perfumes as "L'Air du Temps" and "L'Heure Bleu," which inevitably featured pale photographs of the Seine and Notre Dame or Pont Neuf. My teen-aged imagination took flight, and a vision of Paris was formed.

    It was palpable. I could smell it and taste it, too.

    Eventually, I saw it for myself. And I photographed it.

    I love the photo above for the way it captures the watercolor quality of the light over Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cité at 6 p.m. Our feet were aching, and we stopped to rest on precarious seats above Quay d'Orleans.

    It is an ordinary picture of an ordinary moment. And yet because it met my expectations, I wanted to savor it.

    And so I did.

    Those of you who post here know exactly what I mean. You've experienced this too, if not in Paris, then somewhere else.

    Where and when did you have your "Yes, this is it" moment?

    Paris: A Still Life by an Open Window

    I am always intrigued with the composition of food in photographs and paintings.

    This fascination goes back to childhood, when I spent winter Sunday afternoons armed with a bag of oranges and my parents' coffee table books, which usually focused on travel and history.

    One book of black-and-white photos combined both, and in it was a feature on Colonial Williamsburg. There was a photo of fresh on a windowsill warmed by the lambent late-afternoon sun that always intrigued me.

    They were root vegetables, I believe, and it seemed to me that they were waiting to be prepared for some deep and rich and earthy-tasting supper dish.

    Poring over these books gave me a taste for home decorating or “shelter” books, especially those involving kitchens. I am always interested in the choice of food props. Bread, onions and artichokes? Berries, cheese and lemonade? Who decides? How do they decide? Do they look at kitchen color and come up with a contrast?

    I remember looking hungrily at a fall table decorated with bittersweet. Atop the table were pewter tankards, probably filled with hard cider, a loaf of rustic bread, a hunk or two of cheese, and a bowl of apples.

    It seemed like a fine fall meal to me.

    When I was 16 years old, we piled into the car with Grandma Annie on an October afternoon and visited my grandfather’s sister, Annie’s sister-in-law, who lived on an 1870s-era farmstead 30 miles into the country.

    Before we left, Frances prepared an impromptu meal of ham, cheese, rolls, applesauce and cold milk. This humble meal has remained a favorite of mine on busy fall weekends.

    In Paris, we had a kitchen window that looked out on an airshaft. Just before 5:30 p.m., the light was right for food photography. I shot this photo of a baguette and some aromatic Pont L’Eveque cheese with a bottle of wine after a long afternoon in the Marais. I like the way the shadows add depth to the food.

    It tasted wonderful, too.

    21 August 2007

    Cooking in Paris: Warm Pepper Salad

    You eat well in Paris on 200 euros day. Very well. Breakfast will be your cheapest meal, followed by a good lunch and dinner. You can probably work in a snack, too.

    But I didn't have that kind of money to spend. We were trying to keep our trip under $5000. By planning ahead and buying food items that complemented one another, my husband and I ate well on less than 20 euros a day. It helped that we rented an apartment with a small - aren't they all?  - kitchen.

    I improvised as well, as I do at home, pairing ingredients in new ways. One day after a morning of traipsing around the 13th arrondissement and taking buses across the south side of the city, I had peppers, onions and sausage on hand plus half a baguette.

    I cut the sausage into bite size pieces. I sautéed it and the peppers and onions in minced garlic and olive oil, and topped them with a sauce of aoili and mayonnaise blended flavored with Provencal sauce from a jar. I buttered the bread and browned it in the skillet. The meal was served with a very reasonable rosé table wine from Provence.

    The meal and a short power nap fortified us for another round of discoveries in the afternoon.

    Improvised meals remain my favorites.

    19 August 2007

    More Memories of Annie's Kitchen and Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp

    I wish I could take you back to the comfort of Grandma Annie's kitchen.

    It was quite ordinary as kitchens go. A square room with no built-in cabinetry, it had a deep farmhouse sink and white appliances. There were three or four mismatched cabinets around the perimeter and a table in the middle, not a scarred wooden table, but a newer white enamel-and-chrome model with slats that pulled out to make it larger.

    On cool, dreary days, the kitchen was redolent of vanilla and almond and buttery aromas and perhaps chopped fruit in an old stoneware bowl. Annie had no newfangled gadgets, only time-tested utensils of wood and stainless steel. She used an old meat grinder, the kind you clamp on a table or cupboard, and an old-fashioned potato masher.

    Her conversation was not deep, for she was not on the outside a deep woman. But she posessed an inner core of steel and a firm convictions when it came to her Catholic faith and her unwavering sense of right and wrong. She was generous, always buying this or that for her grandchildren. I did not truly appreciate her until she was long gone.

    Her kitchen remains, though four years ago the family home on Dunlap and Bellevue in the heart of old Frenchtown was sold to a couple who gutted much of it and made it stronger, bringing it into its third century. The kitchen was the first room finished and when I visited it while the remodeling was in progress, I could feel Annie's presence. It was a mid-fall evening and as I stood in the kitchen with Denise, its new mistress, I could sense Annie's approval.

    "Yes," I could hear Annie say to me in the deepening dusk. "This feels right. It is still my kitchen."

    How lucky that Denise and her family have the sense of goodness my Annie had! How lucky for us that Annie's house - the home Pépere bought about 1883 - is in such good hands. Its new occupants were already friends, now they are part of our extended family.

    As I baked this dessert in my own kitchen tonight, I though again of Annie and the passage of time and the timeless chopping and peeling and mixing that is part of what we do in kitchens, what we have done for centuries. I wonder if Denise feels part of that. I must ask her next time we talk.

    Blueberry-Nectarine Crisp

    • 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 3/4 cup brown-sugar/Splenda mix
    • 1 cup cold Smart Balance (in place of butter)
    • 1 cup chopped pecans
    • 4 cups fresh blueberries
    • 5-6 fresh nectarines. cored and diced
    • 1/2 cup fructose
    • 3/4 cup cognac-white wine blend
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 tablespoons cornstar]ch
    • dash cinnamon

    Blend flour and sugar. Cut in butter or Smart Balance and pecans for a coarse mixture. Set aside.

    Dice nectarines and combine with blueberries in large bowl. Blend Cognac-wine mix with cornstrach, vanilla and sugar until sugar dissolves. Pour over fruit and gently toss. Pour fruit into greased 9x9-inch baking pan. Top with crust mixture. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven on middle rack for about 40 minutes. Serve warm with French vanilla ice cream.

    Note: My husband and I loved this recipe, which is adapted from one on Epicurious. My husband raved, saying it was a good balance of sweet and tart. Annie would have loved it.

    18 August 2007

    Easy Skillet Ratatouille

    There comes a weekend night in late summer when the chill sets in and we close the windows for the first time since early June. We don forgotten sweaters or sweatshirts and throw a quilt on the bed. My husband tunes in the Green Bay Packers game and I settle down with the September issue of Vogue or a good mystery.

    It's ratatouille time. Saturday night, I made a skillet version of my favorite dish. In the oven was a whole chicken stuffed with garlic, onion, rosemary and thyme. Rice from the Camargue was baking in a sauce of tomatoes and herbes de Provence. So I sliced my vegetables and sauteed them in a skillet.

    Ratatouille in the Skillet

    • 1 small eggplant
    • dash sea salt with herbes de Provence
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 small zuchinni
    • 1 small summer squash
    • 2-3 small peppers, red or green
    • 1 medium onion
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 1 small can diced tomatoes

    Wash and slice, but do not peel the eggplant. Strive for uniform size pieces. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and herbes. Cover and set aside for an hour or so until water drains from the eggplant.

    Slice the zuchinni, squash and peppers, too. Sauté each, one at a time, in olive oil. Sauté only until eacg vegetable begins to turn golden brown. Set aside. Slice onions and mince garlic and do the same with these. Set aside. Finally, drain the eggplant and add it to the pan. Return onion, garlic, zuchinni, squash and peppers to the pan. Add diced tomatoes and allow the mixture to simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes. Season with additional herbes de Provence, sea salt and pepper, if you like.

    My husband noticed that the tomatoes took on new flavors from the vegetables.

    The entire meal, which was preceded by a simple salad of cherry tomatoes and lettuce, tasted of autumn on the rise and hinted of the Midi.

    I often think of ratatouille as a transitional dish, one that is best savored as summer wanes and fall begins to show its burnished colors. It was the perfect meal on a dark and chilly August night.

    15 August 2007

    Financiers Pistache

    Financiers Pistache, Paris 2007

    A decade ago when I started sampling French patisseries, I was hard-pressed to find recipes for some of my favorites, and I did not have a vast supply of French cookbooks I have since acquired.  I've updated this post from 2007 to include recipes: 

    Buying our first baguette on our last trip to Paris, I spied a tray of pistachio financiers and felt my willpower melt away. I have always loved the color and flavor of pistachios. I bought two of them and carried them back to our cozy apartment.

    We loved their intense color and flavor.

    And thus began my pistachio obsession which hit its peak in Paris. I liked asking for them. Fee-non-see-ay pee-stash may not roll trippingly off the tongue, but it is fun to say. I only wish I had taken more photos of them.

    Here are several recipes, published a few years after I wrote this post:

    Why not make a rich financier pistache part of your Mardi Gras celebration?

    13 August 2007

    A Place Tucked Away

    There is nothing quite as intriguing as a place tucked away behind something else or deep within a neighborhood. Perhaps it is an unexpected find, like the glass studio my husband and I recently found in an old industrial district along the water, or the jazz club hidden behind a warehouse in a nearby town known for its belching smoke stacks and tough neighborhoods.

    Whenever possible, we eschew main streets for alleys and twisting passages, at least when we have the good luck to be walking in Paris, or some other French city. It is an urban form of shunpiking and usually leads to charming surprises.

    The tiny bistro above is just north of Notre Dame Cathedral on Ile de la Citie, just yards from the spot where Heloise met Abelard. We were on our way to meet Richard Nahem of Eye Prefer Paris that early evening in May and did not have time to stop.

    "We'll come back," we promised ourselves, but we never did. We will - I hope - in 2008.

    Another place tucked away is St. Paul Village, sandwiched between Rue St. Antoine and the Seine in the Marais. Passages and alleyways and courtyards are filled with shops, many of them purveyors of antiques of one sort or another, or objets d'art. High tourist season was not yet upon us, and many of the shops were still closed or just opening for the season. It reminded me of Door County in November, quiet but still alluring.

    Since my husband and I are both film buffs, as well as Francophiles, we just had to search out "Le Grand Colbert," a restaurant tucked behind the Palais Royale and made famous in the movie "Something's Got to Give," with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

    What is your favorite tucked-away find anywhere?

    06 July 2007

    Tomatoes Stuffed with Italian Sausage

    Ah Paris! Already more than a month in the past, it now seems like a dream.

    On our last day, we noticed sausage-stuffed tomatoes at the Mediterranean deli across the street. We had plenty of food left, and although they looked delicious, my frugality once again maintained the upper hand.

    I passed, thinking I could make them back in Wisconsin.

    Tonight, the end of a sunny and breezy high summer day, I did just that. The result was July’s equivalent of a September favorite, stuffed green peppers.

    Sausage-Stuffed Tomatoes

    • 5-6 large tomatoes
    • ½ pound spicy Italian sausage
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 3 tablespoons green pepper, chopped
    • ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
    • dash herbes de Provence
    • Pinch fleur de sel
    • Dash pepper

    Preheat oven to 350. Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Gently remove the pulp, juice and seeds.

    Brown sausage in olive oil, breaking into small pieces with wooden spatula. When sausage is brown, remove it and set aside. Add garlic, onion and pepper and cook until tender. Add sausage, thyme and herbs and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. You may want to add a bit of tomato sauce or leftover spaghetti sauce for color.

    Place tomatoes in lightly greased backing dish. Fill with sausage mixture. If there is some left over, place this in the dish, too.

    Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. After about 15 minutes, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

    I served this with French bread and an off-brand white shiraz that was peppery and berrylike on the tongue and oakey at the finish.

    29 June 2007

    Copper Bowls from E. Dehillerin

    The day we visited E. Dehillerin was sunny and mild with a barely perceptible mist in the air. I was a bit apprehensive, having heard how snooty the sales staff could be. Would they turn their noses up at my Wisconsin-accented French?

    Founded in 1820, E. Dehillerin wears the patina of its age well. It is everything it is reputed to be: Cluttered and cramped and a bit dusty.

    No matter. Here is where the serious cook finds serious tools for the kitchen.

    Dehillerin is best known for its copper and our mission was to buy a copper bowl for whipping egg whites.

    Egg whites whipped in a copper bowl are more stable than those beaten in a glass bowl, thanks to copper ions, which migrate from the bowl to the egg whites. It will take longer, but the result is high-quality foam.

    As we entered Dehillerin, we were met by Kim, a charming man of about 45 who knows his stuff and sells it. Our conversation was half in French and half in English, as it often is in France. We talked of Julia Child and chefs and the properties of copper. My husband, whose vocabulary grows with each trip, joined in.

    We explored the basement, at Kim’s suggestion, and found all manner of kettles and pans and boilers and pots that would not fit in our suitcases. But, oh, how lovely they would be in my kitchen!

    The basement is a place of mystery, with a blocked off set of stairs in one corner and a dark sub-basement crawl space filled with boxes. Descending the stairs, I felt as if I were moving down through time. Imagine the hundreds of chefs, long forgotten, who had done the same!

    We followed our trip to Dehillerin with a visit to the park atop the former site of Les Halles., a hop on the westbound No. 69 bus, and a shopping spree on Rue Cler.

    It was the perfect Paris day.

    The trick to navigating E. Dehillerin, I believe, is to know what you want and to know something about the store and its specialties.

    As we left, Kim predicted we would return. Of course we will. Always.

    16 June 2007

    Paris: The Bakery Under the Eiffel Tower

    Grandma Annie was fond of bakeries and - as family legend goes - spent her first paycheck as a young dressmaker on sweets.

    In her later years, she shopped at different bakeries - our town had nearly a dozen at one time - for different specialties, this one for its white bread, that one for its cakes, another for its pastries.

    How she would have loved the choices in Paris. I imagine her, a small-town woman of French Canadian heritage, wild eyed and enthusiastic about Parisian offerings. I wish she could have seen Paris. I wonder if she ever dreamed about it. . .

    We have sampled the goods at about 8 Parisian patisseries, and have always been satisfied.

    But the croissants from F. Fegueux, the bakery less than a block north of the Eiffel Tower, have us craving more. They were soft and moist and flaky with a touch of sweetness on the top crust, equally good with ham and cheese, egg salad, or jams and jellies.

    We scarfed them down too quickly to take photos. But we also loved the baguettes, and often split the three-Euro sandwhiche jambom for lunch.

    The desserts were equally good, and I will share photos in future posts.

    This place may be one of the best-kept secrets in Paris. Can you add another? Or share information about a good bakery in your town?

    09 June 2007

    Paris: Rue du Cherche Midi

    I did not want to visit Rue du Cherche Midi in the rain.

    Any street with a name that implies a yearning for the sunny south requires a visit when the sun is shining. Alas, it was rarely shining when we visited Paris.

    So it was a cloudless day (and one of our last in Paris) when we strolled down this narrow street, which is quieter than I imagined. It was mid-afternoon and the market on nearby Boulevard Raspail had just closed.

    I wanted to buy a loaf of the famous Poilane bread, but since it was nearly our last day in Paris, my French frugality gene got the better of me and I decided to wait until our next visit. We already had a fresh baguette waiting in our tiny kitchen and more shopping to do, so it seemed prudent.

    But I did take a few photographs. I was enchanted with the boutiques along Cherche Midi; the clothing in the windows really spoke to me (and now I understand why the French use the term “faire du leche vitrine,” which means to lick the windows, for the process we call window shopping).

    “I have to go lick the windows,” I told my husband when he sauntered on and I wanted to linger.

    Pretty things in windows (which always include food in Paris) are the stuff of dreams. We cannot always afford them. But they give us something to yearn for.

    Sometimes a taste (or a lick) offers more long-term satisfaction than a whole meal.

    Note: I've heard several explanations for the charming name of this equally charming street. The one I like best is "seeking the mid-day sun." It is my understanding the street got its name from a sundial on a building there.

    07 June 2007

    Paris: Rue Buffon

    This post has nothing to do with food but everything to do with feelings.

    In Paris, you walk a lot. That does relate to food, because we found that you can eat almost anything you want and not gain weight if you walk. Paris, it turns out, is the most perfect kind of diet there is.

    One of the streets we walked down a week or so ago was unpretentious Rue Buffon, which runs along the east side of the lovely Jardin des Plantes.

    The sky was leaden that day and the light was that pale gray color that makes you think of a delicate watercolor painting of spring. It seemed to bounce off the gray and tan buildings of this humble little street.

    Somehow I sensed a sadness on Rue Buffon. We began at the southern end and made our way north to the spot near Place Valhubert where you can catch the westbound No. 63 bus.

    I took photos because the light intrigued me. So did the buildings, which seemed almost abandoned. When we came to a plaque on a school building, I stopped to read it.

    And then I understood. The plaque honored the memories of Jewish school children who were sent to death camps. I need not say much here: You can certainly visualize the images that conjured up for me. I said a silent prayer for the children of Rue Buffon.

    I will not forget them, those long-gone children. They have become for me an inextricable part of a layered and beautiful city where sunny days are like a carnival and where rainy days are melancholy.

    Such richness Paris offers. I feel so lucky to have tasted those riches, both the happy and the sad.