French Food Classics

by Anne Maxfield on April 21, 2014

Soupe de poissonsAs would be expected, some classics are better than others, but maybe they become classics because it’s hard to mess them up. Case in point, a couple of meals the Accidental Locavore had in Nice.

The first was in a rather touristy restaurant, slightly off the beaten track, in the old city, where I was pleased to see soupe de poisson on the menu. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the broth part of bouillabaisse. Like bouillabaisse, one of my favorite things about soupe de poissons is the aïoli and toasts, which combined, make delicious rafts to float in the soup. Sorry to say, but as long as the aioli and bread are decent, they usually distract me from the quality of the soup (which in this case was pretty good).

Accidental Locavore Steak For LunchSame for that old French classic, steak frites. If you can wrap your brain around the fact that French steaks are not the big slabs of beef found in any US steakhouse, you can, like I did, just sit back and enjoy a perfect lunch-sized hunk of meat, cooked to perfection, accompanied by golden cubes of fried potatoes (less calories according to Frank, because you “don’t eat the whole long thing-it’s not finger food so you just don’t keep reaching in”) and a sublime béarnaise sauce, that reminds you how good a well-made béarnaise can be.

Accidental Locavore Steak au PoivreSteak au poivre is something I always try to avoid-my theory being why ruin a good piece of steak by drowning it in peppercorns. Throwing myself at the whims of Virginie, the owner of Le Victor Hugo, had it making an appearance on my plate recently; however, this was not anywhere near what you would think of as steak ruined by pepper. It was a nicely sized piece of steak, covered in a thick sauce. Think butter, crème fraiche, cognac, and of course, peppercorns, married together in the best way possible, the flavor enhanced by the juices from the steak. Not only will I always be holding that up as the standard, I may have to cruise (and channel) Julia Child, for a recipe that will hold me until my next trip to Nice!

The last thing that has been on my “classics” radar recently, is mousse au chocolate. Not to be confused with its pallid American cousin-chocolate pudding-mousse, when well-made, is smooth, dark and dreamy. My friend Dave, has been teaching his sons to make chocolate mousse, because he believes it’s the one true way he’ll easily marry them off. If they add a little homemade caramel sauce to pour on top of it (like the one we had the other night), he’ll only have to worry about them marrying before they turn 15…Accidental Locavore Mousse Mobile

 

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The Accidental Locavore in Nice, at Le Victor Hugo

by Anne Maxfield on April 14, 2014

Accidental Locavore Russan CathedralThe Accidental Locavore thinks that sometimes the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” doesn’t hold true in France. Many of our most memorable meals  come when my husband and I have been exploring  places one of us has little or no interest in (all the F1 racetracks in France) and afterwards, as a reward we always seem to find an amazing meal.

Such was the case when we went off in search of the one big tourist attraction in Nice we had never seen, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This was an adventure that the Locavore had wanted to do for a while, but Frank is not a big church guy and it was pretty far off our regular routes. Along the way, down Avenue Victor Hugo, possibly the most beautiful street in Nice, we came upon a little corner bistro, with a simple but interesting menu, a possibility for lunch later. Accidental Locavore Le Victor Hugo

After a mostly nice, long walk we came to the Cathedral. Built by Tzar Nicholas and finished in 1912, it’s big and beautiful, with azure and green tiled onion domes surrounded by an intricate cast iron fence…locked! Now why a church would be closed on Good Friday is beyond me, but it’s probably because the Russian Orthodox religion has Easter on a different calendar than we do. Back home we schlepped, with me hoping that lunch at le Victor Hugo would be good enough to erase his short-term memory of a long walk for a closed cathedral.

Accidental Locavore French CharcuterieYou had to know it was going to be fine when the musician (my husband) was seated under a painting of a conductor. You had to know it was going to be fine when there was no menu, just a recitation of the day’s three main courses. You had to really hope it was going to be fine, when Frank ordered a lunchtime pastis. And you had to relax and know it was going to be fine when you got really hungry, seeing what the guy at the next table was eating.

It was more than fine!Accidental Locavore Cold Asparagus

While Frank sipped his drink, the hostess/waitress brought an amuse bouche of salami and a smooth pâté on tiny slices of ficelle (a baguette’s skinny cousin) I had a starter of white asparagus with green tips in a simple vinaigrette. Then we both had the côte de boeuf, perfectly grilled, sprinkled with sea salt and served with béarnaise sauce on the side.Accidental Locavore Cote de Boeuf It tasted as good as it looked! But what would any steak in France be without a side of frites? These were small cubes, golden brown, hot, salty and amazingly good!Accidental Locavore Frites As Frank noticed, somehow each and every piece of potato was perfectly fried on each surface. Definitely in the top ten of potatoes I have eaten, and believe me, we ate all of them!

Dessert? No room for what looked like perfect pastries and tarts, just a very reasonable bill and a couple of very happy diners. Accidental Locavore Happy Frank

As we left, Frank looked at an adjoining table and said wistfully (and on a full stomach) “They got an entree portion of the potatoes….”

 

 

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David Lebovitz’s Salted Olive Crisps

by Anne Maxfield on April 10, 2014

Accidental Locavore Olive ToastsWhen the Accidental Locavore first saw this recipe in My Paris Kitchen, I knew I had to try it. There were a bunch of oil-cured olives in the fridge, so it was just a matter of finding some whole wheat flour and buttermilk. The buttermilk appeared in the latest butter-making process, and the whole wheat flour is local. This is adapted from My Paris Kitchen, and as David says, requires the use of a good bread knife.

  • ½ cup (70g) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (70g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
  • ½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup (45g) pine nuts, very coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup (60g) oil cured olives, packed and coarsely chopped (about 20 olives)

Accidental Locavore Olive Crisps DoughPreheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 9” loaf pan with non-stick spray, or oil it lightly. Line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, herbes de Provence, salt, baking soda, and pepper. Stir in the buttermilk, mix in the olives and nuts. Pour into the baking pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, until it feels set in the center. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it, remove from the pan and set on a wire rack to cool.Accidental Locavore Olive Crisps Loaf

Decrease the oven temperature to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Holding the outside edges of the loaf firmly, to keep the edges from crumbling, slice the loaf as thinly as possible, aiming for ¼” thick slices. Lay the slices on the baking sheets. Bake for 30-35 minutes, flipping the slices after 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them during the last few minutes of cooking, you want them to be a deep golden brown, so they’ll crisp up when cooled.

Remove from oven and cool completely on wire racks. The crisps can be stored for up to 1 week in an airtight container. Serve (with some great cheese) and enjoy!

Accidental Locavore Olive Crisps With ChevreMy verdict: The first thing I baked in my new oven, these come together really easily and tasted great! The only difficult thing is cutting them perfectly. I used pine nuts instead of almonds (which were in the original recipe) and it was tough cutting through them. It’s nice to have the crunch of the nuts, but it would be a lot easier cutting cleanly, without them. My only other complaint (and its minor) was that I tossed the leftover crisps in a Ziploc bag and they lost their crispness. Now, there are two solutions: finish them or toss the leftovers in the toaster-you choose. We ate them with a nice chèvre, which was a pretty perfect combination. Try them the next time you’re serving a cheese plate, they make a nice change from the usual baguette or crackers.

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My Paris Kitchen

by Anne Maxfield on April 7, 2014

Accidental Locavore My Paris KitchenThe Accidental Locavore has long been a fan of David Lebowitz. If you’re not familiar with him, David is an American chef and food writer living in Paris. His blog is a great source of info on food, restaurants and the day-to-day quirkiness of living in Paris (and points beyond). Up until this point, the books have dealt mostly with his specialty – pastry and baking. And even though I’m not any kind of baker, I’ve bought his books just for the writing.  So I was thrilled to learn that his latest book, My Paris Kitchen, was going to be more of a “real” cookbook and even more excited to get an advance copy to peruse.

Even reading it on my iPad (not my favorite way to look at cookbooks), it was easy to see that in print this was going to be a beautiful book with great photos. The only downside? It’s going to make you want to drop the book and get yourself on the next flight to Paris! And even though I don’t read cookbooks very thoroughly, I began at the beginning with My Paris Kitchen and actually read through the first few chapters – which was kind of a revelation, because David really explains his methodology and the rationale behind the recipes. Now did I remember any of it when I went to make one of the chicken recipes? Not at all, but the dish turned out great!Accidental Locavore Mustard Chicken

Of course, there’s the usual must-haves for gear and pantry, but what makes David’s approach so  informative, are his comparisons between what he thought would be easy to find in Paris (and wasn’t) and what the French take for granted vs. what we take for granted; as you might expect, for the most part we come up lacking.  As he says, “It’s easy to make good food with good ingredients, because most of the work is done for you.”

The introduction to many of the sections and some of the recipes will seem familiar to followers of the blog. You may or may not remember the chase for cheese in the Jura, when the car skidded off the road, but it’s certainly well worth re-reading. The book is traditionally organized by courses, with a pantry section at the end, to give you David’s take on the basics.

Accidental Locavore Olive ToastsI guess the good news/bad news part about reading this on an iPad is that you can’t dog-ear the pages with the recipes you want to try, so when my real copy arrives (thank you Julie!), I’m going for the Chicken Lady Chicken (which has a great hint for making a paste of garlic and salt!), as well as the Salted Olive Crisps, the Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Garlic, and so much more. This is definitely going to be one of my go-to cookbooks!

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