December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve

Yesterday I felt like a glass of champagne. My husband informed me that we didn't have any. It seems that when we do, it doesn't stick around for very long. Since we've been a little lost in the space and time continuum lately, I simply went for a gin and tonic. You see, for the past 4-5 days, I've lost track now, we have been leaving the apartment only for sustenance and watching almost 2 full seasons of the The West Wing, about 5 episodes at a time. To say my brain is mush is an overwhelming simplification. This is what happens when neither of us wants to be the responsible one.

Today it finally occurred to me why I was craving champagne. I won't deny that it could've simply been because it was after noon. I think a more flattering reason is that during grad school Paul and I threw some awesome Christmas/New Year's parties in which about a case of Champagne was always purchased and I cooked up some classy hors d'oeuvres. I remember that I was 23 and felt nervous about throwing my first "sophisticated" cocktail party. I served mini-quiches, stuffed mushrooms and I had an assortment of imported cheeses, for christ's sake! All of our best friends came and my sophisticated party ended with dancing to Britney Spears blaring on the stereo and some friends playing "chubby bunny." Did I have the time of my life? Yes. Did I spend too much time making those fucking quiches? Yes. Did I like myself a little more that night when I saw my friends enjoying my food? Yes.

This time of year is all about reflection and/or just getting blitzed, so it is either really depressing or really fun. As for reflection, living in France for the past 2 years has been amazing. I feel grateful to be here and I feel like I'm a better person than I was 2 years ago. I finally like who the hell I am, but a small part of me wants to be back in that kitchen, cramming that sticky pastry dough back into those tiny muffin tins, frantically cleaning the apartment and feeling nervous about the night to come. I miss my friends. I'm going to think about them as my much loved husband hands me that glass of champagne.

December 27, 2005


It is approaching 4:30 pm on the Tuesday after Christmas and I can feel the slime of day 2 sans douche creeping over me. Christmas was good. I made a ton of food so that Paul and I could gorge ourselves. Christmas dinner consisted of Beef fillets wrapped in pastry, potato and onion gratin, green beans with roasted fennel, and leftover pumpkin bars. Here I am again recovering from another belligerent drunken night spent overeating. The 3rd in a row, in fact.

We spent yesterday afternoon in Chinatown. We mentioned to Ku, our friend from Taiwan, that maybe sometime we could check it out and yesterday was the day. Plus, he offered to make us dumplings back at our apartment. So, despite the shit weather and the fact that it is completely on the other side of town, we got our lazy asses out the door and were only 25 minutes late to meet him.

The first Chinese market was chaotic and crowded to say the least. There were walls stocked with strange leafy produce, cans of who-knows-what, and strange packages of candy that really just look like sugared beef jerky. We ended up buying some beautiful baby bok choy, yellow chives, 2 huge bunches of mint for 72 centimes or something, soy sauce, chili paste and sesame oil. Now, I am all for using the best ingredients. I appreciate having deep green olive oil over the gallon bottle of clear stuff. But, I did have to raise a stink when my husband got all carried away in the store talking to Ku about soy sauce. I could see his face change into that of a boy asking for a bigger ice cream cone than he needs. I knew I was going to have to take him down a notch. I could see that he was just repeating the English said to him, but I was still a bit offended with what I heard. "Ku says that in Chinese cooking, the seasoning is very must use the best quality." I barely cut off the "oh, reeaally!" bursting from my throat. Instead I do what I do best. "Well, honey, I appreciate that, but really, we don't have anywhere to store that 8 Euro vat of superior soy sauce or that wine bottle of sesame oil. After all, we don't really cook this way that often." It was too late. Paul was already 6 months down the road, seasoned wok in hand.

We trekked from one store to the next searching, in vain, for the correct dumpling wrappers. Ku discovered from one of the shop owners that perhaps they sold them near the metro Pyramides, an area with many Japanese shops and restaurants. We took the metro 17 stops over there and then another 2 lines before we got home.

This was turning into a long day. I have to admit it was fun, though. It hasn't happened to us in a while, but it was really nice to discover something new from someone who is very enthusiastic about showing it to you. The dumplings were amazing, filled simply with ground pork, chopped yellow chives and seasonings. The good news is that we ate really well.
The only real spoiler to our culinary adventure was that our French landlord had to come by to get his monthly wad of cash from us. I had just popped half a dumpling soaked in garlicky hot sauce in my mouth when he knocked on the door. I was trying to be pleasantly oblivious to both the disarray and strange smell I'm sure our apartment had taken on. As a Frenchman, I'm sure he was uncomfortable on a few levels, but, as a Frenchman, he makes me uncomfortable on a few levels so I decided not to care. If you know me at all, you'll realize that when I "decide not to care" about something, I'm already a lost cause. My contempt started the month before when he made the "comment."

The first time the Frenchman said it it bugged me. I was arguing it over silently in my head so as not to bother my husband with it or hear "don't worry about it," which is never a possibility. So, last night I joked that if he said it again, I'd slap him. Therefore, he had to say it. "It's quite hot in here," he said while wrinkling his face up in disapproval. The problem is that our electricity bill is in his name. He gets the bill; we pay him, no problem. Well, it so happens that a lumpy American couple with 2 computers, a love of cooking, watching TV and being comfortably warm runs up an electricity bill a bit higher than that of a workaholic single man who is probably only in the apartment to sleep. "I'm never cold," he says. I fight back another, "oh, really?" and say nothing. I want to mention that between the drafty windows, rotten floorboards and 100 year old construction; perhaps the electric space heaters aren't really doing the trick. That is, if you actually live in this apartment. Anyway, I'm being petty and I know it, so I let it go. And by that I mean I stay up half the night thinking about why I'm justified in my anger. Maybe we do use too much electricity. Maybe we shouldn't indulge ourselves in being constantly warm. Maybe we are just piggy Americans who consume and consume until there's no energy for the rest of us. Bah.

Before I know it he is gone and I am free to stuff another fat dumpling in my mouth. Yum.

December 23, 2005

Pumpkin Bars!

I'd had the craving for a while now. I had been holding on to that extra can of pumpkin since Thanksgiving and I knew just how to use it. I discovered this recipe for pumpkin bars a few years ago and it's a wonderful thing to make for parties. Everyone gobbles them up!

Paul's Pumpkin Bars (they're his favorite!)

4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin puree
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each nutmeg, clove, and ginger

Mix eggs, oil, sugar and pumpkin until smooth. Sift together the dry ingredients, then slowly mix into the egg mixture. Once incorporated, pour into a 10x15 jelly roll pan. (As I do not own one of these, I pour 2/3 of the mixture into a 9x13 and the rest into an 8x8.) Bake at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 25-30 minutes. Frost bars once cooled.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix together cream cheese and butter. Add sugar in small doses, mixing to incorporate. Mix in vanilla once frosting is smooth.

December 22, 2005

Chicken Enchiladas

Mexican food is scarce in Paris, or at least great Mexican ingredients. I didn’t realize I would miss it so much over here. I’d devoted a fair amount of time to developing my perfect quesadilla and was bitter that I couldn't reproduce it here. So, after much frustration, my husband, Paul, and I set about rectifying the situation. We actually have been eating Mexican food (albeit lacking certain ingredients) in Paris more than we did at home. Last year, this was due to our requirement of each American visitor who came to stay with us. They had to bring us cans of refried beans, black beans, salsa and some tortillas. (Also, some duty-free gin, but that is another post…) I got used to it after a while. “Hey Meg, what do you want from the States?” “Oh, just beans.” It wasn’t even weird anymore. Do I realize that I could’ve tried to make my own? Yes, but you go ahead and look at my kitchen and then you tell me if it’s worth it.

Ahem, anyway, this post isn’t actually about refried beans. This is a recipe for Chicken Enchiladas that Paul’s family has been making for years. It is really simple and tastes SO good. I made these enchiladas last week and, as usual, there was a bit of squabbling over who would get the leftovers. Luckily, I was the one home during lunch time. Although, I have to admit I didn’t even wait until lunch. I devoured it by 10:30 and felt only slightly guilty.

Okay, the amounts are approximate as it is pretty difficult to get everything in perfect proportion; you are going to have leftovers of something. Obviously, you can make enchiladas with just about anything. What I love about this version is the slight crunch of the red onion with the silky, smoky sauce. Somehow it’s perfect. Guacamole is a must on the side. You can freeze these as well. My mother-in-law makes at least double this recipe and freezes a few pans for easy dinners. Defrost in the fridge before baking.

Chicken Enchiladas

24 corn tortillas
olive oil
3-4 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (about 4 cups)
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or more!)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
2 cans red enchilada sauce, “Hatch” brand is great or make your own
12 oz. beer (preferably darker)

Start with the sauce. Combine the sauce and beer and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add a handful of the grated cheddar and stir every once in a while until melted. Let simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the chicken breasts. I usually sauté them about 5-6 minutes per side as this is what I find easiest. I have also used leftover roasted chicken which is wonderful, so use whatever you have.

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a wide sauté pan. Use medium high heat as you want the tortillas to immediately fry, not stew in the oil. Add one tortilla to the pan, letting fry just until softened, about 10 seconds, maybe less depending on the temperature of the oil. Fry each tortilla one or two at a time just until softened (not crispy), transferring to a paper towel lined plate. I put a paper towel between each tortilla to really soak up the oil. Frying the tortillas is essential, don’t skip this! (Haven’t we all ordered enchiladas at some bad Tex-Mex place only to be served what looks like a tortilla taken directly from the package, filled with ground beef and covered with sauce? Gross.)

Once the sauce is ready, the tortillas are fried, and the chicken, onions, cheese and cilantro are chopped, you can start to assemble the enchiladas. I use 2 smaller pans so that we can bake one right away and save one for later. One 9x13 would work, too. Pour some sauce into the dish just to cover the bottom. In each tortilla put some chicken, cheese, red onion and cilantro. Roll up tightly and place seam side down in pan. Continue with the rest of the tortillas. Pour sauce over enchiladas, covering every surface. Top with any leftover cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Sprinkle with some cilantro and serve with guacamole and maybe some sour cream on the side (and a salad, if you want to feel good about yourself the next day.)

December 21, 2005

About Chez Mégane

Welcome to my blog.

I’m 26, I live in Paris with my husband, and I'm teaching English in the primary schools here. I prefer my job title to be Specialist in the Good Life. Living in Paris has definitely influenced how I cook, eat, and think about food, among other things. I was interested in cooking before moving here and found it exciting to try all sorts of new dishes every week. It was so exciting to experiment and have dinner parties! I quickly became addicted to cooking and entertaining.

Though my pace has slowed a bit, I'm living the good life here in Paris and I feel really lucky to be able to find such great produce, cheeses, meats, and everything else under the sun here. I love how the French can prepare simple food in such a completely perfect way. I guess this is what I strive for. I love thinking about cooking, searching for recipes, making loved ones happy by cooking for them; I love it all!

Why is my blog called Chez Mégane? Well, that is how everyone says my name the Renault.

My relationship with food hasn’t always been so strong. I remember the days of grade school lunches, which consisted mostly of turkey sandwiches made only of turkey and bread. And coke. I drank so much Coca-Cola from the ages 13-22, I’m surprised I have any teeth left. (I assure you, I do have a nice full set.)

Okay, instead of doing a belly-flop back in time, I prefer to concentrate on my current and future relationship with food. The way we cook, eat and think about food directly reflects who we are. Most times, I make stuff up as I go. I am someone who spends all day looking at recipes, can’t commit to one, combines 3 of them and doesn’t measure. Somehow it works out. The fun for me is getting the ideas and then using what I have. I think I’ve adopted this style from living in Paris and having a tiny kitchen. Our current apartment has a decent kitchen, but it was already furnished and isn’t exactly outfitted the way I would have everything if it were my own. So, I look forward with immense joy to the days when I can make that recipe requiring the mandolin, blender, and food processor. Until then, I’ll make due with my wooden spoon, knife and whisk.

Here are a few more things you should know:

  1. I was nervous to start a blog because I’m a person who definitely goes through “phases” (i.e. “obsessions”) with food. There was one time during grad school when I was really depressed and I made Macaroni & Cheese everyday until I finally had the perfect recipe. I don’t recommend this…it isn’t good for your mental health and it isn’t good for your waistline.
  1. I’m not an adventurous cook, at least in reality. Perhaps we each have in mind the cook we want to be. For me, it is the Provencal kitchen fully stocked with fresh herbs, shiny vegetables, glissening olives, and me standing next to the stone hearth preparing my healthy, vibrant cuisine. Oh well, I’m from the Mid-West. I didn’t know herbs came in a pre-dried form until I started watching Food Network. More tuna casserole, anyone?
  1. I may joke about the homey dishes I grew up with, but really they have shaped who I am and what kind of foods I love. I’m much more inclined to make chicken pot pie than ceviche.
  1. I have a lot of respect for well-prepared food. I buy fresh ingredients, I stay away from most processed foods, and I try to search out the best recipes I can for my favorite foods. Plus, my husband knows his wine, so we make a good team.
5. Nothing compares to cooking for the ones we love.