February 28, 2006

Roasted Salmon

I just made a lovely roasted salmon fillet for myself for dinner tonight and I thought I would share it with you. It’s a perfect meal for one or two people. The honey mustard gives it a surprising amount of flavor. This is really simple and tasty.

Roasted Salmon with Honey Mustard

2 salmon fillets (about 5-6 oz each)
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
(or you can use bottled honey mustard if you have it)
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. bread crumbs

Roasted Potatoes with Dill

2 medium white or Yukon gold potatoes (per person)
1-2 tsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

Cut the potatoes into 1 in. chunks and coat with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and dill. Put in a baking dish (large enough to hold the potatoes and salmon) and bake at 200 degrees C/400 degrees F for 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.

While the potatoes are roasting, combine the mustard, honey, lemon zest and dill in a bowl. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Spread the mustard mixture over the top of each fillet. Pour the bread crumbs on top and press onto each fillet. When the potatoes have 15 minutes left to cook, add the salmon fillets to the pan, pushing the potatoes to one side. Take care not to over cook the fish. Depending on the thickness of your fillet, it may take less time.

It's nothing fancy, but it tastes really good. Feel free to add other vegetables to the roasting pan to round out the meal. This basic recipe is calling out for experimentation!

February 25, 2006

This Parisian Life

I was explaining to someone about the English word "split" or to be split in 2, and they asked if I felt split between 2 countries. I'm not sure that I do, but I definitely feel split in other ways. Say, is it possible to be both smart and stupid? These years in France have made me feel a lot smarter (substitute worldly, capable, adaptable, savvy) but incredibly stupid (substitute incapable, slow, hesitant, self-doubting) in some of the day to day life I lead. So, how does that balance out? How do all my "oops, merde!, je ne comprends pas, quoi?" moments factor in to the whole of my getting smarter? If it's true that we learn from our mistakes then I must be a fricking genius.

I must tell you that the “quoi?” moments are getting fewer and far between, but being a foreigner will always be a balance between the fact that you don’t really belong and those rare, glorious moments you feel like you really do.

Yesterday some workers came to replace the windows in our apartment because they were very old and rotten. Charming, but drafty. I give classes on Thursday morning and afternoon and usually go home for lunch, but with the workers there so I thought I'd eat out. (I could have stayed and taken my lunch with the other teachers at school, but that would've been the longest 2 hours of my life.)

I'm ashamed to say I've really only eaten out by myself a few times. Despite it being much more common in France, I'm still always a bit timid about it. I generally look for the quietest cafe I can find. I don't know if you've ever taken a meal by yourself in a crowded and noisy Parisian cafe, but I can always feel myself shrinking into my chair. Plus, there always seems to be more men eating alone than women. Why is that? I see them walk in, choose a table, order their plat du jour and maybe a beer. They open their newspaper and generally make themselves comfortable. Why does it feel awkward for a woman to do the same? Why do I feel like I need to order a salad?

The cafe I chose yesterday was a seemingly tiny place on rue de Courcelles (Metro Pereire) near where I work. I've had a drink at a few of the cafes nearby and this was by far the least glamorous choice. It was packed and noisy, decorated with cheap looking 80's lamps, mirrors and velvety red banquettes for seating. It had the typical chalkboard menu with some typical daily specials.

Endives au Jambon
Boeuf Bourguinon
Omelette Paysanne/Salade
Mousse au Chocolat
Compote des Pommes

There was a man sitting near me just like I described above. He ordered a beer, the Endives, and set about devouring that and his newspaper all while looking distinguished and gentlemanly. Looking at him through jealous eyes, I ate my boring sandwich in small bites, read my book and thought about how nice a big plate of boeuf bourguinon sounded on this frigidly cold day.

I ordered a pot of tea after lunch and stayed another 45 minutes. I read and just looked around observing people and thinking about how I wished I could glue this scene in my brain somewhere for eternity. It wasn't anything special really. I was just happy to be sitting among people, hearing their laughter and feeling like even though you're outside of something you can still be in it.

February 23, 2006


So, we've had this little mind game going on for some time now, me and cheese fondue. The score was zero-three and I was losing. I'd been absolutely mystified why it was so tough for me. Until now. Take a look! I didn't even have a proper fondue pot.
With a small effort on my part, I figured out some of the reasons behind my past failures. I found a website that gave really detailed instructions, reinforcing my insistance that fondue is actually much more complicated than most recipes let on. Did you know there's a reason that you use wine and from Savoy when making fondue savoyarde? It's because Savoy wine is sufficiently acidic and the acid is what melts the cheese. I should say melts the cheese properly, without being stringy. Most recipes call for lemon juice to help the wine along. If you ask me, wine from Savoy isn't all that great. So, if you are using a wine that isn't very acidic, you are going to need more lemon juice. I used a dry reisling from Alsace, opened the previous day (to ensure proper acidity, of course) and thankfully it worked because I didn't have lemon juice. I also learned that the proper ratio of wine to cheese is about 6-7 tbsp. wine for every 6 oz. of cheese, which may help if you are working with odd amounts. You will need to dice the cheese, not grate it, since it melts better. Also, the type of cheese is up to you, but a really mature cheese like most of the cheese from Savoy will melt and taste better than a grocery store emmenthal.

So, armed with some science, I went for it. I started with less wine than called for to ensure I wouldn't have runny fondue. I stirred the wine and cheese together in that god damn figure 8 motion like a robot for about 15 minutes, adding the cheese in small handfuls and praying it would do something already! Finally, the cheese gradually melted and the fondue thickened. I had to baby it, but it rewarded me in the end.
Here's my successful Fondue Savoyarde recipe.

2 cups dry white wine (step away from the chardonnay!) Dry Reisling or Savignon Blanc would be nice.
1 pound of cheese (equal parts Gruyere, Beaufort (or Comte) and Emmenthal for a traditional fondue, but is equally good with just gruyere and emmenthal)
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
a splash of kirsch (cherry liquor) is traditional, but I think it's gross, so I don't use it.
Bourbon, sherry or whiskey would be nice.
Freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly grated pepper (use white if you're a purist)
one big beautiful baguette, cut into chunks (each should have a bit of crust!)

Add wine to a saucepan and heat over low heat. Dice the cheese into teeny-tiny cubes that are as small as you can manage without wanting to give up and order pizza. Combine the cheese and flour in a bowl. Just before the wine comes to a simmer (do not boil), add a few handfuls of the cheese and stir with a wooden spoon or heat-safe spatula in figure 8 motions. For some reason it seems important that you not just stir clockwise. Turn the heat up to moderate and keep adding more cheese as you notice the previous addition melting. Add some lemon juice if you think it isn't coming together. It might not thicken for awhile, but just be patient. When your fondue has thickened and all the cheese is added, stir in bourbon or sherry, pepper and nutmeg.

If you think your fondue is too thick, you can add more wine. Just do so a little at a time because if you add a lot of cold liquid, your fondue will seize on you and probably smack you in the face as well. If your fondue is too thin, add more cheese, keep it on medium heat, keep stirring and add a bit of lemon juice. My problem in the past was that when the fondue came together, thickened and had a good texture, I most likely had a bunch of cheese still sitting in that bowl, covered in flour, saying, "use me! I'm expensive!" It would get the best of me and I would just throw the last bit of cheese in (against my better judgment) and hope it would melt. Well, I've learned not to fool around like this. There is something really strict about making fondue, as if you're feeding the wine. When it's done, it's done. Not even Grandma can get it to take another helping. So, don't tempt fate.

That's my cautionary tale. What a shame that no one could witness my glory, but on the upside I got to eat it all myself!*

*Disclaimer! I halved the recipe.

February 21, 2006

Return to the Old World

After a long hiatus from my blog, I have returned. I just spent 2 weeks in the US of A and was welcomed back to Paris with its usual folded arms, cloudy sky and light rain. Ahh, belle Paris. It is good to be back, though. Unfortunately, my jetlag forced me to wait a full 24 hours before I could manage to go over to my favorite bakery, Le Coquelicot, and bring home a still-warm baguette. Yum! Oh, how I’ve missed you!

Oddly enough, I wasn’t very inspired by food when I was home. With a few amazing exceptions, I could have done without most of what I ate at restaurants. I’ve decided that, despite the array of choices, most things taste the same. We Americans love to have choices as long as they are within a very thin set of parameters. Bill Bryson has a funny essay about American’s “strange, unshakeable attachment to predictable uniformity” in his book, Notes from a Big Country, if you should be interested.

Take sliced ham, turkey or other “cold cuts” you can buy at most supermarkets. There are a million varieties: peppered-turkey, Cajun turkey, smoked honey turkey, roasted brown sugar ham, smoked ham, rosemary smoked ham, pepper smoked ham, etc. The options are endless. The same goes for cheeses. The cheese department’s slogan must be “All different colors but just one taste!” I challenge any American to sample sandwiches made with different cheeses and actually identify which cheese they are eating. I’m guessing most of us couldn’t tell the Swiss from the provolone. Every sandwich I had tasted like one thing…meat. Maybe this is just evident for me since meat is pretty much the last thing I taste on French sandwiches. It made my taste buds kinda numb.

Okay, I don’t want to just complain here. I know that in America you can find just about anything you want if you look hard enough. There are great quality cheeses, meats, yogurt, etc. It’s only if you skim the surface that you’ll be disappointed. Or buy anything with Kraft on the label. (To continue just a bit with my rant on Kraft, did you know they make a gaucamole dip that doesn't contain ANY avocados?! That is really just amazing.) I did eat some really yummy food when I was home. For instance, some really good Chicago style stuffed pizza and a huge burrito from Panchero’s that made me smile. I also had the most amazing veggie-filled crêpes that I will have to report more on later. Here are a few more things that I didn’t even know I missed:

Cottage Cheese. I don’t know when I started liking it, but I ate almost a whole container in a week. I consider it a food that walks the line between being delicious and repulsive, so when I’m leaning towards delicious, I really go for it. Cottage cheese is really good for you, too! I eat it with lots of black pepper.

My mom’s cinnamon bread. This used to be only a Christmas-time treat, but my mom has taken to making it throughout the year now. It’s the perfect breakfast.

Fruit Smoothies. Especially the ones at Paul's parents' house, made with soy yogurt and soy protein and the perfect amount of ice (not too much).

Bagels and Cream Cheese. Sesame ones with veggie cream cheese are the best in my book.

Okay, all for now. Why is it so hard to find inspiration in the kitchen the week after a vacation?!?

February 2, 2006

Kitchen Confessions

We all have some foodie confessions, some dark, some funny, some embarassing...
Here are mine:

Raisins are on the “dead to me” list. So is white chocolate. Golden raisins, you’re on notice, meaning you’re okay in certain situations.

I love French mayonnaise and mustard with a passion known by few.

I hate eating salad after a meal, but I do it.

I don’t have a favorite meal and I hate it when people ask what my best dish is.

I’m not very good at cooking vegetables or making salad dressings, but I’m getting better.

I don’t like sushi, but I love other Japanese food.

I licked that spoon.

I don’t buy organic milk because it’s too expensive.

I do buy really good quality cheese.

I’ve never made risotto.

My favorite thing is going to a restaurant that brings you a complimentary aperitif when you arrive. C'mon, a cheap little Kir for each client keeps us happy and always sets us up to love the place. I don't know why every restaurant doesn't do this.

I don't have a proverbial cafe in Paris where everybody knows my name...This makes me feel like a bit of a failure.

I thought I was going to throw up the first time I ate dim sum.(It was just too weird for me back then.)

I love creamy puréed soups, so France is perfect for me.

I prefer soup as a main course, not a starter, so France sucks for me.

My freezer contains mostly alcohol.

I hate when people salt their food before tasting it.

I hate when people aren't gracious and kind with servers at restaurants.

I love making reservations in French.

I really hate chocolate chip cookies.

I love pickles. Really garlicky ones.

I always wash my mushrooms and try to make up for it by blotting them dry with paper towels.

I use too many paper towels.

I probably eat too many undercooked eggs, but I’m not worried it.

For breakfast, I love to eat fried, over-easy eggs mashed up with a fork and spread on toast, with lots of salt and pepper.

I love chocolate éclairs or anything filled with pastry cream! I’m obsessed.

If I see Kraft Parmesan "cheese" (the one in the green shaker) at your house I'm going to beat you with whatever is readily available.

My only OCD thing (I think!) about food is this: I like each bite to be perfect. So, I’m pretty particular about evenly dispersing each topping on a pizza, layering lasagna, or eating salad. Paul and I once bought a ham and mushroom pizza from a place near us and when we got home and opened the box, it looked like a train wreck. All the ham was on 1/3 of the pizza and all the mushrooms were in a big pile in the middle. I just stared at it forever. I understood, then and there, that maybe I’m alone in this world. What sort of human being (if you can call them that) can prepare food like this and go on with their life like nothing happened?!? I guess I take a certain pride in my little perfectionist pizza making. Securing a delicious result by spending just a few extra moments positioning the pepperoni seems a small price to pay for an enjoyable eating experience. I suppose I could give them some credit. They simply want to leave it up to you! You spread out those mushrooms the way you want them. See, I piled them here so that you could be empowered. I know you bought your dinner, but didn’t you really want to get your hands in there so it feels like you made it?

Okay, I told you mine. Now tell me yours!