August 30, 2006

Mariage Frères

As we're coming to the end of our stay here in Paris, I thought it was about time to mention my love of Mariage Frères, makers of thé extraordinaire. The company was founded in 1854, but the family has experience with tea (and the French East India Company) from the 17th century. There are six lovely tea rooms in Paris and ten other locations in Japan, plus you can order their teas online.

I know a lot of people are already familiar with the greatness of Mariage Frères teas, but if you don't consider yourself a connoisseur of teas, perhaps you're wondering what all the fuss is about? Well, I don't really think I'm a connoisseur, either, but one sniff of these teas will set them apart. Their perfume is so powerful; you'll swear you can taste it! It will be forever burned into your nostrils so that if you were to, say, smell an old bag of Lipton, you'd think it had no smell at all. You will be intoxicated by the glorious scents of these teas. It was Paul's mom that first told me about these teas and I'm so glad I followed up on her advice!

One of their top selling teas, Marco Polo, is a black tea with red fruity undertones, which is very satisfying as a morning cup. It was a revelation to me the first time I tasted it. It's smooth, yet slightly acidic from the fruit flavors, but is very well balanced. Marco Polo also comes in a red version and a green tea version. I always bring a few boxes back for my family.

It may look plain, but the blueish tint is gorgeous...

The summary on the website describes it roughly as this: The uncontested success of Mariage Frères, this secret mixture will make you travel to the most remote and mysterious regions. The scents of flowers and fruits of China and Tibet converge to form a single velvety flavor. An extraordinary bouquet for the most mythical of scented teas. Wow...

However, my favorite has to be a flavor called Pleine Lune. It's a black tea with toasted almonds, spices, and honey. Oh! It is simply the best thing I've ever smelled. Better than fresh bread baking or chicken roasting. Or bacon frying...well, hold on a minute. Maybe bacon is slightly better. Anyway, let's hear what those Frères says about it:

Splendeur de la pleine lune. Inspiré de l’astre lunaire, royaume des rêves et des chimères, ce mélange poétique réunit les parfums symboliques de la fête de la pleine lune : les fruits, les épices rares, l’amande et le goût sucré du miel. Thé de lumière.

It celebrates splendor of the full moon, the lunar stars, and the kingdom of dreams. This poetic mixture unites the perfumes of the symbolic festival of the full moon: fruits, rare spices, almonds and the sweetness of honey. Tea of light.

Well, how beautiful. I don't know what more I can say! If you are ever in Paris, spend an afternoon sipping in their salon de the, or sniffing at one of their counters! (Try the Galeries Lafayette Maison on Blvd Haussmann.) Loose tea drinkers can buy 100 g for around 6-7 € or a fancier canister for around 10-12 €. They also sell boxes of 30 high quality tea bags for 11.50 € for those without a proper tea pot. A bit expensive, maybe, but once you try it, you won't ever go back. Their teas certainly make beautiful gifts, too.

August 25, 2006

Movin' On...

I've been thinking a lot lately about Paris and living in a foreign country. You see, Chez Megane will be leaving Paris at the end of this month. We've been here for 2 wonderful, life changing, and confidence building years - enough time to have created a home here, but also to realize that perhaps we weren't meant to stay forever. I had the chance to learn French, eat like a queen, toughen up a bit, meet fascinating people and do a lot of traveling to glorious places. I've been tested a lot and forced to adapt quickly to this dizzying French culture. I've laughed a lot, relaxed a lot and become a lot more comfortable dans ma peau, as they say. Suffice it to say, 70% of me is reluctantly moving back to the States, kicking and screaming the whole way like a stubborn child, but I think 30% or more of me realizes that it's time to go back.

I know that everyone who has moved around a lot must share some of my feelings. Fears and "what-ifs?" float around in your mind. Have I done enough here? Will I be happy where I'm going? Am I sure about this next step? Lately, any reassurance has come mostly in knowing that nothing can be as hard as when we first moved to France. It was the scariest and most exciting time of my life and we've certainly both been humbled a lot along the way, although I believe we're leaving Paris as more resilient people. Anyway, part of me is a little worried about this upcoming move, but then again - I'm moving back to the USA... I DO speak English! How hard can it be?!?

And so just where will Chez Megane be cooking from now? Briefly from the cool college town of my birth, Iowa City, Iowa, and then, more permanently from Washington, D.C. You see, we're not just moving back to the America, we're moving to the epicenter! So, any of you readers out there who know anything about D.C., help a girl out and send me some recommendations! Restaurants, cool neighborhoods, things to see, etc. Anything goes since I am utterly clueless at this point. We're really excited to discover the metro area since I've heard nothing but fantastic things about it.

I hope you'll bear with me during the lengthy move and keep reading despite my (perhaps) less frequent postings through the fall. I don't know what's in store for Chez Megane exactly, but I'm hoping to keep up my interest in all things French, and as always, great food and recipes.Things I'll miss having in my kitchen on a regular basis?
1. At least 5 kinds of cheese, on a good day, 7-8.
2. Fresh Baguettes!
3. French Yogurt...cherry, fig, rhubarb, coconut, pineapple...the yogurt aisle is endless!
4. Crème Fraîche!!!!
5. Beurre demi-sel from Brittany (the most luscious butter)
6. Bonne Maman Strawberry or Apricot Jam
7. Eggs with yolks the color of a crayola orange crayon
8. My round blue Le Creuset dutch oven (not sure if I can bring it with me or's f***ing heavy!)
9. The occasional croissant, brioche or pain au chocolat
10. The best poulet rôti (from The Chicken Family, rue des Abbesses)

August 22, 2006

Sizzling Herb Pasta with Bacon and White Beans

I have found some of the best recipes from other food bloggers! It is such a treat to try recipes from trusted sources - there is almost no doubt that it will work out! As one who loves to try a sure thing, I really appreciate the depth of description and detail found in recipes on food blogs. I can be confident that someone has put the recipe under the sort of scrutiny that I, myself, would have done.

I was very pleased with the result of this pasta dish and I will definitely make this again! I have tweaked it a bit (I couldn't help myself...) but not all that much. Thanks to Kate from
Pie in the Sky for the great recipe! She’s right about it having a lot of flavor and very few ingredients! I added more lemon juice to her recipe and olive oil, as my pasta was a bit dry. This would be great with gnocchi or cheese ravioli, too!

Sizzling Herb Pasta with Bacon and White Beans

1 can (15 oz) white beans, rinsed and drained
6 slices thick bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces, or smaller
zest of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
12 oz (3/4 of 1 pound box) fusilli, spirals, or any short pasta
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (yes! 1 cup!)
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2-3 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper (lots of pepper!)
grated Romano or Asiago cheese, for topping

Whisk together the lemon zest, juice, garlic and 1 Tbsp of olive oil in the pasta serving bowl. Add the white beans and gently combine with the dressing.

Sauté the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crispy. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon to leave behind the bacon grease in the pan. You will need to use about 1/4 cup bacon drippings, so pour off any excess. (I guess my lardons weren't very fatty b/c I had to add olive oil).

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and combine with the beans. Add the bacon to the pasta, as well.

In the skillet, heat up the bacon drippings, and/or olive oil, until quite hot. Throw in the chopped herbs and stir for 15 seconds while they sizzle. Add these herbs and bacon drippings/olive oil to the pasta and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately with grated cheese. Serves 4.

August 20, 2006

Ma Salade Mixte...

Here's a quick meal idea for those times when you need to go to the supermarket, but it's pouring down rain outside and you just know you won't be able to venture out until tomorrow. As this happens quite often in Paris, I need plenty of ideas like this one! Making a big salad with whatever we have lying around works well for a fulfilling lunch. There are a millions versions to be made, but this combo is often what we have on hand at the end of the week. Sometimes I combine this arugula salad with this goat cheese salad for a filling main course.

Here was my spur of the moment version yesterday:

Mixed Arugula Salad with Ham and Cheese Toasts

2-3 cups arugula leaves
handful green beans, trimmed
1 tomato, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
shavings of parmesan

1-2 tsp whole grain or dijon mustard
2 slices ham
1/3 cup grated gruyère cheese
4 slices of baguette or other bread

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and drop in the green beans. Cook 5-7 minutes, or until tender but not mushy. Drain the green beans and rinse with cold water (or use an ice bath) and set them aside.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard and oil, or make whatever dressing you desire. Toss the arugula, tomato, red onion, green beans and avocado together with the dressing. Add chunky shavings of parmesan, if you like.

Spread the mustard on the slices of bread. Top with ham and cheese and set under the broiler for a few minutes to melt the cheese. Serve alongside the salad. Serves 2.

I thought I would send this over to Gabriella, at My Life as a Reluctant Housewife, for her Salad Days event. Though a simple offering, I think this kind of salad fits the bill for an easy meal on a summer day!
Here are a few of my other salad recipes:
Apple and Beet Salad with a Honey Orange Vinaigrette
Asparagus and Haricots Verts Salad
Tuscan Bean Salad
Healthier Chicken Salad
Chicken Taco Salad

August 17, 2006

Mini Papillotes d'Aubergines

Doesn't this look cute? When I saw this recipe on CuisineTV, France's Food Network, prepared by the ever cute, Carinne, of Fiches Cuisine, I thought they looked fun. I always feel so good about my French, too, when I can understand an entire TV show, but I guess cooking shows are a bit easier... I mean, they are talking about food, which is a rather large part of my vocabulary. Anyway, I always get a kick out of her and her easy recipes.

So, I guess, in hind sight, I could have realized that this recipe would be kind of bland. It's almost too simple to be good, you know? But, I loved the idea and was determined to try it. I think it has a lot of potential. I can tell you that it's much easier if you can find an eggplant that is rather long and thin, which will aide in folding up the papillote. You could tie a little chive around the packet for an adorable presentation.

Mini-Papillotes d'Aubergines
(adapted from Fiches Cuisines)

1 medium eggplant
4 thick slices fresh mozzarella
4 slices ripe tomato
4-6 large basil leaves
salt and pepper
2 canned artichoke hearts, drained (my addition, not in original recipe)

Prepare the eggplant.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).
2. Cut off the stem end of the eggplant and a tiny piece from the bottom so it stands up straight.
3. Place the eggplant on a cutting board and carefully slice lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices.
4. Place 2 slices of eggplant in a cross shape on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining slices. You should have enough for 4 crosses.
5. Brush with small amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining slices.
6. Place in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the pieces are just flexible.Remove the pre-cooked eggplant cross to a cutting board.
1. In the center, layer one slice mozzarella, a basil leaf, a tomato slice and a slice of artichoke heart. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
2. Fold the top eggplant slice in to the middle, then fold the outer layer to the middle and secure with a toothpick or two.
3. Repeat with remaining eggplant crosses, making 4 packets.
4. Place in the oven for another 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft, warmed through and the cheese has melted. Serves 4. Next time I'll try to add something more flavorful. Maybe using some leftover ratatouille, a stronger cheese, or brushing the eggplant itself with more salt or herbs. Perhaps adding a sun dried tomato, or grilling the eggplant would help, as well.

What do you think?

August 15, 2006

The Best Blueberry Pancakes!

I'm not someone who usually wakes up and thinks, "why don't I just whip up some pancakes?" In fact, last Sunday was the first time. Sometimes I wish I was the sort of person who did wake up occasionally with such inspiration, but I admit to being quite lazy most mornings. After all, if I want to claim that I am any sort of Domestic Goddess, I should be able to say that I'd wake up early to make a proper breakfast. Normally, pancakes fall in the category of food I could live without. I mean, especially those dense, sodden kind that normally put a nice eggs-and-bacon breakfast over the edge. They're just too much! However, these tender, fluffy, fruit-filled cakes were a dream. Paul and I were swooning over each bite. With a light covering of pure maple syrup, they made a glorious breakfast.The light texture of these pancakes comes from the beaten egg whites that are folded into the batter just before they hit the pan. Of course, any berry makes a great pancake, but our blueberries came from an organic outdoor market we stumbled across between the Clichy and Rome metro stops. They were definitely worth their expensive price tag! I can't wait to try these pancakes with strawberries or other fruit, too. I might also experiment with adding vanilla extract, ground cinnamon or other spices. The sky's the limit with this simple batter.

Fluffy Light Blueberry Pancakes
(scaled down from an Epicurious recipe)

1 cup (plus a few Tbsps) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon, or more unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
about 1 cup fresh blueberries
maple syrup, for serving

1. Melt the butter in the microwave in a small dish. Set aside to cool.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.
3. Whisk together the milk and egg yolks in a small bowl. Whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter and whisk until smooth.
4. In another mixing bowl, beat the egg whites (with an electric mixer) until soft peaks have formed. Beat in the sugar and continue until the whites are stiff but not dry.
5. In 2 additions, fold the egg whites into the batter.
6. Melt some additional butter in a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into a circle on the skillet for each pancake and immediately scatter a handful of blueberries over it.
7. Cook about 3 minutes. You will see air bubbles rise to the top and the bottom will look solid when the pancake is ready to be flipped.
8. Flip pancake and cook about 2 minutes more.
Repeat with remaining batter. Keep pancakes in a barely warm oven until ready to serve if you are making a lot of them. Pour on the pure maple syrup! Serves 2-3, about 8 pancakes.

This being filled with healthy blueberries, it is also my entry for the ARF/5-a-day roundup at Sweetnicks. Go check out all the other antioxident, fruit or veggie filled recipes!

August 11, 2006

Steak Tartare

Paul has wanted to eat steak tartare ever since we arrived in Paris. Since I was never a willing participant, he needed someone just as enthusiastic as himself to help get it done. Enter Bruno. We can always count on Tina and Bruno to be up for a good meal, and when Paul told Bruno he wanted to try tartare, I think I might have even seen a glimmer of pride in his eyes.

Tina and Bruno came over one Sunday with tartare ingredients in hand. Tina and I were to eat this chicken salad, while the boys feasted on huge plates of tartare. Bruno and Paul prepared the toppings while the ladies enjoyed a glass of wine, so I can't necessarily tell you how it was done, but once we were ready to eat, here was what was on the table:

1 white onion, chopped
3-4 Tbsp cornichons, chopped

3-4 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 lemon, cut in half

dijon mustard

Tabasco sauce

sea salt

black pepper
olive oil

balsamic vinegar

These condiments are to be mixed into the cold steak haché at your discretion. (Use about 500 grams ground beef for 2 people, bought freshly ground, from a reputable source). I tasted Paul's concoction once he had mixed everything together. It was Tina who said the texture resembled tuna salad or something like that (since it is savory, creamy and cold) and I have to agree. I'm afraid I had to put the fact that it was raw beef out of my mind while I chewed, but for a few moments, I really liked it. It was rich, but that flavor was cut by the sharp pickles, onion, lemon, capers and a bit of a spicy kick from the hot sauce. I can see why so many people are passionate about their tartare.

It's funny to taste something that goes so against your sensibilities, though. For people who've grown up in an area with nothing but well-done hamburgers, dry cooked eggs, and cities that want to ban fois gras, it takes some getting used to. And steak tartare is just about the most harmless "weird" thing you can eat here. (Brain pâté, anyone?)

Now, I don't think I could eat a whole plate of tartare myself. I think Paul may have been struggling by the end...just a little. But, neither of us got sick (which I wasn't actually worried about) and we loved the experience, so score un for France and a big fat zero to food-fearing American ideals. We shouldn't live in fear of what millions of people around the world put in their mouths everyday. After all, I think there is something to the old phrase: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, no?

August 8, 2006

Lemon Roasted Potatoes and Lamb Chops

The heat wave has passed and Fall seems to have started. Okay, maybe not quite, but it has been really cool here lately! Dare I say chilly? (Sorry to everyone who's sweating as they read this!) I've finally felt spunky enough to get in the kitchen and use the stove. And the oven. And all of our cutting boards. And knives. In short, I made a few things I'd been meaning to try.

I marinated some lamb chops, roasted lemon potatoes and baked mini-papillotes d'aubergines. I'll post about les papillotes later. Anyway, each one was a new recipe for me, which meant I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen, although none of the recipes were very complicated. This was my first experience cooking lamb chops and I was really happy with their flavor. Plus, they take no time at all to cook.

These roasted potatoes with lemon might seem to be a strange pairing at first glance, but I know that once you try them, they will become a staple for you! I knew I could trust this recipe from Ivonne, at Cream Puffs in Venice. She raves about these potatoes on her beautiful blog and now that I've made them I can't believe I waited so long to try them! Don't make the same mistake I did; make these tonight!

Lemon Roasted Potatoes
(recipe from Cream Puffs in Venice and Cook This, by Amy Rosen)

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
juice of 1-2 lemons (about 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup)
½ tsp lemon zest
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¾ tsp sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil

½ cup water

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Rinse the potatoes with cold water. Peel the potatoes if you like, but it’s not necessary. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and cut each half in half, or maybe fourths for a larger potato. Mix the potato wedges, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, salt and pepper in a baking pan. Once the potatoes are evenly coated and spread out in the pan, pour the water over them. Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

I used the juice of one lemon and felt there could have been more. There should be a bit of lemony syrup in the bottom of the pan, but mine was completely evaporated, so don’t skimp on the lemon juice! I would also toss in a bit more oregano next time. I’ll be making these again and again! These were great with lamb, but would easily accompany any meat you choose. Serves 4.

What goes better with lemon roasted potatoes than lemon and oregano marinated lamb chops!?

Easy Lemon, Garlic, and Oregano Marinade
(recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger)

4 small lamb loin chops
1 lemon, zested
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground coriander, optional
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine all the ingredients (except the chops) in a small bowl. Place the lamb chops in a plastic bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal the bag and marinate the chops for at least an hour, but no more than 4 hours. Remove the lamb and blot dry with paper towels before cooking. Grill or saute 3-4 minutes per side for medium rare.

August 6, 2006

Chinatown, Tang Frères and Pork Dumplings

Paul and I had a really fun day recently going to Chinatown, specifically the area south of Place d'Italie. We ate lunch at a little place on Avenue d'Ivry, where we had many good looking restaurants to choose from. Chinatown in Paris isn't really strictly Chinese - you'll find a mix of countries represented at most restaurants. The one we chose had Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese specialties.We sat on the terrasse and drank our Chinese beers while we looked over the menu. Paul settled on a red curry with duck, peppers and pineapple chunks. I chose a rice noodle dish covered with curried beef, onions and some pickled vegetables. It also came with a few crisy egg rolls on the side. Because we were craving nems, or egg rolls, we ordered an appetizer portion as well. They were especially fun to eat rolled with fresh cilantro and mint in a lettuce leaf and dipped in some sauce! Despite my poor chopstick skills, I managed to eat my fill.After lunch, we walked down to the huge grocer called Tang Frères. This place had everything! We purchased 2 huge mangos, 2 big, ripe avocados, some red chilis, good soy sauce, dumpling wrappers, and yellow chives. It was so fun to have access to all these great ingredients missing from normal supermarkets. Oh, the mangos! They were so good! And so cheap!

Exhausted from our exploits, we left the store only to be tempted once more. Outside the market, there was a little stand selling sugar cane juice and coconut milk. We bought a big coconut with a straw in it and sat happily slurping the sweet juice before hopping on the metro to come home.
A few nights ago we finally got to use the dumpling wrappers that we bought at Tang Frères. Thanks to our friend Ku, Paul and I learned how to make a mean pork dumpling. We boiled the dumplings until done and dipped them in a spicy soy sauce spiked with garlic and chili. They were out of this world! We also fried/boiled the last batch as you would for potstickers, which I think I preferred. You can also steam them, but I have yet to try that.

Ku's recipe also calls for yellow chives, which I've never seen outside Tang Fr
ères, so I'm sure you could substitute green onion, leek, or shredded cabbage. This is a simple recipe, so use good quality soy sauce and sesame oil, and definitely make the dipping sauce!Ku's Pork Dumplings

1 pkg wonton/dumpling wrappers

Pork Filling:
600 g (1 lb) ground pork
1 cup yellow chives, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped garlic
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp sesame oil
ground black pepper
(I also added 1 Tbsp minced ginger, optional)

Spicy Soy-Garlic Sauce:
2 Tbsp chopped garlic
2-3 small red chilis, thinly sliced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in the bowl. Mix the pork filling until very smooth. In a separate bowl, combine all the dipping sauce ingredients and set aside.

Fill a small bowl with water. This will be the glue to seal the dumplings. Take one dumpling wrapper, dip one finger into the water and wet the edges of the wrapper completely. Place a tablespoon of pork filling into the middle of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over the filling in a half moon shape, pressing all of the air out from the middle of the dumpling to the edges. Pleat the edges of the dough firmly to seal it completely. Repeat for each dumpling. You should fill 28-32 dumplings with this amount of filling, serving about 3 people as a main course.

To boil the dumplings
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the dumplings and stir them so they do not stick together. Bring the water back to a boil.
2. The dumplings will float to the top and when this happens, add 1/2 cup of cold water to the pot. This will slow down the cooking so that the wrapper won't cook before the pork has the chance.
3. Wait for the water to come back to a boil and, once again, add 1/2 cup of cold water.
4. Bring the water back to a boil again and once the dumplings are floating, remove one to check if they are done. If so, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside. If not, add another 1/2 cup water and wait for it to boil again. Repeat with the remaining dumplings.

To make potstickers,
1. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a hot nonstick pan. Place enough dumplings in the pan to form a single layer, but without the dumplings touching.
2. Pour 1/2 cup of water in the pan, cover it, and let them cook (without peeking!) on low for about 10 minutes, or until all the water is gone.
3. The dumplings should be brown and crisp on the bottom, but if not, let them cook a few minutes more.

Restaurant Lao-Lane Xang

105 avenue d'Ivry

75013 Paris

01 45 85 19 23

Tang Frères
48 avenue d'Ivry

75013 Paris
01 45 70 80 00

August 3, 2006

A few days in Burgundy...

When we heard our good friends Adam and Emily were coming to Paris to visit us, I knew we had to plan a trip to the country. A fun, rent-a-car and take-to-the-open-road trip. Knowing that they enjoy wine as much as we do, we thought exploring Burgundy would be perfect. Paul and I hadn't visited there yet and we were excited to see it.

Renting a car and driving in France is always a good idea. Although the trains are great here, there is so much more to see with a car. Encountering such small villages, charming people and fantastic artisans and winemakers makes for quite a memorable vacation. Besides, the region of Burgundy is incredibly beautiful. We only had 2 nights and 3 days, so we skipped Dijon and headed straight for the
Route des Vins, specifically the Route des Grands Crus. Driving south from Dijon, we stopped first in Nuits-Saints-Georges. We continued through Ladoix, Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses before our first day was over.
Burgundy is full of sleepy little villages but this one was surprisingly so. After a few more stops at closed wineries, we finally found a winner on the edge of town. A gregarious old man opened his cellar tasting room for us and as we followed him down, our noses were assaulted by the moldy, fruity smell of the cave. I've visited many caves in various regions of France and there's nothing better than entering that first cave. It smelled old. It smelled of hundred-year-old, wine soaked oak barrels. The proprietor joked with us, asked where we were from and was genuinely delighted to share his wines. We talked about Zizou. (C'est pas juste!) He told us about the wine region by pointing to his plots on an extensive map. We bought a bottle and floated out of our first tasting feeling a bit lighter and so pleased with the start of our adventure.

Before we made it to our
chambre d'hote for that night, we visited 3 more wineries. With each one, I felt I had a better handle on the locations, classifications (bourgogne, villages, premier cru, grand cru) and the various vintages. It was amazing to meet the winemakers. They are so proud, so hard working, so generous and so passionate. These are true family businesses; a few of them commented that they hoped their sons would continue the tradition. One claims to have family that has made wine since 1640. I pity the child who breaks that line!
Tasting a young white wine, straight from the barrel...

Continuing south, we stopped in Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix (which along with Pertrand, form a nice triangle around the hills of Aloxe-Corton, where some of the best grand cru grapes are grown) and stayed in the loveliest bed and breakfast in Magny-les-Villers just 10 minutes or so north of Beaune. At just 52 euros per night, including breakfast, La Maison des Abeilles, was a steal.

That night we had the most amazing meal. A recommendation from our chambre d'hote, La Ferme de Rolle, was 30 minutes farther out into the
middle of nowhere but was well worth the trip. The scenery was beautiful; rolling hills and lush green fields with the occasional sheep or horse sighting. We didn't even get lost on the twisting one lane roads until finally (quite uncharacteristically, I must say) we saw a sign pointing us to the restaurant. They had a table for 4 ready for us on the terrasse.

We started with an
aperitif of white wine with strawberry puree mixed in, which was perfect for a hot night. We all got the 23 euro menu (quite reasonable) with 4 courses. We ended up going for a few pichets de vin rouge which were perfectly adaquate. After all, burgundian wines can be expensive, and having tried great wines throughout the day, our parched palates weren't worthy of spending 30 euro on a bottle with dinner.

Adam and Emily proved themselves the more adventurous couple and both ordered les escargots for their first course
. Paul and I ordered another traditional dish from Burgundy called Oeufs en Meurette, or eggs poached in a red wine sauce. The snails were absolutely delicious! They were drowned (I picture a glorious death) in butter, garlic and herbs. The presentation is just too cute and the whole experience was fun. We all thought the texture was a bit like oysters. All in all, very tasty.The verdict is still out on the oeufs en meurette. To me, the idea is an appealing one. The poached eggs are served in a red wine sauce that is almost like the sauce for boeuf bourguignon; rich with wine, onions, bacon and carrots. Crunchy croutons were served beside to soak up the sauce. This is one of those dishes where I like all the ingredients but somehow the flavor was just a little disappointing. I wanted more texture and the egg yolks running into the thin wine sauce didn't really do much for me, although it definitely wasn't bad at all.

We all got the same 10 hour braised ham for our main course. Thick, tender slices were served with 3 different sauces and accompanied by potatoes and a few different vegetable purees. I can safely say that it was some of the best ham I've tasted. I couldn't finish my portion for fear of not making it through the last two courses, but I really wanted to do it.

The cheese course was a treat. I was the only one to choose the fromage blanc over the assorted cheeses. I thought it would be lighter, I guess. It came with a bit of fruit coulis and cream. It was fine, but the real star was this cheese board. Shocking is the only word for it. Paul loves stinky, oozing cheeses and even he was a bit intimidated by these local varieties. One cheese was covered in ash. Paul cut into one of them and it errupted on to the plate leaving the rind-shell behind. Incroyable...
Dessert was equally massive in proportion. 3 of us ordered ice cream parfaits. Emily's had berry ice cream, fruit sauce and whipped cream, while mine was vanilla ice cream, rum-soaked cherries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Paul's was like mine but with pears, which was great and Adam got the most amazing lemon sorbet drowned in vodka. Once Adam stirred around, it ressembled a vodka slushie. But I don't think he was complaining.

We meandered back to our bed and breakfast the longer way around after dinner but got there nonetheless. It was an unforgettable meal. Stayed tuned for more wine tastings...

August 1, 2006

A Healthy Chicken Salad

I was contemplating our lunches recently and came to the somewhat obvious conclusion that ours needed some inspiration. Lunches are tough for me. I seem to concentrate so much on dinner and feeding the both of us that when Paul started staying home for lunch, too, I was sort of overwhelmed. Leftovers are fine, but it's nice to have a proper lunch once in a while.

I've been craving a healthy salad of some sort, but I've been bored with our usual greens and dressings. I figured I could make a healthier chicken salad that incorporated more fruits and veggies into our diet. Plus, since it's been SO hot lately, anything make-ahead and chilly that we could eat for a few days sounded great to me. This chicken salad isn't such a revelation, really, but I was very happy with the result. Chunks of chicken are combined with diced apple, toasted pecans, sliced grapes, red onions and dressed with an herby, mustard and mayo dressing that is lightened with yogurt and lemon juice. I ate this piled on some salad greens with a hunk of bread and felt very pleased with myself for eating this instead of, say, bacon and cheese.

Healthier Chicken Salad

1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
juice of one lemon wedge
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp chopped chives
fresh parsley or tarragon, if you have it!
a dash of salt and pepper

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 apple, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced green grapes
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup diced celery, if you have it

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Throw in a tablespoon of salt. Lower the temperature so that the water is barely simmering. It's what Julia Child calls a shiver stage. Add the chicken breasts, cover the pot and let the chicken poach for 10 minutes, maybe 15 depending on the size. Keep the water just at the point where it's beginning to boil and you'll have tender chicken.

Combine the diced fruit, onion, pecans and celery in a mixing bowl. In a seperate bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing. Dice the chicken and add to the bowl with the fruit and nuts. Add half of the dressing and toss to coat. Add more dressing as needed, but you might not have to use all of it depending on the amount of chicken you have. I didn't use it all.

Chill for several hours until cold, or make it a day ahead. Serve on some salad greens (spinach leaves are great!) or in a sandwich. Serves 4.

*Note: The chicken breasts found in the USA are larger than those I buy here. You might want to increase the apple, onion, nuts, etc, if you have more chicken. As always, amounts are approximate.