Ann Mah - Page 2 of 53 - food and travel writer | Ann Mah

Zucchini pancakes

By Ann | July 8, 2014

courgette pancakes

As I type this, a storm is turning the sky ash grey and wild, with bursts of thunder echoing across the canyons of midtown Manhattan, and flashes of lightening flickering along the East River like a dying fluorescent bulb. Rain is beading on the windows, sheeting across the tiled floor of the neighbor’s roof deck. My husband is at a work event; the baby is asleep in her crib. An hour ago, a mosquito landed on the tender flesh of her upper arm and then flitted away before I could decide whether or not to try to kill it. Black rage filled my heart.

It is summer, folks—summer in the big city—and our early June vacation means we’re here for the steamy duration. It’s the season I dislike the most for its cloying humidity; it’s the season I love with all my heart for its produce. The other day I bought a bunch of kale the size of a small sheep for two dollars. There are melons as sweet as candy, local blueberries in the grocery store, and ears of corn still to anticipate. And then there are the courgettes.

I ate almost everything as a kid, but courgettes (zucchini, squash—call them what you will) were my bête noir. They tasted like earwax to me (not that I have firsthand knowledge of the flavor of earwax), much like cooked carrots taste soapy, and grape jam carries a whiff of the dental office. Even as an adult, I like courgettes only in dishes where I can’t really taste them—soupe au pistou, for example, or this grilled recipe that chars the hell out of ‘em, or zucchini bread with chocolate chips, which is an idea I can really get behind.

This recipe for courgette pancakes comes from The Barefoot Contessa At Home (which I think is my favorite of her books) and it definitely falls into the category of “hidden vegetables.” If you’re experiencing a zucchini glut (though I think that comes later in the season, right?) it’s a great way to use up a stray pound or two. I’ve tried a few zucchini pancake recipes, and this one is the best—there’s no tedious squeezing of excess liquid, just grate and go. The pancakes turn out tender, light, and fluffy, with no weird gumminess in the center.

The other great news about this recipe is that kids like it, too—if my anecdotal evidence of one 10-month-old (!) baby girl bears any weight. When I gave her these savory pancakes, she ate a short stack—the first food I’ve cooked for her that she really, truly loved.

courgette pancakes IG

Courgette/zucchini pancakes
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

3/4 lb zucchini (aka courgette, about 2 medium)
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional, depending on how salty you like your food)
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil for frying

Grate the courgette into a mixing bowl using the large holes of a box grater. Gently stir in the onion and eggs—I find that the more I work the mixture, the more unwanted liquid is released from the courgettes, so be delicate. Stir in 6 tablespoons of flour, the baking powder, salt (if using), pepper, and cheese. If, at any point, the batter becomes too thin from the liquid released by the courgettes, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat and warm 1/2 tablespoon oil. When the oil is hot, lower the heat to medium, and drop spoonfuls of batter into the skillet. Cook the pancakes until golden brown—about 2-3 minutes on each side. Repeat with the remaining batter.

midtown after the storm

And, just for fun, here’s midtown Manhattan after the storm :)

Topics: A year in a French market: Summer, New York City, Recettes | 18 Comments »

Oyster fishing on Prince Edward Island

By Ann | June 30, 2014

Malpeque oysters PEI

When I packed my bags to research an article on Prince Edward Island last month, I had two things on my mind. 1) Anne of Green Gables (more on this soon), and 2) Oysters. Harvested from the deep, moody waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the island’s Malpeque variety has been famous for centuries—even Queen Victoria was a fan, importing barrels to England—prized for its delicate flavor and clean, sweet finish. Interestingly, the island’s oysters have also been fished in the same way for centuries—brought up by long-handled tongs that are powered by human strength alone. I was thrilled to learn more about the island’s native oyster from Phyllis Carr, who owns Carr’s Shellfish, a local seafood purveyor, with her husband, Robert. And the next day, on a bright, clear morning, I visited Carr’s oyster beds with fisherman Philip Buote—and attempted a bit oyster fishing myself.

Malpeque oysters PEI 2

On the Malpeque oyster:
Though the northwestern end of the island is called Malpeque, “all oysters found on PEI are considered the Malpeque variety,” says Phyllis. Oysters start out as spat, tiny shellfish about the size of a quarter that attach to a solid surface, like a larger oyster. “It’s illegal to bring in spat with mature oysters. They have to be completely cleaned off on the boat and put right back into the sea,” says Philip. It takes four to seven years for an oyster to reach maturity—that’s about three inches long. “Oysters like a hard bottom surface,” says Phyllis. “But the bigger they get, the more room they need to grow. The best oysters grow slowly, without crowding.” Malpeques are sold in three sizes: small choice, large choice, and extra-large choice.

oyster fishing pei

oyster fishing pei 2

On wild oyster fishery:
The island’s oysters are fished from the wild, using a 15-foot dory and a pair of long-handled oyster tongs that end in rake-like teeth. The fisherman leans over the side of the boat and drops the tongs into the water, closing them at the bottom of the bed to capture a small quantity oysters mixed with mud and seaweed. He then drags the closed tongs up through the water and deposits the cache on the prow of the boat. “Oyster tongs are the only legal way to fish oysters on public water in PEI,” says Phyllis. It’s “very labor intensive,” slow, and painstaking work—each load collects only a few oysters—requiring strength and agility. “A public fisherman spends eight, ten hours out on the water every day, dredging, sorting, dredging.” says Philip.

In case this is all hopelessly confusing, this video explains it better:

 

On oyster bed politics:
Prince Edward Island’s landscape is defined by the gulf—the water not only surrounds the land, it also reaches into it in narrow inlets and ponds, creating clean, cold pools that oysters love. Many of these areas are considered “public water,” says Phyllis, and fishing them “is strictly governed, requiring a fish-specific license,” which is limited, expensive, and hard to obtain. The island also has oyster beds—called “leases”—which are bodies of water rented from the federal government. Carr’s maintains five leases. They buy oysters from fisherman on the public water, and transfer the shellfish to their beds at Stanley Bridge, where they grow plump and clean.

On working the leases:
During the summer, Philip heads out in the dory once or twice a day to fish the leases, and turn over the beds. “In the warmer months, the leases need to be worked everyday to maintain them,” says Phyllis. Winter brings a dormant period. “We don’t work the leases then,” she says. “Everything freezes over from December to March,and when the water gets very cold, the oysters lock their shells and stay closed.”

On the best time to eat oysters:
Though enjoying shellfish only in months with an “r” is “kind of a myth,” says Phyllis, she thinks the “fattest, best quality oysters” are found in October, November, and December. “Oysters hibernate—like bears,” she says. “They fatten up during the warmer months, and hibernate during the winter.” In March and April, “they’re coming off their winter sleep so they’re getting thin and weak, waiting for the warm water to feed.” By autumn, they’re plump and delicious—just in time for the holiday season.

Just for fun, here’s what happened when I tried oyster fishing:

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 2

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 3

Did I catch anything?

Ann Mah oyster fishing PEI 4

Me and “my haul.” ;)

oyster fishing PEI 2

malpeque oyster PEI

Back inside, Philip shucked two fresh oysters for me and I ate them right away, straight from the sea. They were briny and delicate, the ocean-temperature flesh sweeter and warmer than oysters served on a bed of ice. Fishing and eating them was one of the best moments of my life.

(Photos of me snapped by Philip Buote.)

Topics: Voyages | 11 Comments »

Dining out with kids in Paris

By Ann | June 24, 2014

Dining out in Paris with kids

Paris restaurants don’t have a reputation for being very kid friendly, so before my most recent trip—my first with baby in tow—I wondered whether I’d be able to eat out with my nine-month-old daughter. Our first lunch at a neighborhood café was not encouraging. We were seated at a corner table with the baby parked in her stroller directly beneath the door of a refrigerator. Every few minutes, a waiter opened the fridge to grab one of the carafes of water cooling within. The glass bottle passed right over the baby’s tender head while the head waiter barked: “Fais TRES attention au bébé!” (Be VERY careful of the baby!) The waiter would shoot me a look that screamed “You are in the way!” and the fridge door would slam shut. When the baby began squawking, we bolted our food and beat a hasty retreat.

After this experience, it seemed likely that we wouldn’t eat out in Paris as a family for the next seventeen years. But after I canvassed a couple of Paris parent friends, we tried again, and again, several times—and found each meal easier than the last. I’ve combined their suggestions with my tips for dining out with a baby in Paris. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too—please leave them in the comments!

baby in paris café

Choose wisely—I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Parisians are very child friendly. But not in restaurants. It’s important to pick the kind of place where kids are welcome (I offer a few addresses below). Casual spots like cafés, bistros, or non-French places like pizza or Chinese food are good choices. Only you know your kid’s limits, but personally I would avoid everything else with a baby. “I see the most kids in Asian restaurants, not traditional French restaurants,” says my friend Erin, mother of Felix, 4, and Lucie, 2. Another alternative: “Crêperies are definitely known as family friendly places.”

Eat early—French people are creatures of habit—they like to eat at the same times—that is, one o’clock for lunch; eight o’clock for dinner. If you show up at a restaurant early, you’ll catch the staff before the rush, and there will be few other customers to disturb with baby squawking. “The very best thing is to go immediately at 12pm or 7pm,” says Erin. “Make sure you’re the first people served so the kids aren’t waiting forever.”

But not too early—Paris restaurants keep rigid hours; most aren’t open before 12pm or 7pm. If you’d like to eat outside those hours, look for a place that offers “service continu”—continuous dining service—usually a café. Fair warning: the best food in Paris is not usually found in places with service continu.

baby with baguette

Don’t expect kid accoutrements—High chair? Crayons? Kid’s menu? Fuhgeddaboudit. “I’ve never been to a restaurant that has a high chair available or that could easily accommodate our own portable high chair,” says Claire, mother of Theo, 21 months. Restaurants for families do exist, “but they’re chain restaurants,” says Erin. I brought most of the baby’s food from home, and gave her a chunk of baguette from the bread basket to keep her busy.

Case the joint in advance—Don’t just show up with the stroller, expecting to be seated. Scope out the restaurant in advance to see what kind of space they have. Pop in and ask if they’d mind accommodating kids and/or a stroller. “If they’re reluctant to welcome kids, it’s almost always a space issue,” says Erin. Paris real estate is expensive; most restaurants are tiny. “My father-in-law is in a wheelchair and when restaurants see us coming with him and the stroller, they’re like, ‘Forget it!'” says Claire.

Find an outdoor café— “I usually try for a restaurant with ample outdoor seating and  sit at the end where I can pull up the stroller,” says Claire. Pedestrian streets like rue Montorgueil or rue Cler offer a large choice of cafés with wide terrasses—though they also attract heavy smokers. We had lunch in one café on rue Cler, which offered ideal seating—lots of room for the stroller, we were outside so didn’t have to worry about baby yelps—but the food left much to be desired.

Goûter is good—I’ve noticed children are more welcome at goûter, or tea time, the four o’clock hour when French people like to eat sweets. I’ve even spotted kids in chic salons de thé like Jacques Genin or Angelina. Otherwise, picnics are an obvious choice for families of young children—plus you have an excuse to buy lots of different types of cheese!

Bottom line—After several lunches with the baby (we never tried dinner since she goes to bed too early), and talking to several friends, my conclusion is that dining out in Paris with young children is not common. But it is acceptable, if you choose the right kind of place and right time, and if you’re considerate of the staff and other customers. In other words, maybe it’s not so different from anywhere else?

Paris restaurant with baby

les deux abeilles with baby

Where to eat with kids in Paris

Les Deux Abeilles
189 rue de l’Université, 7e
tel: 01 45 55 64 04
At first glance, this cozy tea salon does not seem kid-friendly—space is tight, voices are low, and there are crisp, white tablecloths. But they offer continuous service from 9am-7pm, which means you could eat super early without worrying about being a nuisance. I love their savory tarts, hearty salads, and gorgeous cakes.

Café Suédois à l’Institut Suédois
11 rue Payenne, 3e
tel: 01 44 78 80 20
This is a charming little lunch/tea counter at the Institut Suédois with housemade soups, bread, cakes, and even elderflower cordial. Best of all, there’s lots of seating in the spacious courtyard. There’s no table service here—just order at the counter and ferry the food yourself. They were kind when we rearranged the chairs to make room for the strollers (and we also spent several minutes replacing everything when we left).

West Country Girl
6 Passage Saint-Ambroise, 11e
tel: 01 47 00 72 54
Even though I said crêperies were family friendly, I would avoid one of my favorites, Breizh Café, because of the aforementioned space issues. West Country Girl is a good alternative, with excellent galettes in a less touristy (and populated) part of Paris. Admittedly, I have not been here with a stroller. But I have eaten an early, mid-week lunch here and the dining room was practically empty.

Pizza Chic
w 13 rue de Mézières, 6e
tel: 01 45 48 30 38
I love their pizza. But this restaurant is as chic as its name indicates. I have, however, seen older kids (aged seven and up) dining here—early. There are also a few sidewalk tables, which could be possible for an early meal with a stroller. However, wild horses couldn’t drag me to bring the baby to eat at this restaurant during regular service, either indoors or out.

Happy Families
5 rue du Cloître Saint-Merri, 4e
tel: 01 40 29 89 99
This center near Beaubourg offers everything from a kid-friendly café (with high chairs and simple meals), dance and music classes (for kids), meditation sessions (for parents :), as well as a beauty salon, massages—and babysitting. I haven’t been here yet, but it sounds great for a rainy day.

Do you have any tips to add or addresses to share? I’d be grateful for your advice!

Topics: Dining Out and About, Kids in Paris, Paris | 21 Comments »

My Paris walking tour with La Cuisine Paris

By Ann | June 12, 2014

tour la cuisine paris 2

Three of my favorite things are Paris, walking in Paris, and food. And so, when Jane of La Cuisine Paris and I started planning my Paris popup tour, I couldn’t wait to hit the ground. And even though it rained on the day of my tour—comme une vache qui pisse (as they say so charmingly)—my stalwart fellow food lovers and I enjoyed a delicious (albeit damp!) afternoon.

E Dehillerinjpg

I wanted to offer insights into Julia Child’s Paris, and so one of our first stops was her favorite cookware shop, E. Dehillerin. Julia described herself as “a knife freak, frying pan freak, and gadget freak,” and it’s easy to imagine her wandering the narrow aisles, admiring the giant whisks and rolling pins, and asking the seasoned salesmen for advice. Two photos of Madame Child still hang above the register and one of the clerks said he’d met her in 1986. The shop has been open since 1820, and it’s still targeted mainly to professionals, which means its prices are listed before tax—hors taxes—unlike most retail shops in France.

au pied de cochon

We stopped outside Au Pied de Cochon, which is the only restaurant I know of in France that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The special dispensation for extra hours was granted in 1947, after several lean war years. I like to imagine Julia squeezing into a narrow booth, digging into a gratinéed bowl of soupe à l’oignon after a frosty, wee hour visit to the market at Les Halles (which used to be located just across the street).

rue montorgueil la cuisine paris tour

rue montorgueil

Stohrer

We also visited Stohrer, one of Paris’s most venerable addresses, opened in 1730. When Louis XV married Marie Leszczynka of Poland in 1725, her pâtissier accompanied her to France in her retinue. Five years later, he opened this pâtisserie—and allegedly invented baba au rhum in the same spot. More recently, Le Figaroscope named Stohrer’s éclair au chocolat the best in Paris—a pronouncement that I don’t entirely agree with. Nevertheless, we bought a couple just to make sure :)

la cuisine paris tour

andouille de guéméné

pâte de campagne

The rain, by the way, finally stopped somewhere between the charcuterie and the fromagerie, just in time for us to squelch back to La Cuisine Paris for a decadent dégustation. On the menu: andouille de Guéméné, a tripe sausage from Brittany, which—I’m proud to say—was sampled by every single member of the group. We also tucked into rillettes of goose and of pork, rabbit pâté, foie gras, several types of cheese, and more, accompanied by a spritely white wine.

mastering the art of french eating

book signing

The afternoon ended with a book signing (every author’s favorite activity :) and then I was sad to say au revoir. I enjoyed meeting such a curious, enthusiastic group and loved introducing them to tripe sausage (among other things). My thanks to La Cuisine Paris for a lovely afternoon—I hope to do it again soon!

tour la cuisine paris

If you’d like to create your own walking tour of Paris:

E. Dehillerin
18-20 rue Coquillière, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 42 36 53 13

Au Pied de Cochon
6 rue Coquillière, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 40 13 77 00

Stohrer
51 rue Montorgueil, 1e, Paris
tel: 01 42 33 38 20

Or visit La Cuisine Paris for one of their wonderful walking tours, excursions, market tours and/or cooking classes.

(Photos that include moi thanks to Jane at La Cuisine Paris.)

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating, Paris | 16 Comments »

Paris pop up tour!

By Ann | June 2, 2014

sacre coeur

I’m excited to announce that I’m leading a special Paris pop up tour next Tuesday, June 10, with the delightful cooking school, La Cuisine Paris!

I’ll be hosting a gourmet afternoon visiting a few of Julia Child’s favorite haunts, as well as a selection of wonderful food shops. We’ll shop for some of France’s finest delicacies, from fromage to foie gras, andouillettes (for the daring) to pâtisserie! Along the way, you’ll learn a bit of history of some of France’s most iconic dishes.

The tour will end at La Cuisine Paris where we’ll tuck into our treats and chat over wine!

Please join me for:

–Insights and visits to my view of Julia Child’s Paris.

–A walking tour and tasting of France’s finest, including a visit to the charcutier, fromager, pâtissier, et plus!

–Each participant will recieve a signed copy of my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating!

For more information, visit La Cuisine Paris. There are only a few spots left!

*UPDATE: The tour is sold out! Thanks for helping to spread the word, tout le monde!

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating, Paris | 7 Comments »

Weekend cooking/ weeknight eating

By Ann | May 30, 2014

asparagus

broccoli rabe

As you might have guessed from my Tuesday Dinner series, I’m fascinated by what people cook during the week—not fancy food, but the fast, ordinary meals prepared after a tiring day of work. Ever since the baby arrived, I’ve developed a new strategy. Instead of grocery shopping one meal at a time (I now think of those days and laugh), I cook large quantities during the weekend and reheat during the week. What I lose in spontaneity, I make up for in speed and peace of mind.

On the internets, people’s lives have a tendency to look glossier than they really are. (Surely this explains the email I received after this post appeared, from a reader accusing me of being a trust fund baby.) The truth is this: I try to get a home-cooked dinner on the table about 70% of the time. Do I enjoy cooking every night? No. Sometimes I’m so tired I wish I could swallow the balanced-meal-equivalent of a pill, and collapse into my pillow. But I try to eat at home most nights because I care about the food we eat, I don’t want to weigh 1,000 pounds, and I pinch pennies like everyone else.

Today I’m sharing my week’s cooking routine: what I prepared one weekend, and then how we ate it during the course of seven days.

asparagus broccoli rabe

chicken tetrazzini

What I cooked:
Over the weekend, I steamed a pound of asparagus, sautéed broccoli rabe with chili flakes and garlic, boiled up a pot of quinoa and couscous for packed lunches, and prepared a chicken tetrazzini casserole. (I also made some baby food.) My husband cooked a pot of chili.

chili

What we ate:
Sunday – Turkey chili, basmati rice, cheddar cheese, and pickled red onions (made the previous week).

chicken tetrazzini

Monday – Chicken tetrazzini, reheated at 350ºF for an hour until golden and bubbly.

pb sriracha toast

Tuesday – Peanut butter/ sriracha toast, sauteed broccoli rabe. (Note: husband ate chicken tetrazzini, but I’d had an enormous lunch.)

chili 2

Wednesday – More turkey chili, basmati rice, cheddar, avocado, and pickled onions.

salmon donburi

Thursday – Japanese-style donburi bowl. Salmon (cooked this way), avocado, asparagus, broccoli rabe, pickled red onions, black sesame seeds, and dashi broth over sushi rice. This is one of my favorite meals, but it’s only fast if you’ve cooked the vegetables in advance.

burrito

Friday – Vegetarian burrito from Chipotle. We get take-out once a week and I look forward to it.

Saturday – Dinner out with friends (delicious Korean food at Hanjan). Drank a martini and forgot to take pictures (sorry).

asparagus

A few observations:

–We eat a lot of food in bowls!

–My late-night food photography needs work (sorry about those #struggleplates :)

– Not pictured: the asparagus and broccoli rabe also appeared at lunch, atop of quinoa, with sliced turkey breast and cherry tomatoes.

– The rice cooker is my best friend–it produces perfect grains every time, with no pot watching. I’m not sure how I survived so long without one.

– Though we didn’t dip into our freezer this week, I rely on it most weeks.

I’d love to hear about your weekly cooking routine!

Topics: A year in a French market: Spring, New York City, Tuesday dinner | 8 Comments »

Tasting France through five dishes—EXTRAS

By Ann | May 24, 2014

crêpe

Last summer, I traveled around France with the sole purpose of eating. It was a memorable journey for many reasons (among them this and this), and I’m absolutely thrilled the resulting article is in this Sunday’s New York Times Travel section—my first cover! I hope you’ll read the story and leave me a comment with an answer to this question: What’s your favorite regional dish—in France, or beyond?

I thought I’d share the article’s EXTRAS*—the material left on the cutting room floor, in this case, the hotels I stayed at on my trip, and a few of the food souvenirs I brought home. I’m always on the hunt for les bonnes adresses, and I hope you find these helpful!

bretagne

PLACES TO STAY

Brittany
Seemingly torn from the pages of a French fairy tale, the Manoir de Lanroz (282 Chemin de Lanroz, 29000 Quimper, tel: 33-2-98-90-64-43; www.lanroz.fr) is steeped in the charm of an old-fashioned manor house. Bedrooms feature family antiques and views that stretch across green fields to a sparkling lake.

Languedoc
Château Coquelicot (250 route de Castelnaudary, 11400 Souihanels-Castelnaudary, tel: 33-6-42-74-55-90; www.chateaucoquelicot.com), on the edges of Castelnaudary, is a sprawling country house with spacious rooms, a pool, and sweeping views of grape vines. Upon request, the Belgian owners, Françoise and Frédéric Bernier, will prepare a home-cooked supper at their table d’hôte.

Cassis
L’Avila Cassis (15 Avenue Joseph Liautaud, tel: 33-4-42-03-35-37; www.lavila-cassis.com), a 10-minute walk from the town center, is a bed and breakfast with comfortable, modern rooms, a pool, and a sunny terrace for morning coffee.

Lyon
Located in the heart of Lyon’s presqu’ile, the eccentric Chambre d’Hugo (21 rue Victor Hugo, Lyon, 69002; tel: 33-6-18-38-27-68; www.lachambredhugo.fr)—housed in an elegant, 18th-century apartment—has only one room, a serene space with parquet floors, linen curtains, classic moldings painted in pale grey, and an en suite bathroom. Breakfasts include homemade fruit compote and fresh smoothies—the perfect antidote to all those bacon-strewn Lyonnais meals.

Slightly off the bouchon trail (though convenient to public transportation) Mama Shelter Lyon (13 rue Domer, Lyon, 69007; tel: 33-4-78-02-58-00; www.mamashelter.com/lyon)—the latest outpost of the Philippe Starck-designed hotel chain—offers a throbbing bar downstairs, while upstairs rooms are like a modern cocoon, quiet, with fluffy duvets and industrial-chic furniture. Though space is cramped, prices are reasonable, and the staff is young and friendly.

Alsace
In the pretty, half-timbered village of Rosheim, La Rose d’Alsace (10 Rue de l’Eglise, 67560, Rosheim; tel: 33-3-88-50-10-44; www.larosedalsace.com) has simple, clean rooms and makes a good base for a choucroute (or wine) tour of the region.

Housed in a newly restored 16th-century hôtel particulier—check out the medieval well at the flowery courtyard’s entrance—La Cour du Courbeau (6-8 rue des Couples, 67000 Strasbourg; tel: 33-3-90-00-26-26; www.cour-courbeau.com) offers spacious, quiet rooms with modern fixtures in the heart of Strasbourg.

herbes

FOOD SOUVENIRS

Galettes from Brittany
Buttery treats abound in the region, but the picturesque village of Pont-Aven—once, briefly, the home of Gauguin—is famous for galettes, in this case sugar biscuits made with local butter and studded with flakes of sea salt. Each shop has its own secret family recipe, but the thick-cut “palet” cookies at La Boutique de Pont-Aven are delicately sweet with a lightly crumbly texture. Where to buy it: La Boutique de Pont Aven, Place Paul Gauguin

Pralines from Lyon
Rough-textured and hot pink, these sugar-coated almonds are a familiar sight in the city’s pâtisseries, whether used as a filling for tarte aux pralines, crushed and sprinkled on rice pudding, or studding soft loaves of sweet brioche. Buy your own bag and experiment at home. Where to buy it: Monoprix, locations all over the city.

Cassoles from Languedoc
The region’s traditional terracotta cooking vessel, is essential for preparing your own cassoulet. At the Poterie Not Frères, a family business started in 1830, each cassole is made on a man-powered pottery wheel and shaped by hand. Where to buy it: Poterie Not Frères, Mas-Saintes-Puelles

Garrigue herbs from Provence
A mix of rosemary, thyme, savory, lavender and other plants that grow wild along the Provençal Mediterranean coast, the earthy perfume of this dried herb blend enhances everything from bouillabaisse to roast chicken. Where to buy it: Cassis open market, town center (Wednesday mornings)

Pain d’épices from Alsace
Gingerbread doesn’t need to be limited to Christmas—at least not in Alsace, where slices of the moist, sweet, spice bread are enjoyed year-round with a cup of tea, or at cocktail hour, topped with foie gras and paired with a glass of Riesling. The artisanal loaf from Le Bucher des Buissons, tastes delightfully old fashioned, dense with honey and rye flour. Where to buy it: Pains Westermann, 1 rue des Orfèvres, Strasbourg

*Note: This material was originally prepared for a longer version of the article.

Topics: Mastering the Art of French Eating, Where to eat in France | 10 Comments »

Russ & Daughters Café (New York)

By Ann | May 22, 2014

russ and daughters cafe

My love of Russ and Daughters is well documented, so when I heard that the 100-year-old appetizing store had opened a café, I sprinted for a table. I was greeted by a long and narrow space, herringbone tile floors, a  counter in the front, tables and booths in the back. The decor reminded me a malt shop from another era sharpened up with a contemporary edge, a little bit Art Deco, a little bit post Modern.

At a table in the back, a friend and I settled down to business right away, gazing at the placemat that doubles as a menu. While I hemmed and hawed over smoked salmon paired with eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, or potato latkes, in the end I went with a sandwich called the Shtetl: smoked sable, plain bagel, goat cream cheese. My friend, Shana, had the chopped salad: rows of smoked whitefish, beets, avocado, apple, hard-boiled egg, and bits of broken matzo arranged on a bed of lettuce.

The sable was velvety rich with a tang of woodsmoke, offset by the mustard bite of pickled capers. I liked the goat cream cheese, but to be perfectly honest, it didn’t taste that different from a regular schmear. Shana reported that her salad was delicious (and I do love Russ & Daughter’s whitefish), but it was small, and afterwards she was “still a little noshy.”

We filled in the cracks with an egg cream each—chocolate for her, malt for me—mine was a drink of milk, seltzer, and malt syrup (?) that managed to be at once fizzy, frothy, sweet, and rich (is malt umami?!). And as a final treat, we ordered up a pair of blintzes, browned in butter, stuffed with sweetened farmer’s cheese that breathed a gentle note of cinnamon.

I will admit, the bill was not cheap—$60 for two of us, quite a bit heftier than what one might expect from your corner diner/deli/malt shop. (It broke down like this: $18 for my sandwich, $14 for the salad, $7 per egg cream, $14 for the blintzes—needless to say, this is a place for a special lunch treat.) The prices, however, weren’t any more expensive than any other trendy New York lunch spot. And the quality, ah, the quality was sublime. Can you really put a price on that?

Russ and Daughters Café
127 Orchard Street
New York City
212 475 4881

russ and daughters cafe 2

russ and daughters 5

russ and daughters cafe menu

russ and daughters cafe bagel

russ and daughters salad

russ and daughters malt egg cream

russ and daughters blintzes

Topics: Dining Out and About, New York City | 3 Comments »

Piroshki for perfectionists

By Ann | May 20, 2014

piroshki

I am not a perfectionist. (Then again, nor am I very self-aware.) But this recipe for piroshki seemed to bring out the very best (worst?) in me.

I first made these savory stuffed pastries in March when the weather was frigid, filling large circles of pâte brisée with a mixture of mashed potatoes and mushrooms. They appealed to my love of meals in a package—Cornish pasties, Thanksgiving croissants—with a hint of chopped dill adding an exotic, eastern European earthiness. Alas, when I popped the pockets in the oven to bake until golden brown and puffy, the filling leaked from the pastry. I vowed to try again.

The recipe comes from the new Moosewood Restaurant Favorites (yes, that book again—I really love it) and it’s easy enough, though perhaps a bit time-consuming, the type of thing that’s A PROJECT—but in a good way. First, you whip up some homemade pastry dough. Yes, I just used the words “whip up” and “homemade pastry dough” in the same breath, but I’ve actually gotten pretty fast at it. (Yikes, have I become one of those people?!)

stinging nettles

stinging nettles

ramps

While the dough is resting, prepare the filling. The first time I made these piroshki, I mixed up a wintry blend of mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms. But the second time—the time I vowed to conquer the recipe—I created a springtime filling of stinging nettles, cabbage, ramps, parsley, dill, and a scoop of cottage cheese.

Maybe you’re wondering about the stinging nettles? When I saw them at the Union Square Green Market, I couldn’t resist—they reminded me of hiking in Scotland. They really do sting—according to this site, the fine hairs coating the leaves and stems act like “hypodermic needles,” injecting the skin with histamines and other chemicals that cause a painful rash. Even though the nettles I bought were babies, with no real threat to them, I still used my kitchen tongs to handle the leaves before blanching them in boiling water. Heat removes the danger, leaving a spinach-like vegetable that tastes like cucumbers.

Piroshki stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, and herbs

Piroshki stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, and herbs

Piroshki stuffed with potato, cabbage, and herbs

Once your filling is prepared, and your dough has adequately chilled, you’re ready to roll (so to speak). The Moosewood cookbook suggests making large, meal-sized turnovers, about the size of a dinner plate. But after my first experience, I knew I wanted them smaller, so I divided the dough further, making sixteen dainty pockets instead of eight large ones. I rolled each ball of dough into a circle, dolloped on a scoop of filling, folded over the flap, and crimped the edges with a fork, pricking the tops to create vents so the steam could escape. I popped them in the oven with high hopes. Thirty minutes later, I found this:

Piroshki stuffed with potatoes, cabbage, and herbs

You guys, I was so sad. See that filling leaking across the baking tray? It was nothing compared to the tears leaking from my eyes. (Well, not really, but allow me some poetic hyperbole here.) What had I done wrong? Why were my piroshki as explosive as the situation in Ukraine? (Hyperbole, again.) I gazed at the cooling sheet pan and felt hollow with disappointment, sad and frustrated. (That is actually not hyperbole.) I wanted to make another batch, but I was out of time and dough. Instead, I did three things: First, I ate the mashed potato mixture that had run all over the tray. Second, I stored the leftover filling in the freezer. Third, I posted about my problem on Chowhound. The consensus was this: I was overstuffing them.

Moosewood savory piroshki

Last weekend, I tried again. But this time, I was more scientific. I measured the filling in tablespoons and marked the amount I added to each pocket: One stab of the fork for one tablespoon, etc. As you can see from the photo above, there was very little leaking! However, when I ate a pirogi for lunch, I had to admit that the pastry-filling ratio was off—there was too much dough, not enough potato. I think I’m caught in the old cooking catch-22 of appearance versus taste. Am I destined for round four?

Piroshki with potatoes, cabbage, and spring herbs
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Favorites and New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant

Makes eight large, or sixteen small piroshki

For the dough:
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb unsalted cold butter
6-10 tablespoons of ice water

For the filling:
2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/2 cup stinging nettles (or another green leafy vegetable, or more cabbage)
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh scallions (or ramps)
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds for topping (optional)

Prepare the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter in small pieces, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers until it’s in pea-sized lumps. Add the ice water in short dashes, kneading and squeezing lightly until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Divide the dough into sixteen (or eight) equal portions, rolling each one into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Prepare the filling. In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water and boil until soft. In a medium skillet, melt one tablespoon of the butter and sauté the onion until soft. Add the cabbage and nettles and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Mash the potatoes with two tablespoons of butter. Stir in the sauteed vegetables, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, dill, parsley, and scallions. Taste and season.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Ready the egg wash and sesame seeds. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a ball of dough into a rough, 10-inch circle. Place 1-2 tablespoons of filling (or more, at your risk!) on the circle of dough. With a spoon, spread the filling into an even layer. Fold the dough over  to create a semi-circle, seal with egg wash, and lightly crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Stab the tops of the piroshki with a fork to create steam vents (though I’m not sure this really helps). Brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. I store these in the freezer, individually wrapped in foil, to eat with soup for a quick and easy dinner. Reheat at 350ºF for 20 minutes.

Topics: A year in a French market: Spring, Cooking the Books, Recettes | 10 Comments »

Tuesday dinner with Ava Chin (+ giveaway!)

By Ann | May 13, 2014

Ava Chin: Eating Wildly mushroom pasta

Try as I might to change my ways, I’m a city girl through and through: brisk walker, fast talker, insect hater. But last week I read my friend Ava Chin’s new memoir, Eating Wildly, and found myself reconsidering the concrete landscape. As an urban forager—and author of a New York Times blog of the same name—Ava visits New York’s green spaces (like Prospect and Central Parks) to collect wild plants (like day lilies, mulberries, stinging nettles, and mushrooms of all stripes—oyster, reishi, morel). And then she cooks and eats them. Her memoir tells the story of a young woman grappling with childhood scars, the loss of her grandmother, and heartbreak, who learns to view the world anew with “foraging eyes,” patiently seeking the unexpected treasure that might lie in plain sight. Today, Ava shares tips for foraging, fast meals, and a recipe for mushroom pasta. (AND, I’m giving away a copy of her book! Stay tuned to the bottom of this post for more info.)

Eating Wildly by Ava Chin

Ava Chin / Eating Wildly

On quick—but local—meals:
As a working mother of a rambunctious two-year-old, Tuesday nights can be hectic, especially if I’m doing an hour-long commute between the boroughs of New York City for my job as a professor. This time of year and especially as it gets warmer, I usually make some sort of salad with beets or whatever’s in season (ramps, spring onions) and grilled chicken.

Morel mushrooms, photo Ava Chin/Eating Wildly

On the forager’s freezer and pantry:
I keep wild oyster mushrooms and morels in my freezer to add to pasta as a quick-fix dinner. For example, morels are in season right now. Instead of dehydrating them, I might slice and saute them in butter and shallots and garlic. After they’ve cooled, I pop them into the freezer in bags. I also have plenty of dried mushrooms on hand. Last fall, I grew shiitake mushrooms from an inoculated patch, and we had shiitakes for months. What we couldn’t eat right away, I dried and now add to soups and stews.

On growing vegetables in her city apartment:
I keep scallions growing hydroponically from shoots in a jar by the kitchen window—it’s still a miracle to me that they sprout new shoots every time). I just snip them with kitchen scissors and toss them in everything from stir fries to frittatas.

On the busy cook’s best friend—the braise:
I try to cook certain slow-cooked foods, braises, etc. the night before, so on any given night I will most likely be cooking food for the following evening. For certain dishes the flavor is better and I’m not operating under the rush and panic of having to get dinner ready for that night.

On how to start foraging:
First, go on a walk with a foraging expert who can introduce you to what’s edible—these days, there are more and more of us across the country leading tours. Then, get a hold of a few good foraging guidebooks (Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagusthe Petersen’s field guides, and Leda Meredith’s Northeast Foraging just to name a few) and go on walks of your own. If you can recognize a dandelion, then you’ve already started foraging!

On what to gather now:
This time of year, and depending where you live, dandelions, violets (not to be confused with African violets, which aren’t edible), ramps, and garlic mustard are all coming up, and soon the mulberries will be fruiting. We’re nearing the end of morel mushroom and ramp season, so get them while you can!

dried mushrooms

herbs

crimini mushrooms

(Wild Morel) Mushroom Linguini
Adapted from Eating Wildly by Ava Chin

Serves four

*Note from Ann: Ava’s recipe calls for sumptuous morel mushrooms—which can only be gathered from the wild. I went to the Farmer’s Market three weeks in a row, but, alas, couldn’t find any. Instead, I substituted cultivated crimini mushrooms and a handful of dried fungi. For a local, seasonal touch, I took Ava’s suggestion and used ramps instead of shallots. “The ramp leaves will cook even faster than the shallots,” she says, “and they are lovely.”

1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
2 small shallots, diced (I used 3-4 ramps)
8 oz sliced morels (or crimini mushrooms), sliced
2 oz dried mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water (optional, but if you use them, save the soaking water)
1/4 cup cream sherry
1/4 heavy cream
Small handful of chopped dill and parsley
1 lb linguine
Salt and pepper

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the garlic until fragrant. Add the shallots (or ramps) and cook until wilted. Add the sliced and dried mushrooms and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the cream sherry, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta by bringing a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the linguini and cook, stirring occasionally until al dente (check the package for a suggested time).

Drizzle the cream into the mushroom mixture. Using kitchen tongs, fish the cooked linguini from the pot of boiling water and add to the skillet with the mushrooms. Sprinkle in the dill and parsley and toss to combine, adding dashes of mushroom soaking liquid or pasta cooking water so that the mixture is loose and supple. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.

Ava Chin's mushroom pasta

*Eating Wildly by Ava Chin Giveaway!*
Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky reader!
To enter:
1. Leave a comment below with your favorite spring vegetable.
2. For an extra entry, follow Ava on Twitter: @AvaChin, then leave a separate comment to let me know.
3. For an extra, extra entry, tweet the following and leave a comment to let me know: I’m entered to win Eating Wildly by @AvaChin from @AnnMahNet + @SimonBooks. More info: www.annmah.net

The contest ends May 19. A winner will be selected at random and announced here. Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner is Jamie! Thanks for playing tout le monde!

(All non-pasta photos from Ava Chin.)

Topics: A year in a French market: Spring, Tuesday dinner | 35 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »