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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 »

Moosewood’s country moussaka

By Ann | May 6, 2014

Moosewood's country moussaka

I’ve mentioned this before: I have a thing for casseroles. It started in grade school, when I read a bunch of books set in the 1950s—in particular, Mrs Piggle-Wiggle, which was about a twinkle-eyed, hump-backed woman who lives in an upside-down house and finds creative solutions to children’s problems. (For example: one little girl hates taking baths. Mrs P-W suggests her parents let her loll in her own filth until she’s built up a half-inch rind of grime on her skin—whereupon the parents sneak into her room at night and sprinkle her with radish seeds. Plants sprout, the little girl freaks out, and bath-time becomes regular :)  The kids in these books were always eating casseroles for dinner. They hated them. But for me—raised on a steady diet of Chinese food—casseroles sounded like the most exotic and delicious food in the world. I hardly knew what they were, yet I longed to try them.

My casserole curiosity followed me—unsatisfied—all the way to my very first apartment in New York. One of the first things I bought for my kitchen (if that’s what you call a stove wedged in the corner of a studio) was a casserole dish. White and sturdy, it has now survived seven moves (I just counted), traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard, across oceans and continents. Was ten dollars ever better spent? I filled it with lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and macaroni and cheese, but the bubbling, golden-crusted casseroles of my dreams evaded me.

Moosewood Restaurant Favorites 2

If we were conducting a word association test, right now you’d be shouting “cream-of-mushroom soup!” Yes, casseroles get a bad rap, typically laced as they are with Campbell’s. But recently I’ve noticed that the homemade versions have been making a comeback. A few weeks ago, this New York Times article offered three unusual recipes (as well as one for great quick pickles). And a few months ago, a friend gave  me a copy of a new cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Favorites, which has a whole chapter on from-scratch casseroles.

Moosewood is synonymous with vegetarian food, and I love their recipes because they’re like the best comfort food: simple, satisfying, unafraid to add butter, cream, or cheese when the occasion is right. This book gathers the most requested recipes from their restaurant in Ithaca, NY, where I will eat one day, come hell or high water. I have enjoyed orange-scented Cuban black beans, Rumbledethumps (a cheesy broccoli-laced version of bubble and squeak, which—I hesitate to confess—paired beautifully with a pork chop), made two batches of the mushroom piroshki, and can’t wait to try the classic tofu burgers. But my favorite recipe so far has been this country moussaka, which is one of those magical dishes that turns ordinary ingredients into something more special then their individual parts.

Moosewood's country moussaka

There are slices of roasted eggplant and courgette, a spiced tomato sauce, a sprinkle of raw couscous—which cooks among the layers and adds almost a meaty texture—generous crumbles of feta, and a crowning cap of béchamel. I’ll be honest, all those elements involve a bit—okay, a lot—of extra work. But none of it’s very difficult or fiddly and you can make most of them a few days in advance, before assembling.

Before I leave you to this recipe, may I end on a pedantic note? I was curious about the history of casseroles, so I did some research in the Penguin Companion to Food. Though the word “casserole” has been used to refer to a ladle, or pan (as in French), it originates from a classical Greek term for “cup.” Greek! Could a casserole of moussaka be more apt?

Moosewood's country moussaka leftovers

Moosewood’s Country Moussaka
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Favorites

Serves 6-8

3 lbs eggplant
1 1/2 lbs zucchini
Olive oil
8 oz feta cheese
4 tablespoons raw couscous
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Tomato sauce:
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili
Salt and pepper to taste

Béchamel sauce:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten

Prepare the vegetables: Pre-heat the oven to 400ºF. Slice the eggplant and zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Brush them lightly with olive oil. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, arrange the slices in a single layer, and bake until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. In a saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, stirring until fragrant, then the bell peppers, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon and crushed chili. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Taste and season.

Prepare the béchamel sauce: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk, and cook until the sauce has thickened and is starting to bubble around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, salt, and beaten eggs.

Assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a ceramic baking dish. Pour half the tomato sauce into the baking dish. Layer the eggplant slices. Sprinkle over half the feta cheese and 2 tablespoons of couscous. Cover with the zucchini slices, then the remainder of the feta cheese and couscous. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered until golden and bubbly, 50-60 minutes. If you bake this ahead of time, cover the dish loosely with foil and rewarm in a 350ºF oven, for 45-50 minutes.

Moosewood's country moussaka

Topics: Casseroles, Cooking the Books, New York City, Recettes | 13 Comments »

Quick pickled red onions

By Ann | April 24, 2014

pickled onions and bagel

Here is what the weekend looks like: Friday mornings on the way to my office, I stop at the Union Square Green Market to check out the produce. The past few weeks, the offerings have been in that awkward, gangly, tween stage, no longer winter, not yet spring. Too late for butternut squash. Too early for asparagus. I usually pick up some apples, maybe a few carrots. Last week I also bought a bunch of kale and a few parsnips.

Saturday mornings dawn bright and early with a reliable 6AM wake-up call from a certain someone. My husband and I have one of those thank-God-the-baby’s-still-alive/ Jeezus-it’s-early moments and then one of us sets to baby wrangling (him), while the other (me) starts… cooking. At six in the morning. I know, I never thought I’d be that person, either.

quick pickled onions

The thing about being a parent (which I’ve learned during my long tenure of seven months :) is that I always feel like I’m behind, running from one thing to the next, trying to squeeze in visits to the grocery store, playground, and post office in between naps, bottles, and solids. We have a wonderful nanny—hence, the time to write this blog post—but she leaves at 4:30 pm. Since my husband doesn’t get home until eight o’clock or later, making dinner during the week has gone completely out the window. This is all a long-winded explanation for why the weekends have become cooking marathons. I make purées for the baby—she likes her butternut baked, her parsnips steamed, and her peas strained. I cook up a big pot of grains to portion out for lunches during the week. I roast a tray of cauliflower or broccoli, sauté kale, toast nuts. I make a double batch of soup, or stew, or spaghetti sauce (like this red curry, or these meatballs, or this mulligatawny, or these baked beans). We eat half for Sunday dinner; the other half gets stored in the fridge or freezer—and no more cooking takes place for the rest of the week.

onion slices

By now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, is this the most mundane blog post ever?” But wait, can I redeem myself with these lively quick pickled red onions? See, even though my cooking schedule doesn’t allow time for frivolities like homemade garnishes, I love their sparky crunch so much, and they’re so easy to make, I’ve been squeezing them in between the broccoli roasting and quinoa boiling.

The idea comes from Melissa Clark’s recipe for black bean casserole. The very word casserole evokes cozy, oozy deliciousness to me (weird, I know) and I became fixated on cooking this one the minute it appeared online. In fact, I was so enthusiastic that my dad also decided to make it and we spent a few days exchanging cooking notes. (Side note: I couldn’t find the dried pasilla chiles, so I substituted canned Hatch red enchilada sauce. My dad then sent me some chiles, but I haven’t made the recipe again.) Anyway, in a flurry of text messages, we both agreed that our favorite parts of the recipe were the lime cream (simply lime zest stirred into sour cream, or—if you’re a hypochondriac like me—Greek yogurt) and the pickled red onions, tangy, bright, and crunchy. We couldn’t stop emailing about the onions. We started to eat them on a sandwich here, a bowl of chili there. And then, without discussing it, we both ditched the rest of the recipe and started making just the onions.

quick pickled onions raw

Here’s what you do: cut a red onion in half lengthwise, and then cut half moon slices, as thin as you can make them. Toss with a dash of lime juice, a pinch of salt and one of sugar. Let the onions marinate at room temperature until their body and bite have been softened by the acid, and the pink color seeps magenta. Enjoy on everything. C’est tout.

These pickles keep for about a week in the fridge and I eat them mainly in a Japanese-esque donburi bowl with salmon, kale, and avocado that I’ll try to blog about soon. But their real beauty—besides the fact that you can whip them up in less than five minutes—is that they add a bright spark to almost anything. Turkey sandwiches. Hog dogs. Bagels and cream cheese. Tuna melts. Breaded chicken. I’d love to pair them with whitefish salad. The possibilities are endless. Now that you know how easy they are to make, I hope you’ll try them and let me know how you eat them, too.

quick pickled onions 2quick pickled onions and bagel 2

Quick pickled red onions
Adapted from Melissa Clark’s black bean and chorizo casserole

Half a red onion, sliced from root to tip (save the other half for next week’s pickles)
1 lime or lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cut the onion into half moon slices, as thin as possible. In a bowl, combine the onions with the juice of the lime (or lemon), salt, and sugar. Toss and marinate for at least one hour at room temperature.

Topics: New York City, Recettes | 13 Comments »

Financiers à la framboise

By Ann | April 15, 2014

financier à la framboise

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but La Grande Epicerie—Paris’s glossy mecca of gourmet food—used to be my neighborhood grocery store. Most people make special trips across town to visit—there’s a pungent, overflowing cheese counter, an aisle dedicated to salted butter, hard-to-find American ingredients like canned pumpkin or chocolate chips, and sublime, yet overpriced, fruit (I once watched, open-mouthed, as a woman spent €200 on a few boxes of strawberries—fraises des bois, yes, but still).

Me, I used to stop by La Grande Epicerie every afternoon to shop for dinner. I liked the wine selection—even the cheapest bottles were delicious—the butchers who knew me by sight, the thick yogurt from Brittany, the rôtisserie chickens that you could buy mi-cuit and finish off in your oven at home, the glass cases of delicious prepared food like salmon wrapped in puff pastry. On the right side of the store was the bakery, where I often picked up a dark, square loaf of Norwegian bread, or a baguette—not my favorite in the neighborhood, but still pretty darn good. Running the length of the section was a counter filled with treats: madeleines, wobbly slices of flan pâtissier, sugar-topped puffs of choux pastry called chouquettes, croissants of all stripes (plain, chocolate, almond, apple, raisin). Traditionally made by the boulanger, these plain sweets are considered everyday treats, the kind of thing you’d eat as an after-school snack. (In contrast, the dazzling, more expensive pâtisseries are saved for special occasions—at La Grande Epicerie they’re the first thing you see when you enter the store.)

raspberries

My favorite of La Grande Epicerie’s treats was—and still is—the raspberry financier, a buttery little almond cake studded with raspberries that add a jammy high note and bittersweet fragrance. I used to buy one and split it with my husband after dinner; we’d watch TV and munch through the cake’s chewy edges to its moist, tender center. That small ritual was one of my favorite parts of living in Paris near La Grande Epicerie.

finaciers raw

I miss Paris almost every day, but in the springtime I feel its absence more keenly than ever. And if the notes I receive from you lovely readers are any indication, you feel exactly the same way. It’s the little things, isn’t it? The way everyone in the market speculates about when the first gariguette strawberries will appear. The profusion of flowers in the Jardin du Luxembourg. The chocolate shops decked out for Easter—with chocolate fish and bells, of course—and clear sacks of oeufs pralinés. Don’t get me wrong—springtime in New York is also wonderful, with its free-flowing iced tea and cheap pedicures. But for sheer loveliness, nothing beats Paris.

financiers à la framboise

In an effort to combat my homesickness, I’ve been dipping into Patricia Wells’s Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, which just came out in a revised edition. I  love reading her take on my favorite food spots and also discovering lots of new places as well. The great thing about Patricia is that she knows about restaurants that are right under your nose, places you’ve passed a hundred times but never noticed, like Brasserie aux PTT, located right in my neighborhood at 54 Rue Cler. PTT “stands for Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones, the original national designation for the French postal service, formed in 1921,” she writes. The “vast” variety of oysters served here is “incomparable.” The book also covers cafés, markets, pastry shops, chocolatiers, fromagers, and more, offering her honest, unvarnished opinion. For example, about La Grande Epicerie, she writes: “This is the place to go to find the latest and best in nearly every food product you can imagine…” However: “the cheese selection is extensive, but offerings are generally not well aged… Produce can vary from best-ever to tasteless and wilted, depending on the season and time of day.” Yikes!

If you’re planning a trip to Paris, The Food Lover’s Guide is an invaluable resource. But as I paged through the book, I realized that even though I can’t go to Paris right now, I could use the book to bring Paris to me—via the recipes. Patricia has included a judicious selection, recreating dishes from high-end Paris restaurants (L’Astrance’s  smoky grilled bread soup), and expat comfort food (The Rose Bakery’s beloved carrot cake). But one recipe in particular caught this New York-Paris expat’s eye: financiers. I whipped them up on a Sunday morning and they turned out to be easier to make than I might have guessed, sweetly buttery, with satisfyingly chewy edges and a moist crumb. Patricia’s recipe is plain, but I added the raspberries for nostalgia’s sake.

Speaking of nostalgia, when I visited La Grande Epicerie on my last trip, I was surprised to find the store completely changed. After a two-year renovation, the entire store layout had been reorganized—the wine cave, for example, is now downstairs (and the prices are vastly inflated), the produce section mostly offers exotic (and very expensive) fruits and vegetables. The store no longer feels like a neighborhood shop, but more like a gourmet destination. At first I felt a pang, but upon reflection, I realized it was just another way to turn the page—an opportunity to embrace my new neighborhood. And anyway, the raspberry financiers are still on offer (I checked).

financier 1

Financiers à la framboise
Adapted from The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells

Financiers are baked in the shape of a tiny, little, rectangular loaf—they’re supposed to resemble a bar of gold, hence their name. Since I don’t have any financier molds, I used a muffin tin, which worked beautifully.

Makes 12 muffin-tin cakes

12 tablespoons (180 g) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups (140 g) almond meal
1 2/3 cups (225 g) confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup (70 g) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (185 g) egg whites (from 5-6 eggs)
24 raspberries

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius).

Using a pastry brush or the corner of a paper towel, brush the muffin tin with some of the melted butter.

In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, sugar, flour, and salt. Whisk in the egg whites a little at a time until throughly blended. Whisk in the butter.

Spoon a layer of batter into each muffin depression. Place two raspberries on each cake, and top with the remaining batter, dividing it evenly.

Place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake until the financiers are pale gold and beginning to firm up, about 7-9 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 degree Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) and bake 7-9 minutes more. Turn off the oven, leave the door closed, and allow the financiers to sit in the warm oven for 7 minutes.

Remove the financiers from the oven and let them cool in the mold for 10 minutes. Unmold on a wire rack and cool completely.

Topics: Paris, Recettes | 9 Comments »

Life on a Paris houseboat

By Ann | April 8, 2014

wheelhouse péniche controls
péniche owner Marie

You’re never far from the Seine in Paris. It snakes across the city creating a natural boundary between the right and left banks, carrying tourist boats and transport vessels in its swift-moving current. But what if, instead of strolling along the romantic but odiferous cobblestone quais (is it just me, or do they usually smell like a toilet?), or admiring the river from one of the many bridges that cross it, you actually lived on the Seine—in a houseboat? On my last trip to Paris, I met Marie, who told me all about living on a péniche with her family, a way of life that’s “very special and very Parisian,” she says.

Marie’s péniche—the “Justine”—dates to around 1890 and is still seaworthy (or, rather, river-worthy). Marie moved aboard twelve years ago, but her husband, Francis, has lived on the water for almost forty years. “He bought the boat in the 1970s when people were searching for other ways of life,” she says. Initially, it was a cargo vessel—he transported freight between France and Belgium—but he eventually used his training as an architect to transform the hold into his primary living space.

péniche salon

péniche cuisine

péniche péniche flowers

On the best part of péniche life:
“The space. It’s really wonderful. We have about 180 square meters indoors”— almost 2000 square feet—”which gives us a huge living space and four bedrooms below deck. Above, we have an enormous terrace, which is great—in the summer we’re out there all the time. We also have the advantage of living right in the middle of Paris.”

On houseboat logistics: 
Marie and her family pay a monthly fee to park at the Quai d’Austerlitz, but houseboats are anchored at many other quais in Paris. The rent, due to the Port de Paris, can be about €700/month and only covers stationnement—currently, however, there are no longer any free spaces in Paris. “Our running water, electricity, internet, and television come from hookups on the quai. We pay them separately, just like in an apartment,” says Marie. “Our mail is delivered to a postbox—there are seven of them grouped together on the quai. But it’s difficult to receive packages—they never find us!”

On relying on her neighbors:
Marie’s péniche is anchored at the Quai d’Austerlitz, where the boats float three abreast. The Justine has a center position, kind of like the filling in a houseboat sandwich. “We’re parked at the quai with seven other boats and it’s like a little village. We eat lunch and dinner together all the time—we’re obliged to be a community. We depend on one another to pass to the quai, and so much more,” she says. “There are advantages and disadvantages to each spot. The first boat is closest to the quai, but you often hear the footsteps of people passing overhead. The second boat is well protected, but there’s no view and the light is blocked by the two outer boats. The third boat is farthest from the quai and the most private—but it’s rocked by other boats on the river, especially the Batobus (sightseeing boats) that make their u-turns here.”

passerelle

On the passerelle:
Marie and her husband recently constructed a passerelle, or small bridge, which gives them the freedom to cross to the quai without walking on their neighbor’s roof. “In the summer, when the Seine is low, the descent to the boat is quite steep. In the winter, the river is high, and the passage is more level,” she says. Regardless of the season, Marie has strict safety rules for her two young sons. “There’s no running on the passerelle. No going upstairs to the terrace alone,” she says. “With kids, you have to be more vigilant.”

On life on the river:
“The boat is always rocking. The leaves of our plants are always in motion, trembling, when the boat moves,” says Marie. “We are constantly surveying the boat’s physical state, always checking to make sure it’s shipshape and watertight. During the winter, for example, on the coldest days, there’s a risk of our pipes freezing. We have to keep the kitchen tap slowly dripping so our pipes don’t burst. Luckily, my husband is very handy and he keeps an eye on everything,” she says. “He makes sure that every ten years, we dock the boat, clean it, and paint. Living on a houseboat means accepting that you’re part of a constantly changing situation.”

On traveling: 
“We used to go out every summer for at least three weeks. You can go all the way to Avignon on the river. It’s wonderful moving on the water—there’s light from both sides of the boat. And we have everything with us, we’re waking up in our own beds—except we are traveling. It’s like a caravan,” she says. “However, taking the boat out also means disconnecting the water and electricity lines—we’re connected to our neighbors, so it requires at least a day of preparation.”

péniche guest kitchen 2

péniche bedroom 2

On welcoming guests:
Marie and her husband created a guest suite out of the timonerie, or wheelhouse—the captain’s cabin, which was once the boat’s only living space—and they regularly host visitors through Air BnB. The space has an adorable kitchen and salon upstairs, with a bedroom and private bathroom underneath. “The people who come feel like they’re truly in the center of Paris,” says Marie.

On fielding odd questions:
“People are curious about life on the Seine. They ask me, does it smell funny? Is it damp?” (For the record, no and no.) “We have friends anchored near the Musée d’Orsay and they can’t eat on their terrace during the summer because of people staring at them. And one night around two or three in the morning, my husband and I heard voices directly above our bedroom. It turned out to be a couple of young men drinking beer on our terrace. They saw the boat, were curious, and decided to take a tour! Sometimes I forget how picturesque péniche life is.”

Merci, Marie! If you’d like to stay aboard the Justine (or see some lovely pictures of it) visit Marie’s Air BnB page. And just for fun, here are a few péniche photos I snapped last summer:

péniches au quai

péniche 1

péniche 2

Topics: Paris | 11 Comments »

Eating around the Eiffel Tower

By Ann | April 2, 2014

cafe chairs

My apartment in Paris is right next to the Eiffel Tower, which sounds fancy, but in reality the neighborhood is more crowded with young families than fashionistas. I first got to know the area when I was working at the American Library in Paris and even though someone recently described it to me as stuffy/ snobby/ boring/ touristy/ impersonal (er, thanks a lot), I’m fond of my quartier—its haughty Haussmannian façades belie a village atmosphere, with eccentric shops (among them a milliner, an embroiderer, and more framers than I can count), and neighbors who drop by with jars of chestnut honey. It’s especially familial on Sunday mornings, when the stores around the Rue Cler open for a few hours, and everyone makes a mad dash to buy food for the week.

Nonetheless, I do share my neighborhood with Paris’s biggest tourist attraction. And where there are tourists, there are tourist traps—restaurants serving sloppy, bad, or even reheated factory-frozen food. Whenever I see poor unsuspecting visitors heading into one of these places, I want to throw myself between them and the bowls of desultory French onion soup—which I’m sure would not win many favors with the café owners who are, after all, my neighbors.

les deux abeilles

But I’m happy to say that my neighbors also include folks who serve honest, fresh, thoughtful fare, like Anne and Valeria Arella, the mother-daughter pair who own Les Deux Abeilles. Though their charming tea salon is “so British!” (as the French might exclaim), decked out in flowered wallpaper and family furniture, the food is like something you’d eat at Mémé’s house—a light cuisine of composed salads, pureed soups, or savory tarts (the French would call it sain, or healthy). On my last visit, I ate an omelette filled with mint leaves and fresh goat cheese, a plump, soft, eggy roll. There are other choices, too—broccoli quiche that could have descended from a cloud, a courgette-layered flan with tomato sauce that’s a house invention, and a gently warmed lentil salad that combines the nutty pulse with a tangy vinaigrette, to name a few.

les deux abeilles chocolate cake

les deux abeilles lemon meringue

les deux abeilles tea

My husband always jokes that 99% of Les Deux Abeilles’ clientele is women—which is actually true. But I’m not sure why men don’t flock here, too. Is it because the food is too sain? Do men not care about their waistlines? If that’s the case, there are certainly temptations here, like my favorite chocolate-almond cake, moist and crumbly, almost like a dense pudding, or the tarte au citron meringué, topped in swooping clouds of sugared egg whites. Crumbles often feature fruit from the owners’ country garden and for those who truly are en regime, they make a batch of compôte everyday, stewing apples, pears, orange peel, cinnamon—and not a grain of sugar. Still, you’d never think of it as diet food.

cafe de mars

tourte aux epinards 2

A few blocks away, on a quiet side street, is Café de Mars, a casual, little neighborhood place with plain tables and Thonet chairs. The chef here is an American—one overlooked for her flashier compatriots—which is lucky for me, because I prefer her simple, heartfelt food and I like being able to slip into a table here at the last minute. The menu mixes lots of different influences—Asian, Italian, Middle Eastern—the plates are clean and bright, and the prices reasonable.

rouget

coffee

Like many Paris restos, the lunch menu here is scrawled across a chalkboard, and it’s a formule of two or three courses (€16 or €20 respectively—dinner is a similar format, but I’m not sure of the prices). You select from two to three entrées (first courses), the same number of plats (main course), and desserts.

I started with a tourte aux épinardsa disk of puff pastry topped with spinach, tarragon, and everyone’s favorite adornment, a runny poached egg. My main course was an expertly sautéed filet of rascasse—all crisped skin and moist flesh—accompanied by chard and pleurotte mushrooms. My friend had a tidy salad of bok choy and miso-marinated daikon, followed by braised pork cheeks. Pas d’dessert, we just finished with coffee.

One of the fun things about the Café de Mars, is that they post the week’s menu on their Facebook page—if I were going this week, for example, I’d order the watercress salad with beets and confit de canard, followed by the eggplant tian, and then balsamic ice cream with strawberries (yes, please!). They also post a lot of photos of the kitchen team; maybe it’s all a front, but they look like they’re having fun, which is the same feeling I get from the food. This isn’t one of those Parisian hotspot restaurants, and if you’re looking for an experimental, luxurious, life-changing dining experience, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re in the neighborhood anyway (visiting, say, a large, iron, lattice-work structure?) it’s a delightful spot for lunch.

le petit cler 2

Finally, the Rue Cler can be a veritable minefield of bad food, but Le Petit Cler is one place where the food is truly correct. Run by the same folks who own the restaurant where Obama ate in Paris, this is just a café serving regular old café cuisine—salads, sandwiches, omelettes, the odd steak frites, nothing out of the ordinary. And yet, the food is prepared with such care, it’s lifted into the memorable. On my last visit, I satisfied my perpetual craving for a croque madame, which, unlike its male counterpart, is topped with an oeuf miroir, or sunny-side-up egg. The cheese was toasted to golden perfection, the Poilâne bread chewy and crunchy, the egg runny enough to soak its crumb, and the accompanying dab of mustard sharp enough to sting my nose. Just a simple toasted ham-and-cheese-sandwich, and yet extraordinarily satisfying.

rosbif

Even my friend Meg, who has lived in Paris for decades and has the discriminating palate to prove it, was pleased with her tartine topped with rare roast beef and shavings of Parmesan. I can also recommend the tartine with tuna and ratatouille, and I always say this but next time I swear I’m going to try the one with raw ham and flash-broiled St-Marcellin cheese.

baba au rhum

It’s unusual for a café, but desserts here are exceptionally good—plain, yet classic and delicious. Meg and I shared a tender baba au rhum, which featured a cakey (not brioche) base and enough liquor to make a pirate happy. But I’ve also loved the crème brûlée, as well as the nonfat fromage frais with raspberries which–though it admittedly does not sound very tempting—is utterly marvelous, lightly sweet, and whipped into a cloud. I’m not sure what they do to it, but in a way I’m kind of glad I don’t know because then I would cook (and eat) nothing else.

And you know the best part about eating near the Eiffel Tower? When it’s time to go home, you run into views like this:

tour eiffel by night

Les Deux Abeilles (no website)
189 rue de l’Université
75007 Paris
tel: 01 45 55 64 04
Service nonstop, 09h00-19h00, closed Sunday
Reservations recommended

Café de Mars
11 rue Augereau
75007 Paris
tel: 01 45 50 10 90
12h00-14h30, 20h00-23h00, closed Sunday
Reservations recommended

Le Petit Cler
29 rue Cler
75007 Paris
tel: 01 45 50 17 50
Service nonstop, 08h00-21h00, open seven days

Topics: Dining Out and About, Paris, Where to eat in France | 18 Comments »

Tuesday dinner with My Kugelhopf

By Ann | March 25, 2014

salmon and roasted veg 2

Can we talk about fish? Fish intimidates me. My cooking history is riddled with fish mishaps. There was the time I cooked some salmon filets in a hot pan, resulting in a stove spattered with indelible drops of oil and a kitchen that reeked for days. There was the time I stashed a whole dorade at the bottom of the fridge, only to discover it a week later — from the smell. I could go on and on.

And so, when Kerrin Rousset of the blog My Kugelhopf sent me her favorite fast recipe for roasted salmon and winter vegetables, my palms started to sweat. Considering my fish phobia, could I do her dish justice? As it turned out, all I needed was a hot oven and a little confidence.

Kerrin lives in Switzerland, where she makes a living out of all things sweet: she offers tours of chocolate shops (and more) through her  company, Sweet Zürich.  She launched the Salon du Chocolat in Zürich, now in its third year. She writes about sweets on her popular blog, My Kugelhopf. And she lives with her very sweet family: her French husband and their young daughter. Today, I’m delighted to share Kerrin’s quick cooking tips, and a wholesome recipe that will help leave room for dessert.

Kerrin_Rousset 1

zurich 2

market2  market4-2

family2 2

Her favorite fast meal? Salad
My husband and I could literally have salad every night and it would be different each time. Mâche is our favorite lettuce and we’ll build from there: avocado, cherry tomatoes, white beans, corn, radishes… tuna, sardines, smoked turkey or leftover roasted veggies. We love adding fruit — depending on the season, that could be pears, persimmon, peaches, figs (fresh or dried), or just raisins to add sweetness. Sweet mustard, oil and fleur de sel are all i need to dress a salad, but I do love playing with different oils, too — especially walnut and argan.

On dressing up eggs:
I always have eggs in the fridge for a quick omelet (or matzoh brei). Any leftover vegetables in the fridge go right in for a filling frittata. I love adding chick peas and currants too.

On the beauty of a cooking in advance:
Making a big tray of roasted vegetables and/or a large portion of cooked grains early in the week makes lunches and dinners for the next few days so much easier and faster to prepare. Salad, soup, omelet — you’re already halfway done.

On her favorite pantry staples:
Chick peas. White beans. Sardines. Pasta. Mason jars filled with various seeds, grains and dried fruit. Countless jars of jam and honey, too. Not to mention my most important staples of all: dark chocolate and medjool dates.

roasted vegetables

salmon filet

salmon and roasted veg

Roasted salmon with root vegetables and chick peas
By Kerrin Rousset

“Tuesday is market day,” says Kerrin, “Usually by that afternoon I’ll have roasted a big tray of vegetables. Throwing a piece of fish on top, and serving with fresh bread makes for a fast, easy and healthy dinner. Something we do quite often during the week.”

*Note from Ann: Kerrin’s recipe is very flexible and you can use the vegetables in season at your market — I roasted a huge quantity of kabocha squash, parsnips, potatoes, broccoli and garlic. Her method for cooking salmon is foolproof, and I removed my filet from the oven a little early and let it finish cooking while resting. Also, I roasted the salmon over only a small portion of the veg, so the remainder wouldn’t get fishy. Finally, instead of sweet mustard, I smeared my filet with a little Sriracha — it’s the same idea, right?

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Roughly chop (peeled) butternut squash, sweet potato, carrots, parsnips and onion. Toss with a spoon or two of olive oil (depending how much veg you have) and lay out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with sea salt.  Roast for 20 minutes. Toss and continue roasting for 20 minutes. The vegetables should be soft and caramelized — if not, continue roasting. Mix in a can of drained chick peas. Spread a spoonful of sweet mustard on top of each salmon filet and sprinkle with a few pinches of sumac. Place filets on top of vegetables and put back in oven for 10 minutes. Turn off oven and watch salmon. Take out as soon as it starts to flake. When serving, top fish with a few drops of olive oil and fleur de sel. Bon appétit !

salmon 3

(All non-salmon photos from Kerrin Rousset.)

Topics: Free of gluten, Tuesday dinner | 13 Comments »

What are cheese mites?

By Ann | March 18, 2014

mimolette

I’ve been curious about cheese mites ever since I learned about them while visiting friends in St-Etienne. Before we dug into one of the many (many, many) local cheeses, my host tapped some powder off its surface into a small glass bowl, and handed me a magnifying glass. I saw a bunch of crumbs moving constantly, tiny specks that sometimes jumped. “Ce sont des cirons,” — cheese mites — he told me. “Small spiders that live in the cheese.” It was completely absorbing and also a little repulsive.

In the years since that trip, my fascination with cheese mites has only grown (especially after I discovered this 1903 British film of cheese mites tucking into Stilton, reportedly the first movie ever banned in the U.K., for fear it would hurt cheese sales). And so, on my last visit to Paris, I visited one of my favorite fromagers — Michel Fouchereau at La Fromagerie d’Auteuil — to find out more about these microscopic creatures — also called cirons, or artisons in French — what they do, and why they’re (sometimes) dangerous.

beurre aux truffes

Fouchereau is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman of France), and I met him a couple of years ago when I was working on this article. Even though my Paris home is nowhere near his fromagerie in the 16e, I make special trips there because everything he sells is exquisite, from the slabs of butter studded with black truffles to the cheeses that are sold at a precise moment of ripeness. “For a fromager, each cheese is like an animal,” he told me. “We raise it, age it, and sell it so it’s consumed at its peak.”

cheese mites dust

Cheese mites, Fouchereau explained, are microorganisms that exist everywhere — “even in a draft of air” — but they especially love the damp, cool atmosphere found in the cave d’affinage, or cheese-aging chamber. They flock to cooked, pressed cheeses like Comté, or Cantal, boring into the crust, moving steadily towards the softer center, leaving behind a floral, sweet flavor. If left to their own devices, the artisons will take over a cheese until it becomes inedible. Many hard cheeses are, in fact, treated to deter cirons — the rind of Parmesan, for example, is oiled; cheddar is traditionally wrapped in cloth.

old and new mimolette

There is one French cheese, however, that welcomes these microscopic creatures — uses them, even — as part of its aging process: Mimolette. Produced in Lille, near the Dutch Belgian border, it’s a hard, orange cheese (similar to Edam) with a thick crust riddled with holes. Mimolette starts out like any old pressed cheese, but at one or two months old, it’s taken to a special chamber and inoculated with artisons. They nibble relentlessly, burrowing into the crust, aerating the cheese, and dramatically reducing the mimolette’s bulk. The result is a dense, salty cheese, with earthy, sweet, almost caramel, undertones. Alas, for American cheese lovers, aged mimolette was recently banned by the FDA, who declared the excess of mites an allergen and health hazard.

cheese mites

One of the creepiest things about cirons is that they’re “like chameleons,” Foucheareau told me. “They take the color of whatever they’re eating.”  Mimolette cheese mites have an orange hue, for example, while those on Comté are dark brown.

cantal

Because fromagers keep a large assortment of cheeses in their cave — soft cheeses (like Roquefort, Camembert, or goat), as well as hard cheeses (Comté, Cantal, Beaufort) — they never allow the mites to linger and proliferate. In fact, they wage a constant battle against the artisons, cleaning the floors and shelves of the cave of their dust-like presence, continuously wiping, turning, and brushing the cheeses. “They never stop nibbling,” Fouchereau said. “We tolerate them, allow them to gather and do their work. And then, we eliminate them.”

*

Michel Fouchereau / La Fromagerie d’Auteuil
58 rue d’Auteuil
75016 Paris
tel: 01 45 25 07 10

Topics: Cheese, Paris, Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

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