Tracy made a wonderful traditional US style Christmas dinner for us with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, but with the French touches of Muscat de Noël wine and a Bûche de Noël cake. New Years Eve 2015-2016 dinner was then up to me to make a proper French Réveillon dinner . . . or at least as proper of a Réveillon dinner as this US Expat can figure out, shop, cook, and serve.
Réveillon is the traditional dinner that people in French-speaking countries celebrate the night before Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some of the traditional foods vary by region but can include turkey with chestnut stuffing, caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, oysters, foie gras, lobster, and coquille Saint Jacques (scallops). (More descriptions of Réveillon dishes with “food porn” photos at “The Local-France” Ten dishes that make up a French Christmas feast. )
For our New Year’s Eve Réveillon dinner I prepared:
Roasted Magret de Canard (oven roasted duck breast.)
Grilled Boudin Blanc de porc with truffles. (White pork sausage with black truffles.) Boudin Blanc in France are made with milk while the Boudin Blanc made in Cajun Louisiana is made with pork and rice stuffing.
Pan-fried Foie Gras (Duck Liver.) (I have previously learned the trick to remove the battery from the smoke alarm when cooking Foie Gras. The high heat pan and high fat content of the Foie Gras can trigger the smoke detector.)
Quiche Lorraine with bacon, cheese and scallops in place of Coquille Saint Jacques for our seafood course. (A purchased quiche since I didn’t think I would have enough time to cook everything.
A canapés and cheese plate including Catalan Sausage, duck breast, Foie Gras, Chevre (goat cheese), Brie, Fourme d’Ambert (raw cow’s milk blue cheese), with Rondelé de Président Ail de Garonne & Fines Herbes (creamed cheese spread) and small toasts. Several of these cheeses are contraband and cannot be imported into the US.
For dessert a Bûche de Noël au chocolat (chocolate cream “Yule Log” cake with layers of crystallized sugar filling) purchased from our nearby pâtissier.
And, of course, Champagne. (What’s the point of living in France without toasting the New Year with real French champagne?)
Our canine children, Sami and Lou, enjoyed a bite of duck with their dinners too. Sami especially loves Canard!
A couple of weeks ago we were walking home from the market at around 1 pm and by the time we got to the restaurant section of the Central Plage area, we decided to stop and get something cold to drink. It was hot, in the high 80s.
Argeles-sur-Mer has a LOT of restaurants near Central Plage, however only the Italian restaurant Salzado is open in the off-season. New restaurants open each season and while many re-open each year, there are just as many that close their doors permanently. So if there is one that has an interesting menu, we need to try it right away because by next summer it may no longer be there!
After taking a look through the menu, we decided we needed to try one of the burgers at New York New York Cafe.
I ordered the Chicken Bacon BBQ Burger, Alan ordered the Blue Cheese Burger. When they arrived, we split them so we could sample both. The fries were hand-cut, fresh and absolutely delicious. So were the burgers. So good in fact that I even went to TripAdvisor and left a review, something I rarely do.
While we ordered from the standard burger menu, true carnivores would have enjoyed their “Monster Burger.” A full kilo (that’s 2.2 pounds in the U.S.) of hamburger patties, plus cheese and bacon and veggies and sauces, plus fries. With a 30 Euro price tag it isn’t just your average burger! Seriously, it is large enough to feed a family of six!
We have been back only once, but we tend to eat at home most of the time. However, before the end of the season I’m sure we’ll be back at least once more. Maybe we’ll try something from the Hot Dog menu next time, or not, for some reason having a burger always reminds me of home. An expat comfort food!
Yesterday, April 2, 2015, we celebrated our move to Argeles-sur-Mer and two years in France with a lovely lunch at a local restaurant near our new place.
Le Papayo is one of the few restaurants open year-round in this beautiful sea-side resort town and made for an excellent place to sit on the terrace and enjoy our celebratory lunch.
The food was excellent and the owner spoke English, which is a rarity to be sure! We started off with a demi-litre of chilled rose, a speciality we’ve noticed in this part of France, one we enjoyed often in Carcassonne at our favorite restaurant, La Casa.
Alan and I both ordered the Duo de Quiche entree (or appetizer), which was a light salad with small wedges of quiche, one was leek and artichoke the other bacon and cheese. We enjoyed both immensely, especially considering that 90% of the time we eat vegetarian or vegan these days!
For the main plat (or entree in the US) Alan had the Viande plat, two meats — chicken and lamb — and two sausages over a bed of frites. I had the Escallope et Milanese, a thin chicken breast over a bed of spiral pasta with a light marinara sauce.
For dessert we both had the Dame Blanche, a real treat since we rarely eat anything with sugar anymore. This was by far the biggest indulgence and so very tasty. The Dame Blanch is three scoops of hand-made gelato-style almond ice cream with a dark fudge sauce, topped with freshly made whipped cream.
Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I never eat whipped cream, but I had no problem enjoying this dessert!
Afterwards we took a stroll along the promenade and then out onto the beach to sit in the sand and enjoy the view.
We celebrated the end of our Meatless May experiment with cheeseburgers and fries! But in all honesty, it wasn’t totally meatless either, we also had a mid-month secret shawarma night.
I have to say that I did not miss meat all that much. We normally have a few meatless meals during any given week anyway, so it wasn’t a huge drastic change. And, with just a few adaptations — most of which involved substituting mushrooms for meat — my standard “go-to” recipes didn’t change.
I did have the chance to create a few new dishes from scratch that turned out to be rather good.
The first was a homemade falafel. I had an idea of the basic ingredient list and just winged it. That happens a lot in my kitchen, ingredients get tossed together in amounts that “look good” and we basically go from there. This time I lucked out and came up with something very yummy. I don’t have a food processor but found that the pestle from my countertop mortar/pestle set and the colander with the narrow slits worked great for mashing chickpeas. So I used about 5 oz of chickpeas (half a can rinsed in the colander before I mashed them), a handful of homemade breadcrumbs that are pre-seasoned (garlic salt, parsley and grated parmesan cheese), about 1/2 a handful of diced hot green chili peppers and an egg. When it’s all squished together and shaped into small patties (roughly the size of a dollar coin) and quickly pan-fried (about a minute on each side) make a very tasty falafel-ish patty. Then I warmed tortillas, added a bed of chopped lettuce, topped that with four falafel patties and then drizzled on a spicy mayo (a tablespoon of mayo and a teaspoon of that red rooster hot chili sauce). Turned out pretty yummy.
The second recipe that came out was actually a salad dressing, an orange-ginger-sesame tasting one. I used about 1/2 cup of brown sugar (here in France it’s crystalized like white sugar, but tastes very similar to the brown cane sugar in the US), the juice from 1/2 an orange, a tsp of grated ginger, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a tablespoon of sweet Thai chili sauce and boiled it all together until the sugar was melted and it because syrupy. Then as it cooled I added about 3 Tbsp of toasted sesame seeds. Worked great as a salad dressing, but I can’t wait to try it as a marinade for shrimp!
I also came up with a strawberry balsamic dressing that turned out pretty good. I used 2 tsp balsamic vinegar with 2 tablespoons-ish of strawberry jam, threw in a clove of chopped garlic and roughly 1/2 cup of olive oil put everything in a jar and shook it to mix. Turned out pretty good as well.
I think my favorite dish was the peanut butter sauce for pasta. It was so simple to make and tasted so good that we had it quite a few times while I perfected the flavor a bit. I used about 1/2 cup of peanut butter, 1/3 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup sweet Thai chili sauce, 1 Tbsp of that red rooster hot chili sauce and a ladle full of the pasta water when the pasta was done cooking. I tossed the cooked spaghetti with the peanut sauce and added in some sauteed mushrooms, raw green hot chili pepper that I diced super fine and some raw carrots that were julienned. Turned out to be a new family favorite. Even the dog likes this sauce.
So basically, we didn’t starve or eat just salads for a month. Early in the month I messed up and didn’t balance proteins at a couple of meals. I got pretty shaky and was kinda wobbly. But once I started adding nuts or beans to nearly every dish that problem was self-correcting.
Overall I felt better than I had for the first few months of the year. I really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with new things to make. We got rather adventurous with the vendors at the Saturday market and picked up things we had never seen before to try in different meals. Some were okay, some were disgusting, a few were things we’d heard of but had never cooked with before and have become new favorites, like the bettes which I think is a type of chard. It tastes like kale but is even easier to cook and tastes good raw as well. The spinach from Spain is a current favorite. It’s so good I just love it in everything — even tried it in falafel the other night, turned out pretty good!
Alan dropped even more weight, I think I actually gained weight — go figure! Probably the most interesting side effect was the fact that I lost all cravings for my carb-y snacks was able to leave the soda behind as well.
We talked about it one night and the thing I missed most was my grilled goat cheese and tuna sandwiches. Alan really missed the duck pizza from the pizza kiosk guy around the corner — that guy makes wickedly delicious pizza. Alan prefers the duck, I like the smoked salmon and goat cheese.
I doubt either of us would switch to a completely vegetarian diet, but I think both of us can cut back on the animal proteins and not feel deprived. This year is dedicated to healthy changes and I think that switching to a primarily vegetarian or pescetarian diet would definitely be a healthy change.
We decided to adopt a vegetarian menu for a month. Meatless May, we’ve been calling it. Not because we’ve taken up the cause, but because we both want to continue making healthier choices for ourselves. So far it’s been great. We’re getting more creative in the kitchen, which is always fun. Creating lots of new recipes, some of which have already made it into the recipe file that Tracy started recently. Some still need a little work.
This comes at a good time for us. We realized over the winter that some of our “go to” recipes were not the healthiest choices available. In large part due to having most of our favorite meals based on things that are readily available year-round in the States. Here in France foods only show up at the market if they are 1) in season and 2) still available. So, with spring fruits and vegetables being amongst our favorites and aplenty in the market the timing is good to get on the right path, dietetically speaking.
We took in a major haul at the Saturday Market earlier today (above photo): 5 medium potatoes, 5 tomatoes on the vine, 1 red onion, 3 lemons, 2 limes, 3 oranges, 4 cantaloupe, 2 bananas, 3 avocado, 1 head of romaine lettuce. With just a few additional items from the grocery store (flour, eggs, goat cheese, butter). These groceries will be added to the Swiss chard and butter lettuce we picked up at last Thursday’s market. This constitutes a weeks’ worth of groceries during our Meatless May experiment!
Our latest haul joins last weeks’ leftovers of 4 yellow onions, 5 green chili peppers, 4 carrots, 2 bulbs of garlic, 1 red chili pepper, and 1 pear. We also keep chickpeas, black and brown lentils, spaghetti, rice, tomato sauce, peanut butter, coconut milk, nuts (cashew, pecan, almond – whatever is available), sugar, coffee and tea on hand as staples year round. Last week we also picked up chocolate chips, the mini ones. Baguettes are purchased as needed every few days.
Tracy started making pita bread, getting very excited when they actually puff! It takes very little time, but are so yummy fresh out of the oven. The ones that don’t puff get called Naan and used for garlic bread or called Torillas and get used for her mashed lentil/potato tacos.
We plan to add black beans this week, and maybe another one if something catches our eye at the store. It will be interesting to see what we can whip up in the kitchen.
The added benefit we hadn’t realized at first was that all of the above items cost less than 25 Euro (roughly $34.50), not including the staples we keep. We used to spend more than this on one dinner dining out in Reno.
We’ll post an end of the month review on Meatless May sometime in early June!
The 2014 Michelin Guide was just been released and that is big news in France. (Michelin Guide to Restaurants.) National and local newspapers have been publishing articles about the restaurants that have earned or lost stars, the process of Michelin’s restaurant inspectors, the inspectors’ unpublished criteria, the growing number of women chefs on the list, and the state of fine dining in the world. (Food Buzz: Michelin Guide France 2014.)
It has been said that France anticipates the annual gastronomic “red guide” with its ratings the way the US looks forward to the Academy Awards. World renowned French chef Paul Bocuse, who has been honored by the Culinary Institute of America as Chef of the Century, once said, “Michelin is the only guide that counts.” French Chef Bernard Loiseau in 2003 committed suicide in part because of rumors that his restaurant was to be demoted from three-stars to two.
France now has 27 three-stars restaurants (one new addition this year), 79 two-stars restaurants (six new additions), and with the addition of 57 new restaurants for 2014 there are 504 one-star restaurants. (A Complete List: France’s New Michelin Star Diners.) For comparison, there are 10 three-stars restaurants in the US: 7 in New York, 2, in San Francisco, and 1 in Chicago. There are another approximately 230 two and one-starred rated restaurants also in the US. (The Michelin Guide: Making Top Chefs Reach For The Stars.) Japan actually has more three-stars restaurants than France with 28, a matter causing indignation with the Michelin Guide for many French.
The “star” ratings means:
* * * Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey.
* * Two stars denote excellent cuisine, skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality. Worth a detour.
* One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard. A good place to stop on your journey.
I was grocery shopping at the local supermarché and was surprised to see a display of the red-covered Michelin Guides. Apparently the Michelin Guide isn’t a specialty text for “foodies” and gourmands but a required best-selling reference for everyday people in France.
Our local Michelin “starred” restaurants near Carcassonne are:
Parc, Two-stars, Chef Franck Putelet, 80 Chemin des Anglais, at the base of hill below the medieval le Cité de Carcassonne.
La Barbacane, One-star, Chef Jérôme Ryon, located in Hôtel de la Cité within the walls of the medieval citadel of le Cité de Carcassonne.
Le Domiane d”Auriac, One-star, Chef Philippe Deschamps, Route de Saint-Hilaire, at the edge of Carcassonne.
La Bergerie Aragon, One-star, Chef Fabien Galibert, 12 kilometers North of Carcassonne in the village of Aragon.
Le Puits du Trésor, One-star, Chef Jean-Marc Boyer, 12 kilometer north of Carcassonne in the village of Lastours. Above the village are of the few original Cathar castles left.
L’Ambrosia, One-star, Chef Daniel Minet, 8.5 kilometer north-west of Carcassonne.
So which Michelin rated restaurants have Tracy and I experienced in France? At this point none, although we are considering several for special occasions like our anniversary.
While lunches at many of these elite establishments are not outrageously expensive, dinners can have a substantial cost. La Barbacane’s lunch with wine and coffee is now priced at €36 each, about $100 total with today’s exchange rate. La Barbacane’s current seasonal dinner – Gnocchi Parisienne Gaude Mornay in Beaufort with cream and truffle stew Magnatum Pico; Black winter truffle salad, bread and truffle chicken jus; Scallops Jacques Breton with Mélanosporum truffle, potato Pays de Sault and cream leeks sauce “carbonara;” Veal shank confit and stuffed milk Orloff nuts, smoked ham and Comté old heart endive with truffle; Truffled cheese trolley; Pure Caribbean chocolate mousse and black truffles and light nuts nougat cream, and milk foam arlette – is €140 each, about $400 for the two of us. I’m not certain if beverages are included. Perhaps it’s like the old saying, “If you have to ask you can’t afford it.” A Michelin rated restaurant dinner is, for this retired couple on a fixed income, certainly a planned and carefully budgeted extravagance. In the mean time, we can admire culinary excellence from afar like admiring the latest model sports cars.
Good thing we love the take-out shawarma at the nearby Moroccan kebab restaurant while watching Anthony Bourdain and trying in the many small “holes-in-the-wall” cafes, brasseries, and bistros in Carcassonne.
While walking Sami the MinPin around the Bastide Saint Louis in Carcassonne during the holiday season, Sami insisted several times that I stop and enjoy a Affligem de Noël Christmas beer. I was very appreciative of her encouragement.
Affligem is not actually a French brand, it’s Belgian from the Op-Ale Brewery in the Flemish village of Opwijk and made under license for the 11th century Benedictine Abbey (monastery) in Affligem. But Affligem de Noël was the most commonly seen seasonal Christmas beer in Carcassonne with signs advertising its availability in many café and bar windows. http://www.affligembeer.be/
While I was expecting a noticeably spiced Christmas beer (like the Red Nose Holiday Wassail Beer, a favorite of mine at Great Basin Brewery in Reno, Nevada), the Affligem de Noël had a very subtle taste of spices, fruits, and honey. This draft beer has a translucent, auburn color and a great aroma. The Affligem de Noël was refreshing and surprisingly would also make a good summer beer. Like most Christmas beers, this one had a slightly higher percentage of alcohol at 6.2% ABV.
If I understand the tradition correctly, there is a different Affligem de Noël beer brewed for the Christmas season every year. So after my positive experience with the 2013 beer, I am now looking forward to Affligem de Noël 2014.
So what about French pastries? Are they really as good as their reputation? The answer is: Absolutely!
Going to a real pâtisserie is an amazing experience. One of the modern laments in France in that neighborhood bakeries are getting fewer and fewer because of the growing number of supermarkets and that many bakeries attempt to be both a pâtisserie (pastry bakery) and boulangerie (bread bakery.) It is a commonly held belief that a pâtissier (pastry chef)and a boulanger (baker),while both well-respected as professionals, have totally different skill sets. Purists argue a good boulanger cannot also be a good pâtissier. Visiting dedicated pâtisseries and trying their pastries have made me a believer of that assertion.
I thought I would discuss the classic French pastry, the éclair, first. An éclair is made with pâte à choux, a light pastry dough. The reason a pâtisserie’s expertise is required is that éclairs are baked without using any rising agent. The pâtisserie uses only the moisture in the pâte à choux dough to create steam that “puffs” the pastry.
I visited my neighborhood pâtisserie saw and smelled some incredible treats on display. The window had large empty spaces from early rising shoppers.
I purchased two éclairs and the pâtisserie proceeded to carefully box and wrap the pastries, in Tracy’s words, “like a Christmas gift from Nordstroms.”
So how do they taste? Incredibly good! The éclair’s exterior is tan and crisp with layers of soft pastry inside. The filling is actually custard, rich and thick, not whipped cream or pudding. Chocolate and coffee iced éclairs arethe most common with matching chocolate and coffee custard filling inside. The richness of the pastry and custard make a single éclair a complete treat. Melt in your mouth delicious.
Suze is a bitter wine based aperitif made from distilling the roots of the gentian plant and sold by the Pernod-Ricard Liqueur Company. Suze is the fifth most popular aperitif in France. Apparently this 15% ABV liqueur has recently also become available for purchase in the United States.
Suze was created by Fernand Moureaux in Paris in 1885, but not marketed until 1889. Suze is known for its slender amber bottle, designed in 1896 by Henri Porte. A Suze bottle is the subject of Picasso’s 1912 cubist image “Verre et bouteille de Suze” (Glass and Bottle of Suze) that is currently on displayed at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum located on the campus at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. http://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/collection/explore/artwork/1105
According to Pernod-Richard, who owns the brand, “The origin of the name “Suze” is disputed. According to the first theory, it was named after Fernand Moureaux’s sister-in-law, whose name was Suzanne and who loved the aperitif. Second theory: the drink was named after a little river in Switzerland, one of the first countries to adopt the drink.”
With the history behind Suze, I was looking forward to trying it. In Carcassonne, I was served Suze as two ounces of the chartreuse colored liqueur over ice.
What do I think? Once was enough. It has a very distinct bitter taste that was unpleasant for me. While not actually tasting “burnt,” it’s the word that first came into my mind. I really cannot think of ever wanting another. I don’t dislike strong liquors or liqueurs straight, in fact I prefer my Scotch and other whiskeys “neat,” but there was nothing redeeming in the taste of Suze for me.
At the Suze website, www.suze.com, there are some Suze based cocktails that might mitigate the taste. But I believe if you have to hide the taste of a liqueur you have to ask yourself, “Why am I drinking this?”