August 2006 archives

Italian Herb Rub Recipe

In spite of the appearance of these herbs, I assure you they’re perfectly legit.
No, I didn’t open up my Pink Floyd double-album to remove any seeds. And no, I wasn’t listening to The Moody Blues at full-volume on my headphones hoping my mom wouldn’t smell anything funny (even though we rolled up a towel and pushed it against the bottom of the door.) And no, I no longer have my strobe light from many years ago when we’d be, um, getting-groovy down in my parents basement, laughing uncontrollably about something that any sane person would have found completely meaningless…as we did, the next day. But they sounded like good ideas at the time. Right?

So now that I’m a law-abiding adult, I get my rush cooking, and this is my stash. My friend Judy showed me how to make this easy herb mixture and now I make it every summer, making sure I’ll have enough to last me through the next twelve months.

It’s simply a mixture of fresh rosemary and sage, all chopped up with garlic and coarse salt. Since we’re just about at the end of fresh garlic season, I made sure to snag a few of the tender, violet-colored bulbs at the market, bringing them up to my nose to ensure they’re aromatic and pungent. Green garlic’s also very easy to peel; the fleshy skin merely slips right off, so you’ll have plenty of time to raid the pantry, on the rampage for anything sweet, just in case you get the munchies.

To make this herb mixture, take a very large bunch of fresh sage and pick the leaves off. Then take a large bunch of rosemary and strip off the oily leaves as well. A good proportion is about 2 to 3 parts sage leaves to 1 part rosemary. Then take about 8 small peeled garlic cloves and a heaping tablespoons of coarse salt (I use grey salt from Brittany) then chop it all up until the herbs are very fine, as shown. Discard any sticks or seeds.

Then spread the chopped mixture on a baking sheet and let it dry for about three days. (Hint: Don’t keep it near an open window where their might be a breeze. It would be a total bummer if you wasted your stash.) Once dry, store your herb in a tighly-sealed in a jar. Dude.

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I use it as an instant rub over poultry, tuna filets, and meat; since I always have some on hand, it’s simple to mix with some good olive oil and rub in in well before roasting.
Judy likes to toss a small fistful in a bowl of olive oil as a dipping sauce, too.
I tasted it once, and found it totally awesome. Although for some reason, we found it hysterically funny.

Reines-Claudes Plums

The first of the Reines-Claudes plums are at the market.

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These tiny, super-sweet little green plums are 18% sugar, one of the highest percentages of all fruits. The true French reines-claudes plums are grown in Moissac, near Toulouse, and are available for just a short time during August.

Get ‘em while you can…

Lamb Tagine Recipe

One of the first lessons I learned on my way to becoming une vrai Parisian was to never, ever be on time. I should backtrack and say: One should never to be on time when invited for dinner party. The hosts, who called with my first invitation to a soirée about a week after I arrived in Paris, said “Come at 8pm…But you know, in Paris, that means to come at 8:30pm.”

Subsequently when I have guests for dinner, I expect them to be around 20 minutes late, although there’s much debate on how late you’re actually supposed to be. But if you’re on time, or early, you might acidentially catch your hosts either in their little DIM skivvies.

Or less-appetizingly, stashing away the Picard boxes.

It’s a tricky balance when you inviting folks for dinner, trying to make sure what dinner’s gonna be hot and well-cooked without having to spend the last 30 minutes trapped in the kitchen while your guests drink up all the rosé. And it’s now become fashionable to be even more late, as if to show that you have oh-just-so-much on your agenda, which has made being tardy something of a status symbol. But if your friends show up one hour late, and you’ve made something like Pork Roast, which can dry out in a minute, you’re screwed. Then you’ll only be thankful for them not arriving early and catching you in your petit slip français.

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In Paris, with so many Arabic butchers around, it’s easy to find cuts of meat that lend themselves to slow-braising and making North African stews like Tagines. Being a pastry chef since the beginning of time, I was always a little terrified of meat, never quite knowing how to handle it. But I bravely started going into the butcher shops, inspecting the enormous slabs of meat trying to look as if I knew something about them, then I’d make my pick. Conveying how to cut it for me is another story, but most of the time, chopping my hands through the air like Helen Keller doing karate seems to get the point across. My Arabic is terrible, so most of the time, I end up brining home a lamb shoulder, since it’s inexpensive, not terribly fatty, and most importantly…easy to point to since they keep them right in front of the butcher cases.
(Ok, lamb shoulder’s also hard to ruin.)

For some reason, leaner cuts of meat usually tastes better in restaurants than when I make them at home. I don’t know why. But stewing cuts of meat, like lamb shoulder, I find I can make taste equally as good, or better, than anything I get when I go out. I’ve been making Tagines for the past few years with great success and once you start with a solid master recipe, like the one below, you can vary it for different kinds of meat or poulty, and you can make them as spicy or aromatic as you want by adjusting the spices. And since most benefit from long, leisurely braise in the oven, they’re perfect when you’re entertaining guests who arrive at various times, leaving you free to assist in the all-important task of making sure you guests have plenty of cool rosé in their glasses. But don’t neglect yours either.

Lamb Tagine
About 6 servings

You can substitute chicken for the lamb. Cut it into 8 pieces and reduce the oven time to about 1 to 1½ hours. I also like to add a handful, say about 1/2 cup (75g) toasted, blanched almonds to the stew during the final 30 minutes of braising, or some green olives. Another option is to add prunes or dried California apricots, which add a sublime sweetness. I used to add strips of salty preserved lemons, but I’d always wake up in the middle of the night ravenously thirsty and have to chug a few liters of water, so now I don’t anymore.

Often Tagines are served with big hunks of softly-baked bread sprinkled with anise seeds, I prepare cracked wheat or bulgur to serve underneat with a bit of chopped parsley added at the end. I’ve find it preferable to bread of couscous since it’s a whole grain and the fabulously nutty and crunchy grains are really a delightful chew.
And so friends can customize their Tagine, I pass little dishes of plumped yellow raisins, homemade sweet shallot marmalade, and toasted chick peas (pois chiche brun) which I find in the Indian markets near La Chapelle, places I often spend hours poking around in.

  • 1 lamb shoulder, cut into 6 pieces (have the butcher do it)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1½ cups (375 ml) chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 teaspoons dried ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse salt, plus more if necessary
  • 1 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro (coriandre), rinsed and tied with a string
  • 20 threads of saffron
  • juice of ½ lemon

Up to three days before you plan to make the Tagine, massage the lamb shoulder with the salt and let it sit in the refrigerator before you cook it.

To make the Tagine, in a heavy-duty Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of oil and sear the lamb pieces very well, turning them only after they’re nicely dark, browned, and crusty (this helps add flavor to the Tagine.) As you cook them, don’t crowd ‘em in. If your Dutch oven isn’t big enough to cook them all in a single layer at once, brown the lamb pieces in batches.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Once the lamb is browned, add the onions and some of the stock, then scrape the bottom of the pan with a flat wooden spatula to release the flavorful browned bits. Add the remaining stock, then the spices, the bunch of cilantro, and the saffron.

Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning the lamb over in the liquid a few times during the oven-braising. The liquid should just be steaming-hot and simmering gently. If it’s boiling, turn down the heat (some Dutch ovens conduct heat differently.) When the meat starts to fall apart easily, that’s when it’s ready. It’s hard to overcook lamb shoulder, so even an extra hour or so in the oven won’t hurt it.

Remove the lid and let the Tagine remain in the oven for another 30 minutes, so the juices reduce, becoming rich and savory.

To serve, remove the cilantro and discard. Squeeze some lemon juice into the liquid and add more salt if you think it needs it. Serve mounds of cracked wheat underneath the Tagine, with lots of the juices poured over. At the table, make sure you have a tube of harissa handy, the fire-y Moroccan hot sauce, for those of us who like spicy food, as I do.

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For dessert, I recommend something fruity and refreshing, like a scoop of Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt, from my book The Perfect Scoop.

I like it served with a fruity coulis made from red raspberries and cassis (black currants), mixed with sautéed cherries, made from the last cherries of the season, which I’m going to miss terribly.

Cell Phones in France: Staying In Touch On Your Trip To Paris

Paris Sunset

(Note: Some of this information was updated in October 2013. Plans and policies are all subject to change and revision by the various providers. Some updates are at the end of the post.)

If you’re traveling to, and within France, many folks like to stay in touch with home, or want to be able to make and receive phone calls and get messages. So why not pick up a pay-as-you-go phone?

You purchase the phone (most start at 20€) then buy minutes in increments from 5€ to 100€ at any phone store, which are good anywhere from a few weeks to several months, although they do expire at a certain point.

The three principle phone companies in France that offer pay-as-you-go mobile service are:

-SFR

-Bouyges

-Orange

You’ll need to show your passport when buying your phone and signing up for service. When you buy your phone, there are certain phones that are compatible with pay-as-you-go services, while others aren’t, so you’ll need to let them know what kind of service you want.

If you’re French isn’t very good, many of the young people that work in the various mobile phone boutiques in Paris are often interested in practicing their English (yes, really…) and if you get a good one, they can be really helpful. My success rate is about 50/50. And unless you like lines, avoid going first thing in the morning or during lunch hour(s). The other companies mentioned offer similar pay-as-you-go as well at the same price but Orange and SFR have the most locations around France.

Once you buy the phone, you’ll need to buy and load in minutes. You can do this at any phone store and most Tabacs, as well as at some guichet automatiques, or ATM machines. With Orange, for example, you’ll get a receipt with a 16-digit number which you enter into the phone.

You get three tries, so don’t mess up!
If you do, quelle dommage…you lose the minutes.


    Advantages

  • You get your own phone number (all mobile numbers in France begin with 06) that you can hang on to as long as you want. If your minutes expire and you don’t recharge after a certain period of time, you lose your number and will get reassigned another the next time you visit.

  • You can receive incoming calls from anywhere in the world, free. (In France, you only pay for outgoing mobile phone calls.) You can make calls internationally at the same rate that Mobicarte calls cost.

  • All calls within France are included at the same price.

  • You can buy as much, or as little time, as you wish. If you’re here for 2 weeks, you can just buy 45 minutes worth of calling time. If you need more, just stop in any Tabac of phone store and buy more in a few minutes.

  • Since none of the public phone booths take coins anymore, you don’t need to make a special trip to the Tabac to buy a phone card to use one.

  • You can use the phone over and over, on every trip during your lifetime. In other countries, you can buy a SIM card to transfer the phone service to their system.

  • You can have the phone set in English, so the on-screen instructions are in easier to understand.

    Disadvantages

  • French cell phones can be notoriously quirky. I’ve had several different phones, and many times my phone doesn’t ring if someone calls. More often, there’s no notification that I have a new message, so I have to call and check my voicemail every so often.

  • For Americans who are used to very low-priced cell phone calling, the price here is more expensive, so you may not want have a long, leisurely phone conversation. But remember, you only pay if you initiated the call.

  • France uses 220V, so you’ll need to recharge your phone in France, not in the United States. I recommend fully-charging it before you leave, so you can use it when you step off the plane on your next visit, if you need to.

  • The mobile phones are overly complicated. You have to scroll through a gazillion menus to get to what you want and press a lot more buttons too. And your phone number isn’t displayed, so you need to write it down elsewhere. (When I asked why, I was told it was “For security.” When I asked what kind of security that provided, they simply shrugged.)

  • The functions are not always explained with on-screen commands, so it can be frustrating to figure out how to do simple tasks like how to change your outgoing message or delete messages, which took me 2 years of asking at the different Orange boutiques to figure out…which no one seemed to know, oddly enough.

Updates

Competition has come to the French mobile phone industry and Virgin Mobile, as well as others, are entering the fray. The prices are similar but worth checking out.

A company called Call In Europe offers SIM cards and inexpensive calling plans, which you can arrange in the United States prior to your trip. Another service is Cellular Abroad, which rents phone for international use and sells various phones with international coverage and SIM cards.

If you have a laptop, Skype works very well and is inexpensive. All you need is an internet connection and a microphone or a laptop with a microphone embedded in it. Skype is also available for iPhones and you can use it wherever there is a WiFi or internet access.

BIC and Orange France have introduced a simple cell phone that’s sold pre-loaded with 60 minutes worth of talk time, for about €30. You’ll get your own number immediately and the phone can be recharged. The phones can be purchased at most Orange boutiques, in train stations and certain tabacs. These are quite easy to use and a good solution, especially since the phone can be reloaded with minutes, as you wish.

For those interested in knowing about their iPhones, check out the article: Using an American iPhone in Europe Without Going Broke, which has options and suggestions for saving money and which phone settings work best to avoid charges.

A company called My Travel Mate offers smartphones to rent on a daily basis with data packs and internet access. Rates start at 5€/day. Other companies that offer phone rentals, some with internet access. (Check fees, which can vary.)

You can rent a WiFi hotspot. I’ve not personally used one, but a few to check out are Bienvenue Telecom, Travel Wifi,

La Poste, the French post office now sells, in addition to calling cards, mobile phones and pay-as-you-go cards and plans. However if you don’t speak French, you might want to bring someone along who does.

How to find and use Wi-Fi in Paris will help those looking to get connected to the internet in Paris.

Seaweed Sandwiches

My first experience with eating seaweed was when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barnett, brought in a big bag of gnarled dried Japanese seaweed, presumably to familiarize us with foods from other cultures. Few of us kids growing up in sheltered New England would touch the stuff, although I took a little taste, but didn’t share her enthusiasm for the sea-scented tangle of salty greens.

So she ate the whole bag herself.

Later that day, Mrs. Barnett went home early, doubled-over, and clutching her stomach.

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As an adult, I’ve broadened my horizons, overcome any aversion, but most of the seaweed I consume comes surrounding tekka-make rolls, or other sushis as they’re called in France. (They add the “s” to pluralize them, even though you don’t pronounce it.)

My salt man, Monsieur Dion, who I used to get my fleur de sel and grey sea salt from (before he closed), appeared at my market on Sunday with a big barrel of Salicornes Fraîches, pickled in vinaigre de vin blanc with carrots, onions, and a few branches of thyme, which his brother made in Brittany. When I visited Brittany last summer, we visited Algoplus, where I tasted the locally-harvested salicornes, which had the curious taste of green beans. And in fact, the French call them haricots de mer, or green beans of the sea. In English, they’re called ‘glasswort’. According to Judy Rodgers in, The Zuni Cookbook (a book anyone interested in cooking should own) she includes a recipe for Pickled Glasswort and says the English used to call them “chicken claws”.

While the haricots de mer were tasty, just a forkful was enough, although perhaps anything served with a dollop of crème fraîche, as they were served, certainly seems more appealing. And although I conceded that they were tasty, I resisted the tempation to buy a jar, assuming they’d end up in my ‘Too Good To Use’ shelf (which I feel will soon collapse.)

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After considering their vinegary, cornichon-like taste, I mentioned to Monsieur Dion that they’d be good served alongside or atop something fatty and meaty, like pâte or a rich smear of rillettes, and before I could finish my sentence (which, as a rule, takes much longer for me in French than in English), he produced a platter bearing slices of crusty baguette spread with rillettes de porc, topped with a piece of salicorn. The next day, I used a few slices of toasted pain aux ceriales to make my own sandwich layered with juicy, vibrant-yellow slices of tomato, cured salmon with lots of fragrant dill, a thin layer of coarse-grained mustard, all finished with a squeeze of puckery lemon juice. I topped them off with a few ‘sprigs’ (I guess they’re sprigs, although in French, there’s probably a special word used exclusively for ‘sprigs’ of les salicornes.)

My sandwiches were terrific, and I spent the afternoon not clutching my stomach, but visiting the breathtaking Musée de l’Orangerie, then walking home along the Seine, without incident…and nary a rumble from below.

Algoplus
Zone du Bloscon
Roscoff, France
Tél: 02 98 61 14 14