Monday, July 29, 2013

Janet's desserts

When you don't eat sugar, as I don't, it's fun to have dinner companions who love dessert.  That way you get to not only read the dessert menu, you get to see all kinds of delicious goodies in the flesh.

Our friend Janet, who was with us in Paris, is one of those lucky people who can eat dessert all the time and still be slim and fit.  As the week began she was on an apple kick, and I documented three of her treats.

A plain dish of apples, except with some subtle glaze to make it special:

An apple tart:

Most beautiful of all, this extravaganza of pastry, apples, ice cream and chocolate:

After we split up, Janet found one last dessert that she called the best of the whole trip.  Profiteroles -- three cream puffs filled with ice cream, surrounded by whipped cream, and a pot of hot chocolate to pour over the top.  Too bad the portion was so small.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bad manners at the market

I don't like to say bad things about the state of my birth, but while visiting there earlier this month I was grossed out at the supermarket.

For some reason it's the custom in northern Michigan to strip the husks from your corn right there at the market.  Although they place a crate or two on the floor for the debris, when the crates get full it's apparently acceptable to just leave your organic waste on the display table, right on top of the corn.

By the end of the afternoon, you need an extra five minutes to root around underneath the cornhusks to find intact ears to buy.

I have always believed that corn will dry out as soon as you husk it, so I don't understand why the compulsion to do it hours before dinner at the market.  And of course, stripping it early precludes roasting the corn in its husk over the campfire coals.

Most important, it's nasty to find your nice fresh food under a layer of garbage. Yuk.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Soup at the cathedral

Our guidebook informed us that despite the rich culinary heritage of France, nothing has ever emanated from Paris except onion soup.  Which we did not see on any menus.

Finally on our last day we ventured outside the city to Chartres.  And in a wonderful cafe in front of the cathedral we found (and ordered) onion soup.  Also a bowl of fish soup with the yellowest rouille I've ever seen.  Both were excellent.

If you're in Chartres, go to La Serpente, just outside the southeast door of the cathedral (around to the right from the main entrance).  Great food, inexpensive, and you can't beat the view.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The official birthday cake

When I was a kid we lived in Michigan, and even after we moved away, I was frequently there on my early-July birthday, visiting grandparents.  Every year my "birthday cake" consisted of strawberry shortcake because the strawberry season was still hanging on and who wouldn't prefer a strawberry shortcake to a boring old cake??

For the last four decades, however, we've lived considerably farther south, where strawberry season runs from late May into early June.  So no strawberry shortcake as a birthday treat.  It became a nostalgia trip, mentioned wistfully in the same breath as Northern Spy apples (now becoming extinct), northern fall foliage (I've only managed one decent leaf-peeping trip in 40 years), and walking to school in the snow uphill both ways.

But something wonderful happened this year -- I got to be in northern Michigan for my birthday!

My absolute favorite baked good to sit underneath the berries is a rich biscuit, but angel food is certainly acceptable.

In the olden days there would probably have been whipped cream on top of this concoction, but who needs it?  Life is sweet.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cochon times two

Our first week in Paris we ate at a lovely restaurant with a limited menu for our large group, and we both ordered the medallions of pork with dark cherries.  The meat was fixed with a rich sauce and perched on top of smooth, rich mashed potatoes.

At the end of our visit we decided this restaurant, Le CafĂ© Bonal on Boulevard Voltaire, was our favorite of the trip and chose it for our last hurrah.  This time, with the whole menu to pick from, I ordered the same pork dish as I had the previous week.  It was just as good, but with a whole lot more cherry sauce than the first time!  (I liked the first version best; the potatoes had more chance to shine through.)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

One more thing to worry about at the grocery

With most vegetables, there's a definite difference in quality from one day to another.  How many times have we declined to buy the cucumbers because they were shriveled, the artichokes because they looked dried out, or the avocados because they had black spots and seemed way too soft?  How many times have we crowed over getting the sweet and beautiful corn, the best tomatoes of the season, the smooth and glossy eggplant?

And then there's parsley.  It just sits there, the same from one month to the next.  Have you ever detected any qualitative difference among the many bunches of parsley you have bought in your lifetime?

I hadn't -- until this week.

We bought a bunch at the farmer's market so I could make tabouli, which I did.  While I was whizzing it around in the Cuisinart I thought it smelled more like grass than like parsley, but I had already soaked the bulgur and so I proceeded with the recipe.

And sure enough, it also tasted more like grass than like parsley.

What a disappointment.  And now I have to worry about something else in my shopping -- sniffing the parsley to make sure it's OK.  Who knew.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Salade, the French way

If there was anything to be slightly disappointed with in our recent trip to France, it was the salad.  I guess we're spoiled in the US with the huge variety of produce and imaginative combinations suggested by restaurants, television and food writing.  But both in Germany (where we spent a month in 2010) and in France we have noted the sameness of the side salads.  Lettuce, maybe some tomatoes.  Perfectly adequate, but less than inspiring.

Big salads, including protein and various other ingredients, are on many menus as main courses, but if you've ordered a meat or fish you'll often just get a small portion of greens to go with.  You'll often find the salad on the same plate as your entree, underneath it, on top of it, or piled in the middle.  Mmmm, salad with basil-Parmesan cream sauce!

Sometimes you'll order a special salad as a starter course and find the fancy ingredients on top of the same old greens.

Here's one salad that was delightfully different.