Monday, February 7, 2011

F is for France: A Fanciful Feast Pour Deux

When I think of French food I imagine intricate, fancy dishes, artfully arranged, with names impossible to spell. France has a reputation for fine food, so much so that even Disney had to make a movie about it (see Ratatouille). But I'm sure that most of you don't know that France and I have a similar lover, one that has tempted and seduced us, has caused us pain and has created a passion, yes...we have a love affair with food. We both recognize the importance of quality ingredients, and I too would also protect cheese under national law. We both can spend two hours cooking for a two minutes of enjoyment, because as Julia Child said "Thats what human life is all about--- enjoying things. I have admired French food from afar for a while, learning French culinary techniques and ingredients as seen on the Food Network and ogling Chef Eric Ripert whenever given the opportunity.  However, the closest thing I have ever gotten to French food prior to this week was a croissant sandwich from a New Jersey Dunkin Donuts I would occasionally consume as a child. Furthermore, until Angie enlightened me, I though that quiche was suppost to be bite size, like the ones found in the frozen food section in grocery stores.

On November 10, 2010 French Gastronomy was added by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization) to its lists of the world's "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity"(The United States does not have anything on this list). According to UNESCO a French gastronomic meal plays an active social role within its community and is is transmitted from generation to generation as part of its identity (Why was I not born French?).

The fertile French land allows for an array of quality, local, produce, such as leeks, shallots, haricot verts (a type of green been), zucchini, potatoes, carrots, a variety of mushrooms (truffle, oyster, and porcini), and all sorts of fruits, distinguishable ones like apples and strawberries, and ones not seen in the U.S. like black and red currants.

The French consume many interesting forms of meats that would seem strange to the average American palate. Goodies such as squab (pigeon), foie gras (goose liver), mutton (sheep), rabbit, quail, frog, and escargot (snails) grace the menu pages of both small bistros and lavish restaurants.

France's nice long summers and short winters present ideal conditions for grape growing, making wine an important component to French cuisine and culture. The French take wine seriously. Back in 1980's-90's when Disneyland Paris was being constructed the French threw a fit when wine was not allowed at the park (among other things such as poor working conditions and insensitivity to French culture). France is world renowned for its high quality grapes that produce popular, and often mispronounced, wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. Champagne, a sparkling, bubbly, wine, is produced exclusively in the Champagne region of France. Wine is frequently an ingredient in French recipes, whether its drinking while cooking, adding it to the dishes, or pairing food with certain wines.  Sommeliers are fundamental in French fine dining. These wine stewards manage wine cellars and advise guest on wine choices.

Cooking and learning about French food has sparked a new enthusiasm to visit France. I challenge myself to discover and devour every type of cheese France has to offer. Until then, I think I may go to my nearest half-price bookstore, pick up a Julie Child cookbook and immerse myself in classic French techniques, and of course eat more cheese.

If I haven't convinced you to try French food maybe this cute youtube video will.


Kelly came to visit me again this week (she just can't stay away). She joined me, along with a few friends, to Le Chatelaine, a local french restaurant. I was excited about tasting real French food for the first time, especially escargot. Kelly had been bragging about how delicious they are ever since she got back from Paris. Other than heavenly almond croissant the I devoured, the food was mediocre, actually pretty disappointing. The escargot didn't have much flavor, my beef bourguignon was nothing special, Kelly's food was cold, and it was all pretty pricey. I would maybe go back for breakfast or tea time, but I would not recommend it to a friend. But I did not let this palate catastrophe dwindle my spirits. I was still very determined, and quite eager to cook French food.

This week I made escargot and quiche, two things I had now previously tasted but did not prove to be spectacular. My goal was to make the dishes better, to make them so rich and delicious that upon consuming and I would slowly slip into a food coma. Mission accomplished. The dishes were simple and savory. Don't let the ideas of snails freak you out. Yes, they are a bit gross looking but they taste are similar to clams and mussels. For all of you health conscious people, they are also high in protein and low in fat....until cooked in all that butter.  As for the quiche, well I am sad that it took me 22 years of my life to discover it. I love eggs, and having eggs for dinner makes me happy. It was also salty, with just a hint of sweetness. The quiche we made was a Quiche Lorraine, named for the Lorraine region of France. The recipe is simple and does not include many ingridents, thus to make the best, most delicatable quiche possible it is important to get quality ingridents. So get the best bacon and cheese you can afford, it's worth it. Bon Appètit.

serves 2 as hors d'oeuvres
  • 1 can escargots (found at World Market)
  • 1/4 cup of white wine ( we use a Cuvèe Blanc, a nice white table wine with citrus notes)
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 fresh baguette, sliced
  • salt and pepper
green parsley paste 
  1. Preheat broiler. Pour yourself some wine and play some French music.
  2. Drain and wash escargots
  3. In a small skillet simmer escargots, wine, and shallots for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile chop parsley and garlic in a food processor. Add butter until it forms a wonderful green paste.
  5. Strain liquid from escargot and shallots and place in a small casserole dish. Add garlic parsley butter.
  6. Place in broiler until well comined and bubbly.
  7. Spoon escargot on bread, or eat by itself and soak bread in the butter.

Quiche Lorraine
serves 6
Now thats what I call bacon
  • 1 homemade pie crust
  • 4 oz of bacon (don't get the prepackaged stuff, go to the deli and get the nice fatty kind)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup of whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup of Gruyère or Emmental (I personally can't afford spending $17.00 on cheese, so I bought Jarlsberg which is a cheese from Norway, that taste similar to Emmental and Gruyère, but way more affordable)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Remove the pie crust from the freezer and cover the edges with aluminium foil
  3. Slice the bacon in 1/4 by 1 inch strips and fry on a skillet on medium heat for about 5 minuets.
  4. Whisk the eggs with the whipping cream until blended. Then whisk in the nutmeg and pinch of salt and pepper.
  5. Cut the cheese into small cubes
  6. Evenly spread the diced cheese, and cooked bacon in the pie shell. Make sure not to pourin the bacon because you don't want all the bacon grease in the pie shell.
  7. Pour the egg mixture on top and place in the oven.
  8. Cook for about 30 minutes. You know it is ready when it doesn't jiggle and when you stick a toothpick in multiple sections it comes out clean.
  9. Let it cool to room temperature, slice, and enjoy. 

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