Despite what my husband thinks, I do try to avoid foodie preciousness. I’m short on time, like everyone else, and I make liberal use of shortcuts in my cooking. I get that premade ingredients make cooking easier and more accessible. But there are some things that making from scratch is such a deeply ingrained habit that I wouldn’t think of buying them premade. For example: I never buy bottled salad dressing. Salad dressing may not seem like a hill to die on, but homemade is so simple (once you know how), and it tastes so much cleaner. It’s free of the gums and sugars and preservatives you get in even high-end bottled dressing. And it’s pretty infinitely variable. [...]
Along the Cote D’Azur, pretty much every restaurant offers a version of fish soup. Made with the local catch, it is always served with croutons, rouille (a garlic and saffron mayonnaise), and cheese. I had been craving a good soupe de poissons but not the trip to the fishmonger to get the bones to make the stock and the fish to puree into the soup and .. . well, you get the idea. Chicken bouillabaisse, though less traditional, is infinitely simpler, and offers many of the same flavors. I make mine with fennel, herbes de provence, and, because I had it, a pinch of lavender, all of which are ubiquitous in that part of the world. Served with the requisite croutons, rouille, and cheese, I could almost imagine myself on a terrace covered with rosemary, sipping my chilled rose next to the Mediterranean. [...]
I have a terrible sweet tooth (as you may have divined if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time), but my sweet tooth is not typical. Not for me the sweetness overload, the gooey cakes, the sugary cookies and candies. I prefer a more subtle sweetness, balanced by savory, or tart, or nutty flavors. Something that could easily be served for breakfast or afternoon tea. Enter the clafoutis. A classic French dessert that’s sometimes described as a custard, sometimes as a pancake. It is a custard with flour, a pancake with more cream. Or it’s own thing. An eggy, custardy, but not insubstantial dessert with a subtle sweetness that is braced by whatever fruit it is made with. It’s not much to look at, generally — it’s really a country casserole, with nubs of fruit poking through a golden, eggy crust. It’s practically foolproof to make, and the batter comes together almost instantaneously. And yes, I am hooked. [...]
The first meal you cook in a new kitchen feels portentous. As if the success or failure of all future culinary endeavors rests on the results of that one meal. It shouldn’t be too simple, or too fancy. You don’t want too much room for error, or something that’s *gasp* boring. It should be just right. So when I unpacked my kitchen, and decided my long cooking hiatus would come to an end, I wanted to prepare the perfect meal. I wanted it to be familiar, but novel. Seasonal comfort food. In the first kitchen that’s Mine in my very first house, I wanted something that said “Home.” And so I chose soup. Now I know that soup may not be the most obvious choice for a summer dish. Soups are associate with cold days and long slow simmers on a hot stove. And the usual summer soups – your gazpachos and your vichyssoises and your fruit soups — while delicious, are not homey. But this soup combines the best of both worlds. It’s a hearty soup, made with a bounty of summer vegetables which are delicious in soup — green beans, zucchini – and it simmers for less than an hour, as it gets a big flavor boost from a large spoonful of basil pesto, whose sharp summery flavor wakes up your tastebuds. It can be served hot or lukewarm, and it’s perfect for those long summer evenings. Soupe Au Pistou is a classic Provencal dish, and it can be made with whatever looks best at your local farmer’s market. [...]
It’s the fourteenth of July, known in France as Le Quatorze Juillet and in America as Bastille Day. It’s a national holiday in France, celebrating the Revolution and its principles of Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite. So what day would be better to return to the summer travel series and talk about Paris?
Is there any city more recognizable than Paris? From the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, the city is firmly embedded in many people’s imaginations — full of romance and possibility and beauty. And the thing about Paris is that it actually lives up to its reputation. It is beautiful, and romantic and glamorous. It’s also noisy and crowded and exciting and infuriating.
Gertrude Stein said, “America is my country, but Paris is my home town,” and I identify strongly with that sentiment. Although I grew up in Los Angeles, my parents are huge francophiles, and we spent a good portion of my childhood summers in Paris. We’d stay in an apartment, rather than a hotel, and live there for a month at a time. As a result, it’s a city that feels like home. I have a mental map of where I am in relation to the river, of the posh neighborhoods and the seedy ones. And Paris holds many special memories for me. I got drunk for the first time in Paris. I felt homesick for the first time in Paris. I learned to walk in Paris. And twenty nine years later, my daughter did as well. This recipe for duck in blackberry sauce is reminiscent of what you would find in a Parisian brasserie, and takes me right there. [...]