Thursday, April 28, 2011

Frenchies in the kitchen

I had two Frenchies, not just any Frenchies, though-- Provençal Frenchies-- in my kitchen for an afternoon.  While the 28 exchange students from Collège Le Mourion in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon were spending the weekend with their Durham host families, I had custody of Fanny and Olivier for the day.  We headed over to Ninth Street, bought books at the Regulator, took photos at Vaguely Reminiscent--
(cute frogs... ha ha ha)
and then shopped at Whole Foods.  When I am in France, I love checking out grocery stores, les supermarchés et les épiceries.  We planned to have friends over for an apéro Friday night.  My evil plan to get my new friends in my kitchen to cook worked!!  (Although I have to admit that I did not realize what a great cook Fanny is when I invited her to stay with me for the week.  My bad.  We make a great pair.  When she opens her B&B, I will be her assistant.  Oui, chef!)

Fanny made la mousse au chocolat.  A great use for college-age son's collection of shot glasses, n'est-ce pas?
Fanny also decided to make a pissaladière, a Provençal-type pizza of which I am very, very fond.
And her tapenade was the best I've ever had.  I really like garlic and it was plentiful.  We served it with thinly sliced toasted baguette slices. 
Olivier contributed a mousse au thon, tuna mousse.  Sadly, I have no photos of that.  We couldn't find crème fraîche for it at Whole Foods.  I should have made an emergency call to Mr. Bull City Burger and Brewery, Seth, my favorite chef, but didn't.  Olivier also made a pasta salad.  (The leftovers were all mine.  I did not share them with anyone.)

I had never thought of adding pesto to my salad.  I love pesto on pasta.  I eat that often.  Why can't I think of this stuff on my own?  Doesn't matter now.  I have Frenchies to come to my rescue!
I contributed my tomato tart, Signora brought chocolate-dipped strawberries, we added brie, affinois and boucheron chèvre cheeses, and wines from Wine Authorities.  Picpoul de Pinet, Venus rosé and a Côtes du Rhône red.  I tried Floc de Gascogne for the first time.  It is a bit sweet and went well with the mousse au chocolat.  I usually do not like sweet wines.  But at the urging of Olivier, I tried it.  (And I have the leftovers of this, too!)
We had a wonderful evening.  I miss my Frenchies.  We had so much fun.

I did not say au revoir to them.  I prefer à plus!  Until next time.  See you soon.

Tapenade à la Fanny

2 cans of black olives, pitted
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (remove the skin and the germ)
Olive oil
5-6 anchovy filets (without the oil)
2 tsp. capers

Put all ingredients in a food processor and mix. Do not over process.  Add enough olive oil to obtain the proper consistency.

Bon appétit, mes nouveaux amis!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Frenchies are coming, the Frenchies are coming!

Tomorrow 31 Frenchies will arrive to spend 10 days with us.  I found homes for the 28 students and three adults.  I even get to fly up to Washington, DC to meet them and wander around the city with them.  How cool is that? (And I get to miss two days of school!)  My 8th graders and I met some of them in March.  They came to have a picnic with us at the Pont du Gard.  The photo is of the group standing under an olive tree that was born in 908.  No kidding.
The weather forecast is good, the Durham Bulls are playing at home and we have tickets, Durham is dressed in all shades of bright green, Bull City Burger and Brewery is grilling burgers and pouring beer, my house is relatively neat, and I am almost back to my normal healthy self.  9 on a scale of 10. Life is good.
So what have I been reading lately?  I discovered writer Cara Black when I found one of her books at a  shop here called Pennies For Change.  She has written a series of Aimée Leduc novels set in Paris.

They are murder mysteries and Aimée has great taste in clothes, evidently finding them secondhand at flea markets or les marchés aux puces.  That would be a fun thing to do.  Roam around the markets and find great, chic clothes and shoes.  I hate to shop, but I think I could make a sport out of that.
And, thanks to Head Butler, Jesse Kornbluth, I discovered a wonderful book that will help me become more chic.  It's Parisian Chic:  A Style Guide written by Inès de la Fressange, French model and businesswoman and une femme d'un certain âge, comme moi!  She is a year older than me, which makes her 53.  No botox, no facelifts, classic styles that are comfortable.  That has me written all over it.
In English, with sections named "Dress Like a Parisian" and "Chez Moi."  I know that she has bizzillions of euros and I will never shop in the little Paris boutiques where she does, but I like her style and the book is a fun read, full of tips.  When the first mention of Monoprix came up on page 15, I was totally hooked.  I do love that store.  It's a French version of Target, but French.  I even wrote Jesse a thank you note for finding the book for me.  It's softbound and full of Inès' own little drawings.  I am now on the lookout for Converse tennis shoes, a navy v-necked sweater and a leather jacket (secondhand, of course).  I wish I still had my Bass penny loafers from college...  I have a trench, white blouses, jeans I love and lots of scarves.  A really fun read, girlies.  (Look for it on Amazon for a good price.)
The best thing I've cooked this week?  In my humble opinion, a white vegetarian lasagna.  High school-age son didn't care for the onions (I ate his) and the Un-Ex needs meat.  High school-age son's girlfriend and I loved it and ate every bite.  The leftovers I took for the lunch were just as good, maybe even better.

White Vegetarian Lasagna  

(makes 6-8 servings as a main dish, more as a starter)

1 package thin, no-cook lasagna noodles
2 1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. vegetable broth
6 cloves garlic, cut in quarters
3 Tbsp. butter
5 Tbsp. flour
1 c. quality Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, grated
Pepper and salt to taste
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large zucchini, cut in 1/4 in. slices
1 summer squash, cut in 1/4 in. slices
1 bag baby spinach
4 oz. (about 1 c.) sliced mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced

(Note:  I didn't use the summer squash.  I caramelized 4 yellow onions instead.)

Place the no-cook noodles in hot water and set aside to soften.  Be careful that they don't stick together.  Heat milk and vegetable broth in a sauce pan until simmering.  Add the garlic, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes.

Heat about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and saute the zucchini for a few minutes, turning with a spatula until al dente.  Remove.  Add more oil and do the same with the summer squash, then the mushrooms, next the spinach just until wilted, adding olive oil as needed.

Remove the garlic pieces from the milk and broth mixture with a slotted spoon.  In another pan, melt butter.  When melted, whisk in the flour. Then slowly whisk in the garlic-infused milk mixture to make a roux.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens.  Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble:  (in a 10-in. square pan or a 9x13)   Spread about 1/2 c. of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Place a layer of noodles on the sauce.  Spread the zucchini over the layer of noodles.  Drizzle about 1 c. of sauce of it.  Add another layer of noodles.  Add the mushrooms, then 1/3 c. of Parmesan cheese.  Add the next layer of noodles.  Add the onions (or summer squash) and 1 c. of the white sauce.  Add another layer of noodles.  Finally, the spinach layer and 1/3 c. of Parmesan.  Top with a final layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and the remaining 1/3 c. of cheese.

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350˚ F for about 30 minutes.  Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until top is browned.  Let cool before slicing and serving. 

Many thanks to for supplying the basic recipe.  What on earth did I do before google?  I've asked myself this question many, many times.

Bon appétit, Frenchies!  Bienvenue aux États-Unis!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Almost as good as new-- finally!

I cannot believe that I have been back from France since March 14 and haven't written about my trip.  Truth is, I have been a sick little girl since we returned. I have Graves disease, an overactive, whacked out thyroid, and then I caught what I choose to call the French Flu.  I was down and out for about a week and a half.  And what's worse, I had no appetite.  That really means I was sick, believe me.

So, to start processing the trip and all of the wonderful things we saw and ate, I thought that I would begin with the Millefeuille Cake that my kiddies made with Chef Érick in Arles.  Mlle Pauline took this delicious photo (she is quite the artiste).  Chef Érick made this for me for my 50th birthday, so it holds a very special place in my heart (and tummy). 

Here is another example of Pauline's artistry.  We had a picnic at the Pont du Gard the day we arrived in Provence.  We were met there by some Frenchies (they are coming to visit us April 14!) and enjoyed spending time with them.  It was an amazing day-- blue skies, flowers blooming, warm weather-- sitting in the shadow of the magnificent Roman aqueduct drinking in the moment.  French being spoken all around me, watching my students interact with their penpals, hearing the plop! plop! plop! of rocks being thrown into the river... ah.  This is my young artiste's rendition of the Pont du Gard, drawn on a rock with a stick.  I am totally verte with jealousy because I want to be able to do this.  To even think of doing it. 
Pas mal, hein?

Millefeuille Cake

Here's the recipe, from an earlier post--

Bon appétit!! À suivre...