Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tarte d'oignon

The words “onion” and “tart” don't seem like they should go together, do they? At least that’s what I thought before I tasted my first tarte d'oignon in France. But once I tried it, there was no doubt that this would become one of my favorite dishes.

As with other tarts, there are many recipes for savory onion tarts, but they are all variations on the same theme: softened or caramelized onions held together with eggs, cream, or cheese—or sometimes all three—and baked in flaky pastry dough. My preference is simply to add a bit of Gruyère to bind the onions; mixing the onion with egg and cream results in something more like a quiche, and adding only cream or crème fraiche makes the crust too soft.

You can use a tart tin for this recipe, or make a galette; both work well. If you’re using a tart pan, roll out the dough, press it into the pan, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use. If you roll out dough for a galette, put it on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and keep it in the fridge until ready to use.

Though it is not from my Gourmet cookbook, this tart uses only five ingredients, six if you count the pâte brisé:

3-5 onions, depending on size
Olive oil
Butter
Balsamic vinegar
Gruyère, about 1 cup loosely packed

Melt enough butter in a pan to sauté all those onions, and just enough olive oil to keep the butter from browning. The trick for this tart is slice the onions thin and cook them s-l-o-w-l-y in a heavy bottom pan on the stove, about 40 minutes. Except for the occasional stir, they don’t need to be watched too carefully. The extra time you take cooking the onions results in soft, sweet, buttery, translucent onions that will fragrance your kitchen and caramelize to perfection. Once the onions are cooked, add just a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, stir, and cook about 10 more minutes, until the onions are caramelized.

Take the dough from the fridge, spoon most of the Gruyère into the bottom of the pan (or on top of the rolled dough) then spoon the onions on top of the cheese. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and bake in a 400 degree oven until the edges are brown.

Onions are probably our least expensive and most plentiful vegetable, yet we seldom consider them for a main dish. Perhaps this recipe will change that, oui?

Bon appétit!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tomato, goat cheese, and onion tart

I learned to cook in the late 70s-early 80s by reading Gourmet magazine. Every month the magazine arrived, and I would eagerly try some new recipe. When I moved to Washington, DC, I decided it was time to part with fifteen year's worth of Gourmet, so I replaced the collection with several of Gourmet’s cookbooks. One of my favorites is Gourmet’s Five Ingredients, published in 2002. I appreciate this cookbook for it’s simplicity: every recipe uses only five ingredients.

The tomato, goat cheese, and onion tart I’m making for this evening’s dinner is from this cookbook, and is the little black dress of savory tarts: it can be dressed up or down, is perfect for lunch or dinner, picnic or dinner party, and can be served warm or at room temperature. The recipe is now available on epicurious.com, so you can check it out there and read the reviews.

If you have already made your pastry dough, this recipe couldn’t be easier. You can also make substitutions; this evening I’m substituting heirloom tomatoes purchased at the farmers market for the plum tomatoes called for in the recipe. Likewise, if you're not a fan of goat cheese, you might try substituting a milder mozarella. Tarts are very forgiving and lend themselves to creative substitutions.

With a green salad, and your favorite wine, this tart makes a lovely, satisfying summer meal.

Bon appétit!

Tomorrow's post: Savory onion tart

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Raspberry galette

Raspberry tart. Tarte framboise. There are dozens of recipes for this delicious summer dessert. In some recipes, the raspberries sit atop a thin layer of marzipan or frangipane. Other recipes call for ground nuts or cookies crumbs to prevent the crust from getting soggy, while others suggest mixing the raspberries with jam which creates a firm tart that is tidy when sliced.

This is a purist tart—it's all about the fruit—and the only addition is some sugar for sweetness, and a bit of cornstarch to help thicken the juice. It is also the easiest to make, and is made easier if you choose not to use a tart pan and make a rustic galette.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Pastry dough for a 9” galette
1-1.5 cups of fresh raspberries, depending on size of berries
3 tablepoons of white sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Sheet of baking parchment, enough to cover a medium rimmed cookie sheet

In a bowl, gently toss the raspberries with the sugar and cornstarch. If you prefer a sweeter juice, add more sugar. If you prefer a thicker juice, add more cornstarch.

Take the prepared pâte brisée from the refrigerator
Roll out the dough on floured surface then place it on the parchment
Tranfer rolled dough to the parchment paper on the cookie sheet

Place the raspberry mixture on the pastry dough leaving a 2” border
Gently fold and pleat the border up over the raspberry filling

Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown and the juice has formed

Cut and serve once the galette has cooled and set

For a variation on the raspberry galette, visit Jennifer Yu's blog; her photos alone are worth a visit.

Bon appétit!

Tomorrow's post: Tomato, goat cheese, and onion tart

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shopping the farmers market

The farmers market was busy this morning and the baskets were brimming. Melons seem to be at the height of their season and they fragranced the air. So many good things available that will be perfect fillings for this week's tarts.

I find my way to Musachio’s, one of my favorite vendors; the Musachio farm is located on the Eastern Shore and they have been at the farmers market for many years, long before I started visiting. Their specialty is berries in season and today they have my favorites--blackberries and raspberries, both of which will be excellent in a tart. I buy 4 pints of each of the berries, enough to make a tart, some for freezing, and some to snack on through the week. (Berries are easy to freeze, and I buy an extra pint each week when they are in season so I’ll have them through the fall and into the winter.)

D & S Farm is another favorite, and that is where I buy my nectarines. I prefer nectarines to peaches for baking; no need to peel them, and they hold their shape well in tartes and galettes. I buy 10 nectarines, some for baking, some for snacking. I also buy some four heirloom tomatoes about the size of my fist, three green zuchinni squash, and ten onions, all of which I will use to make savory tarts.

Before leaving, I buy two of those fragrant cantaloupes—not for a tart, but just for eating because I can’t resist the way they smell.

Tomorrow's post: Raspberry galette



Friday, June 26, 2009

Tarte pans and galettes

As with most things, when preparing food, we have our preferences. Take tarte pans, for example. Some bakers swear by traditional ceramic tarte dishes, while others prefer tarte tins. Among those who prefer tins, some will only use non-stick, while others appreciate the challenge of tins with removable bottoms. Then there’s fluted v. non-fluted, square v. rectangular v. round, deep v. shallow And then there are those who prefer no pan at all—so many choices!

I own a round, 9” fluted tin with a removable bottom, so, that is my preference. In the 20+ years since I’ve owned it, my tin has been party to countless tartes and quiches, some successful, and others, well, not so much. I prefer this pan because I know it: I know how thin or thick the dough must be to achieve the perfect color, I know the how to adjust the baking time for various fillings, and I know exactly how long to let the tart cool before I attempt to separate the ring from the tray.

Like me, you have a favorite tarte, quiche, or pie pan, oui? So for the tarte recipes, use what works best for you. There is no need to purchase a special tarte pan, in fact, if you make a galette, you need no pan at all. A galette is a hand-shaped tarte; the filling is added to rolled out pastry dough while leaving an 1.5-2" border. Once the filling is added, the border is folded up onto the filling; some bakers simply fold it over, others prefer to take the time to pleat the dough and create a more decorative pattern. This article by David Lebovitz, considers the galette and has some excellent demonstration photos.

So, what do you think?

Tomorrow’s post: Shopping the farmers market



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pâte brisée

I’m sure many of you have your favorite recipe for pastry dough, either discovered after much trial and error, or if you’re lucky, one that has been handed down through your family. And if you’re not a baker, a ready-made refrigerated dough may be your preference.

No matter the recipe, basic pastry dough—the type you might use for pie crust-- is my choice for tarts. Pâte brisée has a high fat-to-flour ratio, which makes make it rich and flaky; my current recipe is from The Art of Simple Food, but there are many good recipes available. Pâte brisée is easy to make, though it does take some time; I justify the time by doubling the recipe, using what I need, and freezing the remainder.

Pâte brisée works well for sweet and savory tarts, though for fruit tarts some people (and tarts) prefer a sweeter pâte sucrée .

So if you would like to try a few tarts recipes next week, prepare (or purchase) your dough; you can easily refrigerate it for a few days and use it through the week. Don’t have a favorite pastry dough recipe? You might want to check out this one from David Lebovitz, a surprising and simple recipe, as well as a fun read with some great photos.


Tomorrow's post: Tarte pans and galettes

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tartes

As summer presses on, the variety of fruits and vegetables at the farmers markets grows: baskets of delicate beans, pints of sweet and tangy berries, crates of fragrant tomatoes.

From summer to summer I forget how suddenly summer produce appears at the market. One Saturday there seems to be nothing but asparagus and spring onions, and the next week the market is overflowing with summer vegetables and fruits. The first Saturday this happens, I tend to get carried away and always buy too much; I get home and find myself wondering what I’m going to do all those tomatoes and zucchini.

Then I remember: tarts.

Tarts, both savory and sweet, are perfect for enjoying almost any summer fruit or vegetable. They are practical: they can be served for any meal—breakfast, lunch, dinner—and can be served warm or at room temperature. They are very inexpensive to prepare, sometimes only a few cents per serving, especially if you make your own crust. And, they are authentic—tarts, and their rustic cousin, galettes originated in France, and while they may vary from region to region, the name usually refers to a delicious, crusty, round or hand-formed cake.

I thought it might be fun to do a series on tarts, one of my favorite ways to enjoy summer fruits and veggies. On Thursday and Friday we'll consider pastry and tart shapes, on Saturday we'll visit the farmers market to see what's available, and next week I'll share some of my favorite recipes. I'm hoping you'll share yours, too.

Tomorrow's post: Pâte brisée

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Something new for l'été

As I mentioned last week, I'm trying to give my blog a new face for the summer months; I love this photo and I think it gives the blog a needed lift. I'm sorry to say I don't know where the image is from, but if anyone recognizes it, please let me know so I can credit the photographer.

Just getting back to town and hope to be back to blogging tomorrow. In the meantime, if you were a winner of the Paris Shopping List Giveaway, don't forget to send me your info so I can mail you your gift.

Bisous!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Still time for one more winner!

The current winners of the Paris Shopping List Giveaway are Kristi, Marsi, YSLGuy, Bonjour Madame, celiajuno, Revisionista, aaonce, Lillian, and Andi. But there is still time for one more winner!

It was so much fun reading your dream Paris shopping lists--thanks for joining in the fun. I also got a few ideas of my own from reading your lists . . .

If you send your address to annecychic@gmail.com, I will send you your tiny treasure.

Bisous!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Paris Shopping List Giveaway

I've finished teaching for this school year so I'm going to take a little vacation from My French Corner. But before I leave I want to announce a new giveaway.

Many readers are planning to visit France over the next few months. They have lists of places to visit, sites to see, and things to buy. Sadly, not everyone will be going to France, but, that doesn't mean we can't have a little fun, non?

Imagine this: you are going to Paris and you have 1000 € (about $1400 USD) to spend on anything you want. How will you spend it? You can spend it all in one place or on a single item, or, you can have as many items on your Paris shopping list as you can afford.

I have ten tiny treasures to give away to the first ten eager readers who post their Paris shopping list. I'll announce the ten winners next week when I return.

So, what's on your Paris shopping list?


Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Moka

I’m not someone who drinks coffee all day, but I do enjoy a cup in the morning, and sometimes one in the afternoon. To make coffee, I take lessons from the Italians--not the French--and prepare my morning coffee in a small stovetop coffee pot, the Moka Express.

Manufactured by Bialetti, the Moka comes in several sizes; I have a one-cup that I use everyday, and a six-cup that I use when I have guests. Just a note that these are espresso cups; for making brewed coffee a French press would be my choice.

Both of my Mokas are aluminum, though stainless and electric models are available. But there is something quaint and European about the aluminum models, and, I am certain the coffee tastes much better in these more traditional pots.

You can buy this little piece of European luxury for less than $20; if you enjoy espresso, it is worth every penny.

Is it possible that there is something the Italians do better than the French? Hmm . . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Red geraniums

Do you have your red geraniums yet? They're very French, n'est-ce pas?

If you don't have your pot of red geraniums, there's still time left. And while you're at it, how about some lavender and a pot of herbs? These are very inexpensive, very French touches that you will enjoy all summer.

So what are you waiting for mes amis?!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

French laundry

There are few things as satisfying as a stack of ironed and folded laundry sitting in a crisp stack, ready to be put away. I know ironing is not high on anyone's list of domestic chores, in fact, I don't know many people who iron at all.

This makes sense, as so many articles of clothing no longer require ironing; "permanent press," "no press," "no-wrinkle," "wrinkle free," "quick dry" are desireable when purchasing clothing and linens, because, well, who has time for ironing?

Ironing has long been associated with the drudgery of housekeeping, and rightfully so. Before the invention of the electric iron, smoothing clothes meant a full day's work. And though the electric iron was intended to make the work easier, the process of ironing clothes continued to be an arduous task.

I do iron, and confess, I enjoy it. I don't dedicate hours to the task, but it is something I do several times a month; touching up pillowcases, napkins, and tablecloths is easy to do, and I find it satisfying. I cherish the color, texture, and quality of textiles, and enjoy caring for the ones I have.

Ironing certainly isn't a French thing, or even a European thing. Perhaps, like line drying clothes, ironing may be one of those chores that remind us of a gentler time.

Thoughts, svp?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Line drying clothes

Is it me, or did many of the green ideas originate in Europe? Seriously—bicycling, walking, buying fresh and local—have long been a way of life in Europe. And to that list we should add air drying clothes.

In France, as in most European countries, space for a separate laundry room is sometimes not an option. In my personal experience, a front loading washing machine can occupy a space in the kitchen, under the kitchen counter, but never a dryer. I have stayed in two homes that had tumble dryers, but, usually clothes are taken outside, to line dry.

I enjoy the smell and feel of clothes that have been air dried, especially bed linens, tablecloths, tea towels, cotton shirts, and jeans. During the warmer months, I hang all of these items outside to dry; in the colder weather I used a collapsible drying rack. After drying on the line outside, the linens are wrinkle free, and have a stiff, crisp hand, almost as though they’ve been ironed. Cotton shirts and tees retain their color and size when regularly line dried, and jeans never shrink!

Not everyone has the space to dry laundry outside, but 2’ x 3’ space is all that is needed for a collapsible drying rack; I purchased mine at The Container Store a few years ago for less than $10, and I see they still carry the same one. I love it, and use it all the time, indoors and out. For large items, I use a clothesline, but I was surprised to see the variety of drying racks available today.

So whether you do it selflessly for the planet, or selfishly to please yourself, air drying laundry is a good thing, and inexpensively European!

Quelque chose nouvelle

I’m considering a few upgrades on my blog; the first change is the blog title in my header. I’m experimenting with French écriture fonts, but I want to make sure the title is readable. The current font is one of several I’m considering.

If you would comment and let me know your opinion—color, placement, readability—I would be grateful. Be honest, because if you can’t read it, or don’t like it, chances are other readers feel the same.

So what do you think, svp?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Attention! Chien de garde

Okay, he's not really a guard dog, but, well, he could be . . .

I'd like to introduce mon chien, parce que every blog should have a dog. Well, at least the French ones, non?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spring cleaning

Actually, it's late for spring cleaning, but the seasons have changed and it seems everyone is cleaning and purging, paring down closets and drawers in anticipation of the the sweet summer life. Summer is much more fun when we don't have all that clutter nagging us.

If you're Kristi of La Bella Figura, you've organized your closet and inspired others to do the same. If you're David Lebovitz, you've gone straight to that drawer in your kitchen that holds all those kitchen gadgets you thought you'd love, but never use.

Moi? Reading these posts I realize I have lots of work ahead of me!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fleur de sel

Writing about radishes topped with butter and salt prompted another post, this one on fleur de sel.

Fleur de sel is a hand harvested salt, scraped from the top layer of the salt beds, located most notably in Guérande and Camargue. Fleur de sel is gros sel--a coarse salt--and is white and flaky.

Before coming home last summer, I picked up several packages Camargue Fleur de Sel. I appreciate the packaging, especially the cork lid which ensures a tight seal. What I also enjoy about Camargue is that each package is sealed and the seal is *signed* by the salt raker who harvested it; mine reads "Cueillie par Christian Carrel." Okay, so maybe it is just part of Camargue's advertising, but you have to admit, it's quaint, n'est-ce pas?

My sister uses Le Paludier Fleur de Sel de Guérande, which some argue is the finest salt available. Perhaps this is true, but sadly, my tastes are not so refined. Of course, the reason to enjoy any brand of fleur de del is the flavor that it adds to food; a pinch added near the end of cooking will enhance the flavor.

You can purchase both Le Paludier and Camargue here in the states. While it is expensive, remember that even a small container will last you a very long time, and cost you only pennies a day.

And for those of you traveling to France this year, pick up several containers of fleur de sel; it is so affordable in France. At Monoprix, a 4.4 ounce package of Camargue costs less than 3 Euros, and Guérande is only slightly more expensive. These lovely little packages make ideal souvenirs or the perfect hostess gift, and are always appreciated. And don't forget to buy a few packages for yourself, too. It is inexpensive, authentic, and oh so French!

Hmmm, maybe I'll have to bring a few of these home this summer for another giveaway . . .

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Radis, beurre, et sel

Yesterday at the farmers market I was surprised to see how many vendors still have spring radishes. One of the farmers explained that the significant rainfall these past three weeks has kept newly harvested radishes tender and buttery.

Although they are grown year round, radishes prefer the cooler weather. Spring radishes (at least the varieties available at my local farmers market) tend to be smaller, but have a smoother taste. Radishes available in the hotter, dryer months tend toward a more peppery flavor.

Nevertheless, all those radishes gave me a chance to serve up a favorite—radishes with butter and salt. Radishes are not French, but the addition of good butter and salt makes this humble vegetable decidedly French. In France they are served as an appetizer or savory snack.

There are several ways to prepare radishes and butter. The first is to simply cut the top off the radish, add a bit of unsalted butter, dip it in salt, et voila! There is something unexpected about the mild spicy crunch of the radish blended with the cool smoothness of the butter that is so delicious. If you want to get a little fancier you could cut a small, lengthwise wedge out of the radish and fill it with butter before sprinkling with salt.

Another delicious way to enjoy radishes and butter are on top of a baguette. First, slice the radishes paper thin. Then cut a baguette, butter it, layer on the thinly sliced radishes, and sprinkle it with your favorite salt.

Either way, you’ve prepared something fresh, inexpensive, delicious, and authentically French. If you decide to give it a try, I'd love to hear about it.

Bon appétit!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Une belle jeune femme

I have to confess that there are two fashion blogs that I visit several times a week: Garance Doré, and Scott Schuman's The Sartorialist. What I love about these blogs is that they are the opposite of high fashion magazines; both blogs feature real people in real cities wearing real clothes (as opposed to top models on runways wearing high fashion). I get so many ideas from their photos, and it's inspiring to see how women all over the world put together clothing to achieve a style that is their own.

On Wednesday, Garance posted about a young woman, Tracy Rosenbaum. The post is lovely--you can tell how much Garance admires this young woman. But it is the photograph of Tracy that really caught my attention: I am certain she is not French, but she looks like she could be. Does that make sense?

You'll have to take a look and let me know if you agree.

Bonne weekend!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

KOOKAΪ

Something I like to do that is free, fun, and totally French is visit French ready-to-wear clothing websites. I'm not a fashionista, and don't follow trends, but I enjoy looking at the collections in anticipation of what I'll see on the streets of Annecy this summer ("Do I cuff my jeans this summer or not?")

I've posted about Comptoir des Cotonniers and Cyrillus, and another of my favorites is KOOKAΪ. I have my sister to thank for introducing me to KOOKAΪ, and while their clothes look much better on her than on me, I still enjoy browsing their site.

This year they have some of the most beautiful dresses in their printemps/été 09 collection--you have to check them out. And with a name like KOOKAΪ, how can you possibly resist?!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dining al fresco

Dining al fresco is one of the great luxuries of life. And while the Europeans may have perfected the art of al fresco, Americans are increasingly adopting the practice.

Walking through the neighborhood near the farmers market on Saturday, it seemed as though every restaurant, coffee shop, and sandwich place has carved out some outdoor dining space. Now that the warm weather has arrived, the sidewalks are crowded with bistro tables and umbrellas, everyone enjoying the experience of dining al fresco.

This summer in Annecy we’ll have many al fresco dinners; the table pictured here is just one of beautiful tables set by us last summer (you can click on the pic for a better view). At my own house, I am fortunate to have a shaded backyard and patio, perfect for outdoor dining, and I use every opportunity to set the table for an outdoor meal. Few experiences bring me greater joy than sitting around the table with good friends, good food, good wine, dining al fresco.

It doesn't matter if you have a patio, a small apartment balcony, a patch of grass, a deck—any outdoor space will do. Plan your menu, gather your friends, uncork the bottles and enjoy one of summer's great pleasures.

Monday, June 1, 2009

And the winner is . . .

. . . Carolyn from Canada!

Carolyn wins a copy of David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. Carolyn, if you send your mailing info to me at annecychic@gmail.com, I'll have the book sent to you.

To determine the winner I entered everyone's name into the True Random Number Generator at random.org and Carolyn was the winner.

Thanks to everyone who left a comment; I appreciate each one. Readers and their comments are what make blogging fun, so it was gratifying to read comments from new readers, and wonderful to hear from readers who regularly comment. Merci beaucoup!

Also, I've discovered that I really enjoy giveaways. It's one more way to connect with readers, another way to generate interest, and a way to add new energy to my blog. To that end, I already have four more giveaways planned for the summer!

What are they you ask? Non, non mes amis, I don't want give that away!