Category Archives: Basic Ingredients

The Sauce Brigade

I only realized how much my two-burner, ovenless, toasterless, and spare kitchen was slowly killing me in France after spending Sunday morning at the stove for about an hour. Making hollandaise sauce for the first time ever, poaching and frying eggs, and toasting up the English muffins might all have been possible in my mini-kitchen, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as enjoyable.

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La Maison Forestière

A nearby forest-bound sculpture garden.

The more idyllic the scenery, the harder it is for me to take pictures. That was the case this week when I visited one of my fellow teachers in Hennezel, France. It’s home to less than 450 people and completely surrounded by woods, but somehow cozy anyway. My host’s husband is a forestier; something like a woodsman or a forest ranger, who spends most of his days walking through the woods choosing the best trees to cut down while allowing the forest to prosper. Their house is a “maison forestière” heated entirely by wood with vegetable patches against the lean-to, and blossoming pear trees and lilac bushes.

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Christmas ’til King’s Day: Chesnuts and Brussels Sprouts

This year I found out that in Spain, Christmas isn’t as much a holiday as a two-week festivus. I like this plan, and pretended it was still Christmas until Jan. 6, the days the three kings supposedly came to offer their gifts to Jesus.

As last Friday was Epiphany, complete with King’s cake, I figured it was time to put the last of the roasted chesnuts to bed. If you’ve never had roasted chestnuts, they have a surprisingly sweet, meaty taste, and I didn’t want to just throw them into oatmeal or on salad.

I love when they look like hearts.

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Foodies in Lorraine

Lesson learned: if you are going to a food event, especially a food event in France, don’t skip lunch so you have room to taste. There will be champagne tasting, and wine tasting and beer tasting, and it will be a hazardous walk home!

Last Sunday was the Salon de la Gourmandise (just what it sounds like) up on the mountaintop in Epinal. For 3€, I’d be a damn fool to not go and see if I could find some local specialties and try some new foods. Lorraine is best known for a few different products, and none of them are quiche Lorraine:

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Stovetop Cooking

“But what can you cook without an oven? Pasta and rice? I can’t fry EVERYTHING!”

Chili in the works in the mini kitchen.

Ever since I arrived in France, I keep hearing the same complaint from the other teaching assistants. They have no idea how to cook anything with a stovetop alone. Color me bemused! Yes, it takes a lot more effort to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, but there are so many delicious meals you can make with just a couple of pots and pans. Italian sausage and peppers! Chana Masala! Sharp Stovetop Mac-N-Cheese! And much, much more.

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Fromage Friday: Manchego Curado

Eventually I will stop talking about Spain, but today is not that day. Spain is not exactly known for its wondrous cheeses, but it is known for Manchego. And while I love me some gooey French cheeses, I was glad to swap them for some cured, sharp Spanish products for a few days.

Make all efforts to wrap your cheese better before flying out of Spain.

Manchego, a sheep’s cheese.
Made by: I don’t have the wrapper! I fail. Purchased at Mulas in Salamanca.
Hails from: Manchego is famously from La Mancha, but this one was from Castille.
Background: Manchego is often a softer cheese. This one was cured for slightly longer (around 6 months), giving it a firmer texture and a slight bite.
Can I eat the rind? Sorry, not a good plan.
Serve it with: olives, sausages, Spanish membrillo (quince paste) as appetizers or part of dinner. It would also be amazing on salads, or on small sandwiches. I’m not sure I’d try to throw it in any cooked cheese dishes.

Ham and cheese shop extraordinaire, Salamanca.

Ham City

Last night we had a conversation over dinner about France being the classic, revered old-world haute cuisine, but no longer the top of the heap. The new giant, in my (Spanish) host’s opinion, is Spain. Clearly there’s some bias there, but I have to say that I am wowed, and am learning a lot in a very short time.

Last night’s dinner was at home, and simple. Rioja, salad, sliced bread, cheeses and dried meats. This was referred to as “cold cuts,” though I’ve never seen anything less like a cold cut in my life. And they key ingredient is the ham.

I’m in Salamanca, the Castille region, which is known for producing the very best ham in a ham country. In the market of about 20 booths, 12 to 15 sell dried meats, and all of those sell the iconic jamón ibérico legs that look about like a caveman club, and can cost up to 300 euros. The reason for the price? First of all, it lasts for months. Second of all, these black pigs are carefully raised, fed almost exclusively the acorns that grow in the region, and they run around happily in a field until killing time. The jam is then dried and cured for months or years.

It’s amazing. Not salty, not honey ham or slimy, not dry like sausage or chewy like jerky. It’s tender and has a robust flavor, and would pair as well with a fancy tapas dish as it did with our coffee table picnic. I don’t even EAT ham in the United States. This ham is so good that you can sign up for classes to learn how to cut it properly, but you’ll have to shell out 400 euros to do it.

Sadly, I cannot transport this magical treat to all my friends in the States. What I DO suggest is having a ham party worth spending $200 to ship some ham for a bunch of people. Or if you’re in New York, you can buy it at shops like Murray’s Real Salami and try it at the table at tapas joints like Pata Negra, another name for jamon iberico. Full rumor list here.

Old-fashioned lunchtime

Lunch at school is an interesting happening. The students get out at 11:30 and don’t start class again until 1:30, and most of them go home. Those who live too far away or don’t have someone at home to feed them go to a cantine where they have meals like roasted pork with herbs and ratatouille.

When's the last time your cafeteria served Brie?

About half the teachers (and this means three or four) stay at the school for the two-hour lunch break. Being a typical American and used to taking 25 minutes to eat at my desk, I can finish copying my dittos (HAHA DITTOS), walk to get a sandwich, eat it and be on coffee before half the teachers have even begun eating. So I sit in the art room for the remaining hour, working on lesson plans and watching everyone else eat:

–Half a grapefruit, then marinated chicken and pasta, then cheese, then bread, then a yogurt or chocolate mousse. Taken with a liter of water.

–Couscous with chicken and vegetables, then Babybel cheeses, then fromage blanc with jam, then an apple, then cake.

–Ham, then Babybel cheeses, then bread, then boiled eggs, then jam and fromage blanc, then a banana.

I’ll never be French, apparently. I’d be asleep for the rest of the afternoon.

Fromage Friday: Tomme

I cheated again and bought cheese at the grocery store. Actually, I didn’t even buy it. But I spent about 11 hours in Paris before taking the crack of dawn flight to Madrid, so I didn’t have time to brave the cheese master’s stand.

I don't have my camera cord, so imagine I took this.

This cheese: Tomme Noire des Pyrénées
Cost: 3ish euros
Nonsensical rating: 7 out of 10

This is a firmer cheese, the closest to something I would have bought in an American grocery store of all the cheeses I’ve had in France so far. It wasn’t as rich as the usual creamy French cheeses either, and apparently might be slightly lower in fat. This is important, as I am starting to become concerned about my cholesterol levels. But I liked it! As a mild cheese that you might use for a winter potato dish, or even something you might use for raclette–it had a similar mild taste–I can imagine myself getting it again.

My goal upon my return in France: go up to the fromager and just ask him to give me a stinky, stinky cheese.

Leaving a Job is Hard Work

Tomorrow is my last day of work. Last. Day. Of. Work. Sunday I leave the Lehigh Valley, most likely permanently… as a resident, anyway.

I’m not sure how that can be possible.

Like the week before vacation, I’ve barely had time to breathe this week, much less blog. I have, however, been trying to make time to actually cook food.

Want to have a laugh? Watch me use a chef's knife.

I definitely proclaim it to be fall. I had my first Punkin Ale (or any pumpkin ale, I’ve got my favorite, Pumking, waiting for me in the fridge) of the season. I’m drinking tea and consuming zucchini and eggplant almost daily–as seen above with various ‘shrooms and onions. I wore a coat OUTSIDE the office today. And I keep seeing the massive spice rack and wanting to make stew.

Spicy. spices. Paul has so many! But no chocolate for midnight snacks.

Of course, stew would also go well with the 15 pounds of challah I still have left.