Category Archives: French

Halvsies

Onion Leek Shallot Soup 1

Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.

Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.

So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.

About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)

Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.

But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.

Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.

To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.

Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.

This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.

(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)

Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.

See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup cheese

Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.

I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.

I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.

Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.

We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.

When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup side

Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).

It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.

But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.

And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.

Onion Leek Shallot Soup close

Onion, Leek & Shallot Soup (PDF)

You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.

To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.

TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.

Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)

When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.

Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).

Onion Leek Shallot Soup assembling

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Filed under appetizers, Beef, French, lupus, recipe, soup

Flat Eggs with Fish

The other night at Cafe Presse I ordered Oeufs Plats, Jambon, Fromage . In French that translates roughly to “flat eggs , ham, cheese,” which explains why French restaurants and bistros serving real renditions of French food keep the menu items listed in French. Flat Eggs with Ham and Cheese does not sound sexy. Oeufs Plats (which sounds roughly like hoopla) sounds at least a little better.

And when it came to the table, a hot oval ceramic dish lined with the Parisian version of American sandwich ham and topped with baked eggs (with still-gooey yolk) and a thick pool of melty gruyere, my fondue food memory flashbulbs went off. My salivary glands kicked into overdrive. It was sexy. It was also delicious.

I’m not sure where to find that same kind of ham, which bears very little resemblance to what people put on sandwiches here. It’s not proscuitto; it’s less cured and much lighter in color. But when I’m craving a ham and butter sandwich (which happens more than I should admit), or in this case Flat Eggs with Ham, there is no substitute.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to try smoked salmon. We had some left, and it created its own mini breakfast miracle, which Tito will undoubtedly demand again soon.

I wonder how smoked salmon tastes on a baguette with thick slabs of salted butter from Brittany.

Oeufs Plats au Saumon et Chevre 2

Recipe 200: Oeufs Plats au Saumon et Chevre (or)
Flat Eggs with Fish and Goat Cheese

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wipe or spray the inside of a creme brulee dish or small ramekin with butter or olive oil. Arrange slices of smoked salmon in a single layer along the bottom and sides of the dish (it should reach up the sides of the dish like a tart crust). When the oven is hot, crack a large egg into the salmon and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the egg white is set but the yolk is only set at the edges. (Timing may depend on your baking vessel of choice.)

When the oeufs come out, sprinkle with goat cheese and chopped chives, and serve with a toasted hunk of good bread.

Hint: If you’re making multiple servings, it’s easier to put all the ramekins on a baking sheet and transport them that way.

Café Presse in Seattle

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Filed under Breakfast, fish, French, recipe, Seattle

Oysters and Pomegranates

A few months ago, I was starting to hate pomegranates. They’re so overdone these days, sneaking their wiley way into every sauce and garnish, tinting every other mimosa and cosmo a garish shade of girl. Problem is, as much as I wanted to write them off, I also wanted to add that spunky, tart, berryish flavor to everything I ingested. So I gave in. I poured POM into my sparkling water, and bought some pomegranate molasses, which is very useful if you happen to stumble upon the four or five recipes that actually use it.

I resolved to start using it on my own. That was a month ago, and I didn’t crack the bottle open again until a few nights ago.

Seattle is blanketed with snow. And by blanketed, I mean that schools have been closed, streets are desolate, and the general vibe is that of an abandoned city. On Thursday some streets were closed, due to apparently heretofore unseen amounts of snowpack:

Snow causes road closures in Seattle

See? Like I was saying, Seattleites are wussy winter drivers and avoid learning how to drive in minute amounts the stuff by just closing the streets that are even remotely icy. (Disclaimer: it’s true that Seattle has virtually no snow removal equipment, so any snow that does accumulate gets packed into black ice and pretty much just sits there until the weather warms up.)

Anyway, this sudden onset of wintry conditions reminded me that it’s an “R,” month, which in the arcane rules of seafood consumption (you know, the ones that were made back before interstate commerce meant refrigerators with 18 wheels) means it’s the best time to buy shellfish. Like oysters. (Okay, there are also other biological reasons for buying shellfish in “R” months, but I’m no biologist.)

So I bought some Quilcene oysters (the guys at the market said “COOL-scene”), from Quilcene Bay, Washington, at Pike Place Market, and brought them home for my professional shucker to shuck. I stirred up a mignonette, the French oyster topping traditionally made with white wine or champagne vinegar, and added some of the pomegranate molasses, to lip-smackingly tart effect – it’s like taking what’s best about mignonette on oysters and what’s best about oysters with just plain lemon juice, and what’s best about plain Tabasco, if you choose to add it, and combining all those flavors into one perfect oyster condiment. For those of you who like ketchup on your bivalves – well, this recipe is not for you.

A friend of mine in New Orleans can eat oysters faster than I can count them. This is not my style – oysters are perhaps the only food that I eat delicately, and in small portions. This mignonette will probably top 4 to 5 dozen oysters, because you don’t need a lot. (We’re talking RAW oysters, by the way.) But if it’s just you and one other person, make the whole mignonette anyway. When you’re done using it for the oysters, simmer it down in a saucepan for a few minutes, whisk in some olive oil, and use it as a hot vinaigrette for a winter frisee salad, with poached egg and crispy pancetta or bacon. That’s what I’d have done, if my shucker hadn’t innocently dumped that precious mignonette down the drain.

Oysters with Pomegranate Mignonette

Recipe for Oysters with Pomegranate Mignonette

Oh, and here’s some info on oysters, including a link to how to open them, if you’ve never done it. It really is easier and safer with a proper oyster knife, but I did watch a girl put an oyster knife clear through the palm of her hand in culinary school. You’re smarter than her, so don’t be put off, but still . . .be careful.

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Filed under appetizers, French, recipe, shellfish

Cremant

House specialties exist for good reason; good diners order based on a restaurant’s strengths. Caesar salads are rarely excellent at brewpubs, which is why I always go for the wings or the burger. I don’t order fish at steakhouses, as a general rule, and I save my tortellini for true Italian restaurants.

A really good restaurant, on the other hand, only puts its strengths on the menu.

Last night we ate at Cremant, a French bistro in Madrona. Cremant qualifies as a really good restaurant–both because the menu encapsulates exactly what is so alluring about French cuisine without trying to change it (unlike another French-ish place across the street), and because the food, ambiance, and service were, in a word, flawless. And although the grey- and white-patterned wallpaper, warehousey cement floors, and butter yellow accents sort of made me feel like I was eating inside some French kid’s dollhouse project, I can’t really think of anything I’d change.

The food was perfect. I started with sparkling Normand apple cider, which reminded me of the kind my Parisian host family made on their farm in Normandy, and by the time my traditional French onion soup hit the table, I wasn’t sure where I was. The gruyere bubbled up and over the sides of the white ceramic bowl (yes, the kind with the lion heads on each side), forming a golden crust that I broke through to find just the kind of deeply beefy, onion-rich soup that makes me order French onion soup literally every time I see it on a menu (usually, this is a mistake–see above). As our waiter fluttered around us effortlessly, my husband and I found ourselves, quite unintentionally, on a true date. I gazed at him, he gazed at me . . .he forgot about work and I forgot about my day’s frustrations; we forgot life and got life back.

Then my lamb shank arrived. I think a lesser carnivore might call it an oversized portion, but realistically, lambs are decent-sized animals, and no one should be surprised when a shank arrives on a 14-inch platter. It was braised perfectly; the muscle fibers had the smooth, soft coating that meat gets when the connective tissue has reached ultimate meltability (think of the oysters on a perfectly roasted chicken). I savored the lamb and my husband’s seared hangar steak, alternating between my seared roasted potato and his crispy, salty frites, dipping all that I could into the accompanying aioli. We worked hard until we could eat no more. I think I broke a sweat.

The problem with being a really critical person is that when things go well, and I mean really almost perfectly, I don’t have much to say. If I were less focused on pointing out restaurants’ flaws, I’d write about the way the host treated us so goshdarn nicely, flatter the server for his excellent wine choices, and gush about how Cremant got all the silverware and place settings just right and so French.

But I’m critical, right? I wish I hadn’t worn my tall black boots, because my left calf cramped up driving my stick shift up and over Capitol Hill. I wish I’d ordered the creamed spinach and brussels sprouts, because I should have known a real French bistro would never put actual vegetables on the same plate as a lamb shank. And I wish that I’d remembered the remains of my lamb shank in its perfect little take-out box, instead of leaving it at the restaurant for someone else’s dog to enjoy.

But more than anything, I wish I could give the person who gave me the gift certificate to Cremant a giant hug. No matter how perfect the restaurant, it is rare that dinner turns into the proverbial night to remember, and rarer still that such a night comes when we need it most. Thank you.

Cremant on Urbanspoon

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Coupage

According to my big blue French dictionary, the word coupage refers to a blending of two things, as in the case of winemaking, for example, and also to the dilution of one thing with another.

Last night I had the good fortune of finding myself nestled in at a tiny four-top smack in the center of Coupage’s dining room, in Madrona, with three like-minded eaters. The evening began innocently enough: we surveyed the lively mural along one wall and the fun, gauze-wrapped hanging lamps, and I noticed that the deep mahogany finish on the chairs was exactly the one I’d tried so hard to achieve with my own dining set, but failed.

We started off with a bang. Our (wonderful) waiter had an unmistakable French accent, and by the time the water was poured we’d established that all four of us in fact spoke French, some more readily than others but all with serviceable accents. A plate of dressed-up sweet potato chips, cut into almost-transparent strips the long way so they curled like expensive Christmas ribbons when they were fried, landed on our too-crowded table, showering us with the aromas of truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. I watched as we each secretly dug for the chips with the most flavor (please! more truffle oil!), and proposed turning ordering our dinners into a community event.

The others readily agreed: we’d share everything. I breathed a huge internal sigh of relief, because for me, the perceived stress of deciding which new things to eat at a new restaurant often outshines the actual flavor of whatever I end up choosing.

Coupage’s food is a unique combination of French and Korean cuisines, to be sure, with a strong serving of what might ubiquitously be called New American. On the menu, Korean-tinged takes on French favorites (lemongrass-scented vichyssoise with a mustard-glazed crab cake, mache salad with a truffle-soy vinaigrette and a smoked maitake mushroom, stacked Korean-ish salade nicoise, and rack of lamb with spicy caponata) balanced creative versions of more traditionally American dishes (think clam chowder with Korean bean paste and bacon foam and crispy, spicy salmon “wings” with a bleu cheese and celery salad).

I liked the food. But, alas, my role as a sometimes-critic and penchant for giving criticism means that I like to, you know, criticize.

What bothered me about Coupage was that each and every dish we tasted seemed to lack exactly that ingredient which had lead me to choose the menu item in the first place. The texture of the lemongrass vichyssoise was spot-on smooth and silky, and light enough to make me understand why Mireille Guiliano, the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, must have been happy with her leek soup crash weekend diet, but none of us could detect even the slightest hint of the promised lemongrass. The pine-needle smoked arctic char was soft and rich, a welcome change in flavor from salmon, but nary a coniferous whiff could be found. We—and I say “we” because the four of us ordered three courses each, and passed the plates around like baby pictures all evening—anyway, we were also disappointed that the mint julep sauce that should have accompanied the lamb rack chops, with their deeply-flavored crust and precisely medium-rare interior, was simply not there. The “smoked” maitake mushroom on the mache salad seemed grilled, rather than smoked; the bulbous mushroomy mass had a delightfully caramelized top and its big fleshy base (think artichoke heart) literally melted in my mouth, but there was absolutely no trace of smoke (which, in this case, was a good thing). The whole thing was sort of like that old SNL skit, where (was that Mike Meyers dressed as an older woman with a NY accent?) says things like “Duran Duran. It was neither Duran, nor Duran. Discuss.” Good flavors, but not necessarily the flavors advertised.

In the end, I found a most delicious menu at Coupage by reassembling the parts I liked most about all our choices in my head. Next time, I’ll start with the clam chowder, a clear miso-esque broth with deep, delicious bacon flavor (again, me with the pork problem), minus the cute manilla clams, which didn’t do much for me. Okay, so that makes it bean paste and bacon soup, but that’s fine with me. Then I’ll move onto the mache salad with that giant heavenly unsmoked maitake, topped with the moist, oh-so-crabby crab cake that came in center of the vichyssoise. My main course will be the crispy pork belly (seared to crusty perfection, which made it both full-flavored and slightly difficult to eat) or perhaps the lamb, I can’t decide which, served over the al dente Asian lentil pilaf with schezuan peppercorn jus, originally served with the pork belly but good enough to eat at any time of day, with anything at all, and a side of the soy-kissed Chinese long beans that came under the (slightly overdone) tuna on the nicoise. Eh voila!

Dessert was most successful: miniature fourme d’ambert grilled cheese sandwiches, garnished with (I think?) cured quince and a small frisee salad, reinvigorated my belief that one can happily fete the end of a meal without encountering a grain of sugar. Their riff on tart(e!) tatin, which combined soft, sweet apples with a buttery crust that first shattered, then melted in my mouth, just the way it should, sort of avoided what is in my opinion the crux of a tatin: there was never any challenging cooking/caramelizing/flipping involved whatsoever. Cheaters! But okay, it was fabulous anyway. The peppered (sushi) rice pudding was, as rice pudding almost always is in my world (except at Ray’s), addictively creamy, but I vote that Coupage puts the pudding’s poached kumquat and grapefruit garnish onto a plate of its own; the citrus combo is that good. I guess I’ll never know why our crème brulee never showed up, but we didn’t miss it.

In general, Coupage’s design is fun but definitely not timeless—they may soon wish that they’d mounted the deep red fabrics on the banquettes on spools, in the fashion of those old cloth restroom paper towel rollers that went around and around, so that they could change the color every so often. The oversized, almost-avant-garde plates and remarkable soup bowl (the one with the rim that reaches first up and out of the soup, then bends down to almost touch the table, like—sorry—like a dog dish) were fun, but too big for the tables and quite annoying to pass around (which, of course, not everyone will be doing).

And now, as I sit in a Starbuck’s across from where my snow tires are being put on, wishing I was back at Coupage listening to my new Frenchie friends rather than the actual French lesson that’s going on at the table behind me, I think this: blending and diluting are dangerously similar, in any language. Coupage’s mix of French and Korean should perhaps lean toward stronger flavors from each cuisine, lest it be watered down like the rest and end up with just a coupage de grace.

Learn more: http://www.coupageseattle.com

Coupage on Urbanspoon

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Filed under French, Korean, pork, review