Monday, May 26, 2008

A French picnic!

Last week a friend of mine was feeling a bit down, so on Monday I decided to steal her away from work to enjoy a warm spring afternoon in a park and a simple, fresh French-inspired picnic.

I did a little research on the usual fare for a picnic in France and settled on four items. For starters, I made Provençal rosemary almonds.

Provençal Rosemary Almonds

2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cups raw almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave. Mix seasoning into the butter, and then toss in almonds. Bake seasoned nuts for about 10-12 minutes, stirring once, until toasted and fragrant.

Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature.

The main dish was a pan-bagnat (or a variation thereof), the traditional sandwich of Nice, based on the Salade Niçoise.


1 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 baguette
1/2 can quality solid white albacore tuna, drained
1/4cup red onion, sliced paper-thin
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced thin
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Tomato slices
Salt and pepper to taste

Split the baguette length-wise and dig out the center to make room for the filling. Rub the garlic all over the inside of the baguette, drizzle on the olive oil along with salt and pepper, to taste.

Layer on lettuce, onion, tomato, tuna, and egg. Add another little drizzle of oil.

Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and chill for about 2 hours.

As a tangy side offering, I also made an easy, fresh cucumber and dill salad.

Cucumber Dill Salad

1 large cucumber, sliced thin crosswise (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon dried dill

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and give it a toss.

Chill a couple of hours, tossing every-so-often, until ready to serve.

Finally, I served it all up with a glass of chilled apple tea. I would much rather have gone with wine, but the local laws of Utah are very oppressive when it comes to alcohol. Thus, one cannot bring it into a public park without the risk of being stoned to death...or getting a ticket after some uptight soccer-mom sicks the cops on you.

Apple Tea

2 bags of black tea (or 3 tsp. loose leaf black tea)
2 cups apple juice, divided

Heat 1 cup apple juice on stove until just simmering. Pour over tea bags/leaves and steep 5 minutes. Remove tea bags (or strain out the leaves) and add the second cup of cold apple juice, to expedite the cooling of the tea. Chill your tea until cold.
Good food, good company, and a sunny afternoon...nice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

French Cooking 1: Delicious Simplicity

When I mention that I like to cook French cuisine, most people I know react either with astonishment, or with a certain "f#$% that fancy French food" look to their faces. Really, I fail to understand how French food always seems to create such diametrically opposed reactions. Either you're amazing, or you're a snob. I think one reason is that so many people think of French food as being long prepped coq au vin, fragile beurre blanc, or the pricey epitome of French retro-chic cooking (à la Julia Child), la filet du bœuf Wellington. As for the negative reactions, well, maybe there's still some post-9/11 anti-French fallout among the "freedom fries" sect. Who is to say?

Myself, when I think of French cuisine, I think of dishes that are simple yet delicious. Take, for example, the cassoulet, simple slow-cooked, bean stew. The stew often includes meat, in the form of pork sausage, duck, mutton, and pork skin. Being a mostly-vegetarian, however, I have searched for, and found, a delicious recipe for a simple and easy cassoulet
de légumes (vegetable cassoulet).

Veggie Cassoulet

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 zucchini, chopped
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
3 cups drained cannellini beans, liquid reserved
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
4 slices crusty whole-wheat toast

Heat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook zucchini, celery, onion, salt and pepper until soft, about 8 minutes. Mix in garlic and cook, stirring, another minute. Combine veggies, tomatoes, beans, 1/4 cup of the bean liquid, thyme and bay leaves in a 2-quart baking dish. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve warm with toast on the side.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 382 calories, 7.8g fat (1 g saturated), 66g carbs, 15.5g fiber, 19.6g protein.
The only change I really made, was to add a small block of crumbled tofu, just to up the protein a bit more. I also made the cassoulet in my 10-in dutch oven. The cast iron gives a wonderful, rustic flavor to the dish!

Bon appétit, tout le monde!