Monday, December 30, 2013

Minnesota Snowflakes

A lovely photo that Lindsay took last week:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rice and Lentils

This dish is called mejadra. In my youth, I just knew it as rice and lentils. My family would buy it from the deli at Sahadi's, a Lebanese store that's a serious Brooklyn institution. I've tried to make it before, but I couldn't get the onions to come out right. From Ottolenghi and Tamimi's cookbook Jerusalem, I learned that the trick is to dust them in flour and then fry them in a lot of oil. It really works. Like all of Ottolenghi's recipes, it sounds fine but unexciting and then comes out amazing.

I made this using some leftover rice I had, which came out pleasantly chewy. I've written it up the way I did it. To make it properly, follow the same directions but first cook the lentils for only 15 minutes. Then, replace the leftover rice in the recipe with a half cup of uncooked rice. In the step at the end where everything is combined, drain the partially-cooked lentils, add them and 3/4 cup water to the rice and spices, bring to a boil, and cook over low heat.

This should serve two with some extra. It's adapted from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

  • 2/3 cup green or brown lentils
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 cup neutral oil
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. whole coriander seeds
  • leftover rice, or 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • olive oil
  • turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

Cook the lentils in plenty of water with salt until done if you're using leftover rice, or for 15 minutes if you're not.

While it cooks, slice the onions thinly and mix them up with your hands with the flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onion with the oil in two batches. Stir and regulate the heat so that the onion turns golden and cooks in five to seven minutes. Put aside with a slotted spoon onto paper towels and sprinkle with more salt.

Wipe your pan clean and toast the coriander and cumin seeds for a few minutes. Add the olive oil, spices, and cooked rice. Fry the rice and try to break up any clusters. Then drain the lentils leaving some water behind, add them to the pan, add the sugar, and cook for a few minutes. Mix in half the onions, and serve topped with the other half and with some yogurt.

Monday, February 25, 2013

France, Day 10, 8/31/2012

We have a busy day. We go to a laundromat, where the proprietor, who happens to be there painting the walls, gives us directions in English. (And we needed them, too! It was a very confusing laundromat.) While our clothes wash and dry, we have coffee at le Bar Tarmac (it had an airplane theme), and then go see the old town's ramparts. They aren't as massive as Saint-Malo's, but they're impressive nonetheless. We hike up Mont-Frugy (not a real mountain) looking for a nice place to picnic, but we come back down and eat at its foot when we can't find a sunny spot. After lunch, we look at some pottery (Quimper has been a center of pottery for a long time) and check out the 11th century church of Locmaria.

Outside of Locmaria.

A stream in Quimper.

After another stroll around the old town, we go to the Breton museum and see art, artifacts, clothes, and furniture from Brittany, from prehistoric times to the 1920s. We stop at a bar with lots of Breton beers, and we both get little, 1/4-liter glasses.

For dinner, we go to Chez Max, a very nice looking bistro hidden in a courtyard. When we ask the server what something is on the menu, she brings over an English speaking waitress who tells us (it was clams). Unfortunately, she then proceeds to translate the rest of the menu for us at length. We share six stuffed clams, chewy but delicious. I get a faux-filet (beef tenderloin?), also chewy but delicious, and it comes with a sauce that seems to be roasted garlic and other vegetables in oil. It also comes with fries, excellent roasted vegetables (zucchini and carrots), and a little salad. Lindsay gets moules frites, which are much worse than the muscles we've been eating, fishier and not as sweet. We swap halfway through as usual.

For dessert, I get a pear with Fourme d'Ambert, a truly delicious blue cheese that I ate twice a day last year in Saint-Flour. The pear is whole and is baked in a thin crunchy sheet of pastry, along with the cheese. It's not sweet at all—in fact, it comes with a salad. It would have been nicer with some element of sweetness, whether honey or just a riper pear. Lindsay gets the Breton cake with a scoop of buckwheat and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Our waitress dutifully translated all the ice cream flavors for us, something not exactly required for words like vanille and chocolat. The cake is dense and dry—I've never had a gateau Breton before, so I'm not a good judge, but I don't think it was supposed to be so dry—but the ice cream is delicious.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

France, Day 9, 8/30/2012

For the first time, we move on to the next place by train and not by foot. My legs feel normal again! For most of the trip, I've felt sore but fine, but yesterday my legs had actually started to hurt. We loved the hiking on the trip even though we didn't prepare ourselves physically in any way, relying on our youth and general fitness. If I ever do this again, I'll go hiking a few times before with a heavy bag so that the muscles in my ankles and legs that go unused in my regular life don't get such a shock.

We planned our trip with the help of David Lewis, who told us that the essential thing was to get a Topoguide from FFRandonée. We planned our trip and then ordered the Topoguide (which came very quickly, by the way). This is really the opposite of what we should have done: choose the general region, order the Topoguide, and then plan the trip. The guide tells you things like which towns have train stations, bus stations, places to stay, and places to get food. They also provide some suggestion of which tourist destinations you'll want to see. Our Topoguide, for example, was called "Chemin vers le Mont-Saint-Michel" which might have clued us in that our route narrowly missed the town of Mont-Saint-Michel. If Saint-Malo was, say, a two star destination, then Mont-Saint-Michel deserved something like eight stars. Or so it seemed, since we never actually went there. We eventually started lying to French people when they asked us if we were going to Mont-Saint-Michel because if we said we weren't they'd look at us incredulously and start plotting how we should get to it (it wasn't feasible to work it into our trip after we arrived). And this is the explanation of how we came to visit the area surrounding Mont-Saint-Michel without visiting the place itself.

The closest we came to Mont-Saint-Michel, back on the second day of our trip. The camera is zoomed all the way and the picture is cropped, so it's even farther than it looks.

After one last coffee with steamed milk (UHT, i.e., the kind that tastes funny and never goes bad, and the only kind we ever saw) at our friendly café, we're off to the train station. Our train stops in Rennes, and there's enough time to walk to the old town, sit down for a few minutes, and walk back. Then we board a train to Quimper and eat the provisions we got in Saint-Malo: a wonderful boule au levain; some hard salami, flavored with garlic; a vegetable tarte of carrots and leeks baked in eggs and cream; a soft, unctuous cheese; and a carrot salad with an excellent dressing (orange juice and olive oil?); and a kouign amann (not as good as the one we had in Cancale, unfortunately).

We arrive in beautiful Quimper in the early afternoon. We stay at l'Hôtel de la Gare, conveniently across the street from the train station (that's la gare). We notice that all the street signs are in French and Breton, which looks like Welsh.

Our ambition for the day is to visit a cidery. There's one just outside of town, but it's too hard to get there by bus. So, we splurge and take a taxi to la Cidrerie Manoir du Kinkiz, where they make cider and also distill it into brandy. They have a little exhibit on the history of the local distilling methods. The employee at the distillery takes us around and translates for us. Then she gives us a tasting. I'm most excited to try their lambig, cider distilled to 80 proof and aged in oak barrels. The same basic thing made in Normandy is Calvados. We also try pommeau, which is one part lambig and three parts cider, aged together. It's a pleasant, slightly sweet drink intended as an aperitif. We also try some fruit liquors that they make using the fruit of other local growers.

Then we go over to the cidery, where we taste the three ciders they produce: a very dry, lightly bubbly one from Fouesnant; a dry, bubblier one that's AOC Cournauille; and a lighter, sweeter one made from a single variety of apple and intended to be drunk before or after a meal, as the woman who was pouring explained to us in perfect English. My favorite was the Fouesnant, Lindsay's the Cournauille. These ciders are fermented briefly in metal vats (not wood) and finish in the bottle. They're meant to be drunk immediately, and if they're not, they can start to taste funny, lose their fizz, or explode. They're very refreshing and still taste like apples even though they're dry, and they're only about five percent alcohol. We bring home a few bottles of cider, a bottle of lambig, and some crème de cassis.

Quimper's old town is nice, and it's less overwhelmingly touristy than Saint-Malo's. (Saint-Malo's old town is beatiful but sort of like a theme park.)

Toby illuminated

We have dinner at Erwan, where the proprietor, Erwan, waits on all the tables. The restaurant has many Breton dishes, which are unfortunately written on the menu only in Breton, but we get them translated into a mix of French and English. Erwan even throws in some German, which is not helpful. We start with fish soup, and sardines with carrots and cabbage fried in a thin dough wrapper. The fish soup is great. It's reddish brown with no large chunks of anything, but with a coarse texture from little bits of fish. It comes with rouille, toasts, and cheese. It's less rich than the soup we had at les Embruns, but much more flavorful, tasting of fish and warm spices.

As main courses we get two Breton dishes: cod in cider butter, and pork with potatoes. The pork is a sausage, spareribs, and shoulder and is as big as it sounds. Both dishes come with a bit of zucchini stewed with tomatoes. Everything is very good, though we can't eat it all. We also get a great bottle of cider.

At another table, we see three people get dessert while the other person at the table, an older man, gets a bowl of fish soup.

3 Rue Aristide Briand
29000 Quimper, France

Friday, January 18, 2013

France, Day 8, 8/29/2012

After some Reine Claude plums and coffee at our local bar, which we've become very fond of, we go see the old town of Saint-Malo. We end up for lunch at a fast food crêperie called Breizh Food. I get a galette with egg and country ham, and Lindsay gets one with poitrine (smoked pork belly?) and cheese. Both are good, though the crêpes don't have that fermented tang that we've come to expect.

Old Saint-Malo.

Clouds and rain dash our beach hopes, so we stay in our hotel until we make a late afternoon visit to our cafe to sit and read. We go to dinner at le Bacchus, where we ate lunch the other day. They have a €20 prix-fixe (my guess is that they only have it when there aren't tons of tourists around). There are two choices for each course, so we get to have it all. First is a gratin of chanterelle mushrooms, and two fried eggroll shells stuffed with stewed beef (a way of using up leftovers, I guess). Both dishes come with a slightly overdressed salad of nice mesclun. The mushrooms are delicious: the dish was basically just them, seasoned and cooked in cream.

The two main courses were kidneys in a rich, mushroom sauce, and some kind of white fish à l'ancienne: mashed with potatoes and baked, like we had in Cancale, but this one was much better. Our server spent a long time trying to demonstrate what kidneys were so we knew what we were getting ourselves into.

For dessert we had a chocolate pot de crème and a vacherin with (raspberry?) coulis and crème anglaise. The vacherin was basically a really good ice cream cake, with layers of fluffy frozen icing (I think) and meringue.

After the meal, our waitress (possibly the owner) talks to us and seems very confused as to how we found the restaurant. She points at a sticker and asks if that's why we came. We explain in our best French that our hotel was around the corner, and we just saw it as we walked by.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

France, Day 7, 8/28/2012

After breakfast we hike to Saint-Malo, arriving by 12:15. This hike is muddy in spots, but very pretty. Parts of it look like they'd be impassible at high tide, but the timing works out for us and we don't need to wait.

On the way to Saint-Malo.

For lunch, we go to a nice restaurant near our hotel called le Bacchus, which has a great lunch deal: 10 euros for either of two dishes. I get a filet of cod, sitting on a bed of zucchini and other vegetables in a green sauce, with a little disc of shredded potatoes and onion (and fennel? cabbage?). Lindsay gets the other dish, dug leg confit with delicious yellow fries in thick wedges. The interior of the restaurant is a sickening mix of lavender and pink; flowery motifs abound, and orchids are scattered everywhere. A restaurant like this would look completely different in the U.S.! It would be decorated like a barn or have exposed brick walls or something.

Then we go to the beach! The weather is less cooperative than yesterday, so we stay out of the water. The beach is filled with kids who don't mind the cold and splash around happily. After we go back to the hotel and take showers, we go to a slightly seedy bar/newsstand for afternoon drinks. Lindsay has a kir royale (sparkling wine with cassis) and I have a pastis, a milky anise-flavored liquor that comes with a pitcher of water to dilute it. I think I got the worst brand of pastis, because it tastes like liquified Good-and-Plenties.

As we look for dinner, all the restaurants look like variations on each other. We go to the one that looks the least touristy, Les Embruns, even though it's slightly more expensive than the others. When we go in, we see that it's much fancier than we expected. There are white tablecloths; the servers wear black and white uniforms.

We get the cheapest prix fixe meal (22 euros) and the cheapest carafe of white wine (from the Luberon), and we are rewarded with a terrific meal. Our server is extremely professional, and service that would feel stuffy at home is natural and fun here. I get fish soup with a platter of rouille, gruyère, and toasts. Lindsay gets crab remoulade, crab and celery root in mayonnaise (or maybe it was just a thick vinaigrette?) with dill. We are both given an amuse-bouche of a single oyster. I get a filet of haddock in a basil sauce with delicious mashed potatoes. Lindsay gets choucroute de la mer, a big plate of braised sauerkraut with a few mussels and three pieces of fish (salmon, smoked whitefish, and some sort of unsmoked whitefish).

Lindsay gets a plate with a few different desserts: a tiny ramekin of crème brûlée, a piece of layer cake, a little scoop of some sort of nut ice cream, and a berry sorbet. I get the cheese plate, which has camembert, a tomme, and a soft cheese whose name I couldn't understand. We go back to our hotel somewhat surprised at the meal we got, and very happy.

Le Bacchus
102 Avenue Pasteur
35400 Saint-Malo

Les Embruns
120 Chaussée du Sillon
35400 Saint-Malo

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

France, Day 6, 8/27/2012

Our room is amazing:

A marble fireplace.

A bedside table with a marble top, and Lindsay's feet.

For lunch, we go back to the only place in town for a buckwheat crêpes with melted cheese for Lindsay, and with sausage for Toby. Lindsay also gets a sweet crêpe, and I get an okay fruit salad.

The clouds clear and we go to the beach (not the nude one from yesterday—there's a line of rocks that marks the start of clothes). It's a beautiful day, and we sit in the sun reading and then brave the cold English channel.

We have a plan for the evening: we'll walk four kilometers to Saint-Coulomb in the afternoon, sit in a cafe until dinner, go to a restaurant, and then take a taxi back to la Guimorais. But when we get to Saint-Coulomb, we find out that it only has one restaurant, which is closed on Monday! (Saint-Coulomb is nicer than this would make you think. It has many pretty stone buildings; a bakery; several butchers, one of whom was also selling prepared food that looked good; and a "municipal restaurant," open only for lunch. Further inspection revealed that the municipal restaurant was attached to the elementary school, and presumably makes lunch for the kids. Wouldn't it be nice if school lunches were available to the general public and worth buying in your town?)

So, we walk all the way back to la Guimorais and beyond to the shore, where a restaurant called la Perle Noire serves tourists. It's pretentious—the menu has items like "un caprice de foie gras" and "une trilogie d'agneau"—but it's not so bad, and it has a pretty view. Our waiter is young and very nice, and he fits the cliché of bumbling waiter. When he delivers our bottle of cider, he can't get the cork out. After much effort, it pops off and lands on me. He brings us a basket of bread with a big flourish, only to snatch it away when he realizes that he meant it for the next table over. I watch him carry off a tray of empty bottles from another table while making jerking motions in fear of a bee and knocking over the bottles. All of his mistakes are harmless and only make us happier. Lindsay gets mussels in curry, and I get a hamburger, which is pink and juicy in the middle. We stop at our old friend the crêperie on our way back, where I get a scoop of salted butter caramel ice cream and Lindsay of currant sorbet.