25 September 2011

Blackcurrant Yogurt Dessert for La Rentrée

I can't believe I've been this lax in my status as American blogging in Paris, but apparently, in my 4 years of blogging, I have not yet once posted about the cultural phenomenon that is la rentrée. For those of you who have never lived in France, the most similar thing we have in the US, is back-to-school time. However, that excitement is usual reserved for people who are still pursuing their studies, or have children who are. In France, pretty much the whole country goes on vacation in August and comes back again at the beginning of September. Even the people who stay, are resigned to the fact, that all usual activities (meetings, workshops, the theater season, even some church services, etc.) are suspended in the last month of summer. Some local businesses close (our boulangerie for example) until the new school year starts again in the fall.

This rentrée has been particularly busy, coming with new contacts, new projects, new responsibilities, new work opportunities and also quite a deal of uncertainty as to how this is all going to pan out and/or fit into one schedule. And I find that when life seems to be rushing by in a whirlwind of activity, it's important to enjoy all the small things along the way. This month, for example, I very much enjoyed the gorgeous moonrises outside my window in evening, especially at the full moon. And the way the cats get all curled up and settled in for Sunday afternoons, showing brotherly love much better than most of our priests and pastors.

Luckily in food, something doesn't have to be complicated, or take a long time to prepare to be good. When we had friends over for dinner last night, D. whipped up this delicious dessert from one of Jamie Olivier's amazing cookbooks. For those still-warm or just-cool evenings, something light and delicious that remembers summer.

For 4 people

4 individual portions of yogurt (a nice thick plain yogurt, like Greek yogurt is best)
4 Tbsp blackcurrant jam
8 Tbsp blackcurrant liqueur (crème de cassis)
4 sprigs of mint

Put one yogurt in each serving cup or bowl (or if you buy it bulk, mostly fill each serving cup/bowl with yogurt). Spread one Tbsp of jam and pour 2 Tbsp of liqueur over each serving. Garnish with springs of mint and serve (or refrigerate to serve later).

10 September 2011

Back in the City and Wild Mushroom Soup

After the exciting travels of summer vacation, coming back to the city feels a little small (and very smelly). Still, there's another kind of excitement I've always felt when starting over again in the fall. It's the excitement of new notebooks, back-to-school clothes, rows of sharpened pencils and crisp new textbooks that haven't yet driven me crazy. And even though I'm not in school anymore, I always feel a sense of newness in the fall. The theater season starts again, bringing with it new projects, new plays to see, new workshops. People come back from summer vacation. The markets are filling up with fall foods.

Not mention fall brings both D's birthday and mine. Today is D's and since we'll be with friends tonight, I made a special birthday dinner last night to celebrate together. One drawback of being in a couple is that there are certain foods you almost never get to eat because your partner doesn't like them. For me, those foods include spinach, fresh ginger, and anything with wasabi; for D. it's mushrooms. I don't like mushrooms. I appreciate the flavor, but I can't stand the texture and don't have much experience cooking with them. But of course, for D's birthday, I knew mushrooms would be involved.

I looked at a couple different wild mushroom soup recipes to come up with this one. Most helpful was Jaime Oliver's The Real Mushroom Soup, and I give full credit to him for the lemon zest garnish that really makes this dish special.

(for 4 people)

2 Tbsp olive oil
about 600g (21oz) of mixed wild mushrooms (I put in girolles, oyster mushrooms, trompettes de la mort and then some regular cultivated mushrooms because buying wild mushrooms is expensive! You can mix whatever you like best.)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage (if you have fresh herbs, even better!)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

heavy cream
1 lemon
sea salt
fresh ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. When hot, pour in the mushrooms and stir for 1 or 2 minutes. Add garlic, shallots, thyme and sage. The mushrooms will start to give off liquid. Simmer, stirring until the liquid is mostly evaporated. At this point, you might want to reserve a couple tablespoons of the mushroom mix for garnish.

Add stock and season to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Blend the soup in batches, or directly in the pot with a stick blender.

For the garnish: Mix together the zest of 1 lemon with the juice of 1/2 a lemon, a pinch of sea salt and a couple grinds of pepper. When you serve the soup, spoon a little bit of this mixture in the middle of each bowl, place some of the reserved wild mushrooms prettily on top (I'm still working on the "prettily" part, but I'm sure you'll do better) and pour on a tablespoon or so of heavy cream to taste. Enjoy!

07 September 2011

America the Beautiful

Now that I'm back in Paris, I'm trying to fully appreciate the scope of all the amazing things we saw on this trip and still overwhelmed! I never really related to patriotic songs before, but I have to say, despite its failings, I come from a very beautiful country. Our National Parks Pass was entitled America the Beautiful after the poem/song by Katherine Lee Bates. I really never thought I'd be quoting it, but turns out to be a not inaccurate resume of our trip (it's just missing a bit about geothermic areas - or perhaps a whole separate song about Yellowstone - so here's a pic of that to start us off).

Oh beautiful for spacious skies

For amber waves of grain

For purple mountains majesties

Above the fruited plains (what fruited plains? She either made this up, or I just spent too much time in Death Valley. Have you all seen fruited plains?)



God shed his grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea (here the Pacific)

To shining sea (and here the Atlantic)

Hope you enjoyed following the trip! Back to our regularly scheduled program as soon as the jetlag wears off and I start actually cooking again!