In this household we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, and although we’ll have to leave our mini-tree here in the beaucoup petite Paris apartment, the Spirit of Christmas we’ve encountered here will follow us all the way home to Kansas City! It is remarkable that The Adventuresome Kitchen’s first-ever roadtrip is beginning to wind down- just as my french is beginning to show signs of improvement! Today nobody asked me if I prefer to speak in English! Of course, I am far from being able to converse about topics other than food, but I am happy with small improvements!
One of the things that has really impressed me about cuisine here is the availability of high-quality fresh produce in every neighborhood. I think it is one of the reasons that as a culture the Parisians tend to be far healthier than their city-dwelling American counterparts. For example, in Kansas City, there are vast stretches of the city that have no grocers- so no fresh fruits and vegetables, no quality meat or dairy.. How can you be healthy if the only option close to you is a QT or a DQ?? Here, the produce is so fresh, and so beautifully and artfully displayed you can’t help but fall in love with an attractive looking clementine, or a beautiful leek. I think we’ve actually eaten more produce here than at home- and that’s saying something! When you have access to quality ingredients, often they demand a simple preparation. Fresh greens with a simple vinaigrette, or even just a squeeze of lemon. Or a few veggies brought together in a simple soup. Being here for two weeks, and living with a dorm fridge has radically altered how I approach meals- and I have to admit, I like it. There’s a local grocer I go by every day on the way home from picking up the girls from school, and when I get home I plan to try to shop like I have here. We’ll see if it works stateside. But I digress…
For our family, Christmas Eve has always been the pinnacle of Christmas Preparations. As a former full-time Church Musician, the entire focus of my fall, starting in about October, was Christmas Eve. In years past, Christmas Eve began with a festive family luncheon of seafood and champagne before heading off to several hours of services, culminating in a late-night drive home through the Christmas lit streets. Now, even though there is no marathon of Christmas Eve services to oversee, the tradition of seafood, champagne and Christmas lights still continues. Here in Paris, among other things, it’s oyster season (it’s also Truffle season, but that’s a future post!) So what better way to spend Christmas Eve than visiting my local market street in search for stellar ingredients including freshly harvested (as in that morning!) seafood? We enjoyed a lunch of fresh oysters and lentil salad (also a new favorite!) right on the street, then bought a dozen to bring home. Champagne is always a stellar accompaniment to oysters, but we’ve also learned that Muscadet, a white wine from France’s Atlantic coast, is an often suggested pairing with oysters here. If you love oysters, it’s certainly worth checking with your local wine vendor to see if you can purchase a muscadet- it’s a briney, mineraly compliment to a fresh oyster!
Christmas Eve in Paris wouldn’t be complete without Foie Gras! I confess, that I absolutely Love foie gras. Can’t get enough of it, and I’m also proud to say that my girls seem to be following in my footsteps. How lucky were we to learn that the local butcher we’ve befriended makes it in house? Maybe it was knowing the maker, maybe it was the excitement of being in Paris for Christmas, but it was the most heavenly foie gras I’ve tasted- like silk, with a perfectly seasoned flavor that just melted in your mouth! We paired it with fresh greens and a simple mustard vinaigrette (recipe below!). You can see from the picture, that a little goes a long way- and that really is the key with any rich food- be it foie gras, caviar, oysters, chocolate or macaron- indulge moderately.
Our evening ended by celebrating Christmas Eve with our temporary neighbors at the parish church- for us, St. Eustache. Although this church was built during the 1500’s, there’s been a parish present there since the 1200’s… talk about history. The soaring gothic cathedral houses an enormous pipe organ, and every window and side chapel was lit with candles. It was quite an experience to sing ancient carols in such a place.
Christmas Day dawned, and the first sunny day of our whole visit shined gloriously down on us. We enjoyed a second round of feasting, including the pinnacle- a Bresse Chicken! The bird is every bit as delicious as it’s rumored to be, and deserving of its own post. But as a teaser, here are the preludes- a creamy zucchini soup recipe given to me by a dear friend of my grandfather’s here in Paris, and simple haricorts verts (that’s green beans for the rest of us!) A delicious and necessary contrast to the preparation of the Bresse Chicken. It’s only the third day of Christmas, so keep feasting, wherever you are!
use for salads or over vegetables
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs good quality mustard
2 tsp sherry or red wine vinegar
Mix ingredients together vigorously until an emulsion has formed. Adjust mustard/vinegar to taste and drizzle over fresh salad greens.
Cream of Zucchini Soup
This recipe came to me from a dear friend of my grandfather’s. The original recipe calls for zucchini, bouillon, and Vache qui rit (laughing cow) the small triangle processed cheeses that you see in the grocer. I couldn’t find at my local grocer, and opted for creme fraiche, as well as adding a few extra ingredients. Whatever incarnation you choose to use with this recipe, the end result is a simple and tasty soup.
2 small-medium zucchini, peeled and diced
2 shallots, finely diced
2 tbs butter
2 cups water
1 bouillon cube (I used chicken, but vegetable is okay too)
1/2 cup creme fraiche, or 2 triangles of vache qui rit
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, finely minced
Place butter in a 4-quart sauce pan. Heat on medium until butter foams. Add shallots and gently stir. When the shallots have begun to turn translucent, add the zucchini. Stir to incorporate, and cover. Allow to cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Zucchini is a high-water content vegetable, so the water in the zucchini should be enough to prevent them from sticking. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on them, and add a little butter or water if necessary.
When zucchini has softened, add 2 cups water and one bouillon cube. Bring to a boil and turn heat to low. Using a heavy fork, or an immersion blender, puree to your desired degree of thickness. Add creme fraiche or the cheese and stir gently to incorporate. Add tarragon, stir for another minute, and serve immediately.
Haricorts Verts (Green Beans) with Shallot Mustard Vinaigrette
serves 4 as a side dish, double for more substantial portions
2 1/2 cups green beans, stems removed
3 tbs butter
3 shallots, diced
1 tbs sherry or red wine vinegar
1 tbs good quality mustard
Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil. While you are waiting for the pot to boil, place a bowl in the sink, fill it halfway with water, then fill the remaining part with ice.
When the pot is boiling, add the beans. Cook for 3 minutes, until the color has turned bright green. Pour off the boiling water and add the hot beans to the ice-bath. This stops the cooking, and preserves the brilliant green color of the beans. When you are ready to serve the beans, place a saute pan over medium heat. Add the butter, and when the butter is foaming, add the beans. Sautee for 1-2 minutes and add remaining ingredients. Cook until beans are warmed through and still bright green. Serve immediately.