Sunday, October 30, 2011

beginning with breakfast

I have arrived in Zurich. I will be here for the next two months, in a studio apartment in the middle of town. One thing I am truly excited about: my apartment has a kitchen! In terms of this blog, this means a halt to the restaurant-food-in-foreign-city posts and a return to here's-what-I've-made-in-my-kitchen posts. I welcome this change.

So far, I'm quite excited by the prospect of cooking in another country. It presents some interesting new challenges.

First, the kitchen. It's tiny. I think it has everything I need, though things are in different places and some work differently than I'm used to. The oven, for example, sits on top of the fridge and heats in Celsius degrees from the top. That actually makes a little more sense to me (everyone outside of the US uses the metric system and why have both an oven and a range that heat from the bottom?); I think that with the fan, I can use it as one would a convection oven. The stovetop has two small burners, wedged between the fridge and the sink. The only countertop space to speak of is the "bar" on the side (a ledge below the window), which is also meant to serve as my dining room table and desk. This means I must be efficient with my prep space!

Then, there is the grocery store. I had my first adventure there yesterday. The local store is called Coop and it's conveniently located just down the street. While it was mostly pretty straightforward, the fact that everything is in German and not all of the ingredients I'm used to are available (or at least find-able) keeps things interesting. I like this sort of interesting, as it forces me both to learn and to improvise.

The first meal I'd like to write about is the breakfast that I cooked this morning. I had been to the store already and had purchased without a specific morning meal in mind, so possibilities abounded. The first question I had to answer was: savory or sweet? I was unable to decide, so I made an eggy version of each. It was kind of like real breakfast plus dessert breakfast. The perfect start to my first Sunday in Zurich.

Baked Eggs with Fancy Ham, Spinach & Mushrooms
Serves 2

2 slices pancetta, sliced into 1/4" strips
a handful of button mushrooms, roughly chopped
a handful of spinach
4 eggs
a splash of milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or at least I think that's about what 200 degrees Celsius works out to...).

Cook pancetta and mushrooms in a skillet until mushrooms are tender.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs and milk together in a bowl. Set aside.

Add spinach to skillet where pancetta and mushrooms are cooking. Cook, stirring, until spinach is just wilted.

Transfer meat & veggie mixture to a greased 6-inch baking dish (I used an oven safe pot greased with olive oil, since that's what I had available; you could also do this in two 3-4 inch ramekins). Pour egg mixture over the top. Put dish(es) in preheated oven.

Cook for 10-15 minutes, until eggs are cooked through (probably adjust time down if cooking the servings separately). For me, at about 12 minutes, the top was nice and browned, but as mentioned, my oven heated from the top. To get this with a regular oven, you may have to turn the broiler on for a couple of minutes at the end of the cooking time.

Let sit out of the oven for 5 minutes. Use a spatula to release the eggs from the sides and bottom of the pan. Cut into pieces to serve.

Sweet Banana French Toast
Serves 2

2 Tbsp. butter
2-4 Tbsp. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 bananas, sliced
2 eggs
a splash of milk
4 slices rustic bread

Heat butter, water, and sugar in a small pan over medium heat (start with 2 Tbsp. water and add more as needed during cooking process to reach desired consistency). Once sugar has dissolved in the butter-water mixture, add bananas. Let this continue to cook until bananas have started to break down. Reduce heat to low to keep hot while you cook the french toast.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a slice of butter and distribute in pan.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and milk. Dip the bread, one piece at a time, into egg mixture to coat each side. Place the 4 eggy bread slices into the hot pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Serve french toast topped with banana mixture.

One year ago: mom's split pea soup

barcelona food

Tapas, tapas, paella, tapas.

This pretty much sums up what I ate during my 5 day exploration of Barcelona. I am not complaining. While nearly everything I tried falls into the good-to-outstanding range, the standout food item for me was octopus: so tender and flavorful. I ordered it nearly everywhere I went.

My single complaint having to do with food in Barcelona is that the vegetable dishes for the most part were uninspired and did not seem particularly fresh or ripe (roasted peppers and leeks with tuna were two standout exceptions at dinner one night). This was surprising to me given how outstanding the seafood was (without exception). The tomatoes in one dish appeared anemic; the kiwi at breakfast was nowhere near ripe. This was a reminder of the benefits of eating local (and a good reason to eat more seafood!).

I ate at a number of tasty places but only took pics at one - a wine bar/tapas restaurant that I found myself in one afternoon. The leisurely 90-minute meal was the perfect prelude to a siesta. The pics are below. I also included some from the St. Josep Market, where - similar to my meals - seafood trumped produce in both abundance and beauty. Enjoy!

Late lunches for the packed restaurant all came from this tiny kitchen.
A local dish made of crisp potato, a poached egg, and langosteen. There is a special way to stir it all together that the waiter is demonstrating here. 
Beautiful beef.
The St. Josep market.

Because it isn't Barcelona without some Gaudi: the Sagrada Familia.

Monday, October 24, 2011

paris aventures alimentaires: jours 9 et 10

Today, I explored Paris by foot. J'ai beaucoup marche. The culinary highlight was La Grande Epicerie Paris, the grocery store that's attached to the high-end department store, Le Bon Marche. It was the fanciest grocery store I've ever been in and I took no shame in snapping lots of photos of the beautiful food. Here are some highlights:

Epiceries de fantaisie.
An entire aisle of beautiful sucre!
You can't tell from the photo, but each of these spice canisters is about a gallon in size.
De fruites de mer. 
Fancy French meats! 
More fancy meat. 
An aile devoted to all things truffle and pate.
Mon dejeuner: tasty fish soup (soupe de poisson) at a street-side cafe.
So as not to skip jour 9...yesterday was a pretty lazy Sunday (some recovery time was needed after a bit too much imbibing the night prior with some friends from French class). I did make a trek across town in the afternoon to have tea with Aurelie, who was my market tour guide last weekend, and her husband, Eric. They live in a beautiful apartment in the 17th arrondissement. She had made a delicious assortment of sweet snacks to enjoy, including some lemon poppyseed madeleines that I am going to need to learn how to make.

Today was my last full day in Paris. I have fallen in love with this city and am already dreaming about when I can come back. If you're interested in non-food pics, check out my photo album here.

Next up is Barcelona. Stay tuned for more tales of culinary adventures. Leave me a comment if you have recommendations on what to see or eat!

One year ago: lemon herb roasted potatoes
Two years ago: pear bread

Saturday, October 22, 2011

paris aventures alimentaires: jour 8

Biggest success of the day: buying figs from a market vendor...entirely in French! The conversation went something like this:

Bonsoir madame.
  - Bonsoir! Je voudrais un demi kilo de figues, s'il vous plait.
Oui. Voila. Trois trente, s'il vous plait.
  - Voila. Merci!
Merci! Bonne soiree.
  - Bonne soiree!

Not only did I understand how much I had to pay him, but I also gave him exact change. That may not sound like a lot, but it's the first time it's happened for me, so I was pretty excited about it.

Today was a lovely Saturday in Paris. It started out cold and foggy (38 degrees on my morning run!), but burned off to a beautiful blue sky and sunshine for my afternoon at the Musee Rodin. I sat on a bench in the garden with a nice view of the museum and sketched for a bit. After the museum, I wandered and found myself a cafe in the sunshine. There, I enjoyed a croque madame (that was served with a nice, sharp mustard...I think it may have had horseradish in it?) with a glass of rose from Provence and finished my drawing. J'aime Paris!

Rodin's The Three Shades
Rodin's The Thinker
Musee Rodin, from the garden.

My interpretation of the Musee Rodin.

Friday, October 21, 2011

paris aventures alimentaires: jour 7

My last intensive French class was today. Je suis triste! My French, while much improved, still leaves quite a bit to be desired. I plan to keep practicing.

I embarked on a Parisan adventure this afternoon with a couple of friends from class, which among other things, included une cafe sitting outside at a cafe and my first crepe of the current Paris trip, avec jambon et fromage. Tres bon!

Though chilly, the weather today was beautiful and is supposed to stay that way through the weekend. Here's my view of the Eifel Tower from my apartment:

paris aventures alimentaires: jour 6

Sadly, I just passed the halfway point of my current Paris trip. Though the time seems to be racing by, I am content with the volume of experiences that I've been able to pack in so far (intensive language classes, museums, parks, churches, amazing food). 4 more days of exploring are ahead of me...

Today, I embarked on a very fun and novell adventure: Paris grocery shopping. I enjoy grocery shopping in general (I'm one of those people who takes an hour or more to do it because I like going up and down every aisle, taking it all in); it's even more enchanting in another country, where the shelves contain treasures not previously encountered. Different brands, different items (I think I spent 10 minutes staring at the wall of yogurt trying to make a choice! yes, I even took a pic). J'adore.

In an attempt to practice my French, here is what I returned from the grocery store with:
  • le pain ... bread
  • jambon ... ham
  • camembert ... cheese from Normandy (2 euros for a round that would have cost $8-9 in CA!)
  • yaourt aux fruits ... fruit yogurt
  • oeufs ... eggs
  • jus d'orange ... orange juice
  • les champignons ... mushrooms
  • raisins ... grapes
Beautiful food.

Speaking of beauty, here are a couple of pics that I took yesterday at the Musee de l'Orangerie, which has definitely earned a place on my list of favorite museums. It's known for its two large, round rooms that display eight of Monet's Les Nympheas (Water Lillies). The rest of the collection includes more big names: Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse. The current exhibit focused on Spanish painters (a great segue into my trip to Spain next week!). No pics allowed in the current exhibit, but here are a few from the permanent collection. Enjoy!

Should have included the placard in my pic so I would know who painted this... :-)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

paris aventures alimentaires: jours 4 et 5

Salut! The past couple of days have been packed with intensive French classes and exploring the city (including getting lost more times than I can count!). Despite the full days, I've had no trouble continuing to enjoy a healthy amount of French food. In particular, the dinner restaurant meals of the past two evenings have been spectacular.

Last night, I dined at Au Fil des Saisons and had what has definitely been (and I can only imagine will continue to be) the standout meal of my Paris adventure. I was glad the reviews I read online had warned it was difficult to find, as I otherwise may not have ventured down the dark alleyway on which it was located. Any fear at the lack of clientele when I arrived (the restaurant was totally empty) was soon assuaged by the owner who came out to welcome me and start to tell me about the restaurant and menu (he also explained that business has slowed very suddenly this week and attributes it to the apartment tax that has to be paid at the end of the month as well as the two week school vacation that is upcoming in Paris). The restaurant was tiny - maybe 15 tables - with a super comfortable, bistro atmosphere, the menus written on large standing chalkboards that are set table-side, displaying the standing items and daily specials.

The menu was organized into three sections: entree, plat, and dessert, with a prix fixe choice from each of the categories for 28 euros (tres bon marche!). The restauranteur gave me a couple of minutes with the menu (en francais) then came over to run through it in english and give some more details about the selections. Ingredients are sourced locally and everything is made in the restaurant from scratch and without shortcuts. You could tell by talking with this guy that food is his art and that he takes considerable thought, time, and pride in his craft. He was also quite attentive and generous with his time (something I've not encountered often here).

After making my food selections, the owner recommended une bouteille de vin rouge: Clos Fantine, a small production wine that a friend of his makes. It was outstanding. I can best describe the flavor as "great big," almost like someone had taken a good red wine and then turned up the volume on flavor. It started with ripe fruity fig, rounding out with hints of tabacco and metal, the big flavor touching every part of my mouth.

For my appetizer, I chose a homemade pesto ravioli (I know, not very French of me, but fret not, as I made up for this over the course of the rest of the meal). Baked in the tiniest pot and topped generously with slices of parmesan, it somehow managed to be melt-in-your-mouth creamy without being at all heavy. Tres bon.

The next course was a surprise from the owner. As he was going over the menu, we discussed one of the appetizers, la moelle: bone marrow. Spending a good portion of my teens and twenties as a vegetarian, this would generally fall into the too-strange-of-a-meat-product-for-Cole-to-consider category, but I was feeling adventurous. The owner actually talked me out of it after learning that I had not had it before (apparently it's one of those things that you either love or hate and I think he was afraid my opinion would fall into the latter category). Evidently he wasn't going to let me out of his restaurant without trying it, however, as it arrived at my table between the appetizer and main without words, just a smile. I found the marrow to be super interesting - the sensation seemed to come in equal parts from the texture and flavor, the latter of which I can only describe as earthy in a really pleasant way. I enjoyed it on slices of freshly baked baguette.

For my main course, I chose one of the daily specials: the lamb. Even this would typically fall into the afore-mentioned too-strange-for-Cole category, however the description sounded amazing and it just seemed so French that I couldn't help but try it. And subsequently devour it. Despite spending a lamb-lifetime and three hours slow roasting together, the bone and meat departed amicably from one another at a light shake or the slightest pressure from my fork. I'm not sure I knew meat could be like this; it was incredibly tender, juicy, and flavorful. I think this was a perfect example of quality ingredients prepared simply and thoughtfully. An approach to food that I definitely admire and enjoy.

I was completely content (and completely full!) before the dessert course, but naturally couldn't pass up the molten chocolate cake that sat atop caramel made from salted butter and was served with simple cream that had been whipped to perfection. An amazing ending to an amazing meal.

My evening meal two nights ago was also very nice (just not as amazing as last night's). I dined at Gaya Rive Gauche, a seafood restaurant near the Musee D'Orsay. Here's the quick pic overview:

Crab on a bed of leeks with fresh herbs, sprouts, and the bright punch of lime juice.
Oysters in broth "with a little pig" (the waiter's words) topped with slices of browned garlic. A nice combo of salty sea and land flavors.
Really tasty sea scallops that certainly stole the show from the vegetables (which were a little more done than I like).
The dark and sweet flavors of coffee and chocolate drew the evening to a close.

Monday, October 17, 2011

paris aventures alimentaires: jour 3

I have but 4 words for you this evening. Market bounty: for dinner. Oh, and some touristy pics because I couldn't resist. Enjoy!

Fennel salad with pomegranate, dill, lemon, and olive oil.

Lamb from the Marche d'Aligre bucherie with fig reduction and haricot verts.

Chocolats artisanaux.

la Tour Eiffel
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