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Vegetable Soup and Club Sandwich

Vegetable Soup and Club Sandwich

Getting sick in another country brings another perspective to your travels. I got a terrible stomach bug, took a nap on the beach and then got really dehydrated. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything and finally just ended up ordering soup and a club sandwich from room service hoping to eat something. The hotel sent me up soup in a 3 qt cast iron dutch oven. I really couldn’t touch the food… too rich.

Risotto and Parma Chips

Risotto and Parma Chips

The first thing I tried to eat when I was feeling better was risotto with black truffle oil and parma ham chips. There was really nothing like chicken soup and crackers on the menu. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to eat until it came to the table. I was eating with my colleague Marvin, who had been staying up all night working and eating sandwiches, so this was the first real meal for both of us. The two of us sat there exclaiming with every bite. The food was so good.

Duck with Fois Gras

Duck with Fois Gras

It also came with duck, which I couldn’t really stomach.

Ratatouille, Potato Gratin, Spinach Puree

SIdes? Ratatouille, Potato Gratin, Spinach Puree

The sides were perfect!

salad nicoiseThe south of France is home to Provencal cooking, which is inspired by Mediterranean flavors. Cannes, however, is known more for yachts and celebrities than it is for its food. One of the local dishes that I got to eat a lot in Cannes was Salad Nicoise. I have never actually been a fan of Salad Nicoise, but in France it was delicious.

Nicoise means from the city of Nice, which is just 20 minutes down the road.

The definition of Salad Nicoise from a history of Salads & Salad Dressings page

Nicoise is a descriptive term for dishes served with particular foods used by the chefs of the City of Nice, France. This garnish usually includes garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black olive, capers, and lemon juice.

Salad Nicoise is the most famous of all these dishes, consisting of potatoes, olives, green beans, and vinaigrette dressing. Even its “proper” assembly is disputed. Some people say the salad is served on a bed of lettuce and others say that tomatoes are the base. And some don’t arrange the elements of the salad at all, but just toss it all together.

Giant Sandwich

Michelle & the giant sandwich

I just don’t understand why sandwiches in the US have to be so mediocre. Sure, hoagies in Philly are delicious. And there are the occasional standouts like the steak sandwich from Mooncake foods in NY, but no one in the US can make a sandwich the way the French can. While I work on the wall here in Cannes, I have been eating a lot of sandwiches. The giant sandwich above is basically a Salad Nicoise in a sandwich. I think it was called Pan Bagnat and I got it from a kiosk outside for a few euro. Most days I get my lunch from a shop called Paul. Paul is a sandwich chain through all of Europe that even has locations in Florida. Florida! I need these sandwiches shops in NY and LA stat.

Pavot Jambon cru

Pavot Jambon cru from Paul

The sandwiches from Paul are just beautiful fresh bread (I like the ones with poppy seeds), a few thin slices of high quality meat, butter, lettuce and tomato. My favorite is the Pavot Jambon cru.

I remember the first time I had a sandwich from Paul was in the Edinburgh airport getting on a flight to NY. I grabbed a sandwich that was just some baguette and prosciutto and got on my flight. I took the first bite and actually turned to the stranger next to me on the flight and said, “this is amazing!” So tell me, what an we do to bring Paul to Los Angeles? And I don’t want some watered down version of Paul. We need to make sure it is only staffed by French people to get the atmosphere just right. In the meantime, I am filling overtime on sandwiches.

sole menuireI was excited for all the good eats I would have in Cannes, but so far I have been pretty disappointed. Besides the fact that I can barely afford to eat here on my work per diem, I have eaten most of my meals on the floor in front of the giant touch wall I am setting up in the Palais. Granted, the sandwiches from the cart out front are not too shabby, but I want to eat in this town for reals.

After a relatively bad day where we all missed our chance to get sandwiches for dinner, I found myself walking back to the hotel at 10 PM with no dinner plans. I decided this was my moment to really live it up. I found a fancy looking restaurant and ordered Sole Meunière, which I have been wanting to try since reading Julia Child’s description of arriving in France and tasting her first French meal.

It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top. The waiter carefully placed the platter in front of us, stepped back, and said: “Bon appètit!

I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.

I can’t say I ate it slowly, but it sure was delicious. Simple and delicate and lemony with just a touch of fried skin. Perfection! This was a real French restaurant. I wanted just a glass of wine with the fish so I randomly ordered something. “Oh no,” the waitress said. “Wrong wine,” and she brought me the perfect rosé. I finished with a crumble aux pomme. I didn’t know apple crumbles were French, but when a French person says crumble it sure sounds French.

cannes michelle

I am near the beach. Not at the beach.

I took a break out on the terrace and tried to get me in a picture with the pretty beach that is 100 yards from where I am working all day. Looks nice, no? Those are the red carpet steps from the film festival right behind me. After Saturday, I should be able to visit the beach after all.

seafood assorment

Seafood Assortment - Before & After

The review I found for this restaurant in Cannes, where I am working for the next 2 weeks, said it had “Clams, praires, palourdes.” The Google translation for that was “clams, clams, clams.” I figured I had to try a restaurant with 3 different words for clams. Looking around, everyone was eating the seafood assortment so I ordered it as well. The assortment had no description, but what arrived was a platter of large snails, raw oysters, raw clams, langostinos, prawns and small snails. I was tentative at first, but the meal was delicious. I especially liked the large snails. I got up to my elbows in the seafood while capoeiristas performed out front. I resisted the urge to jump in the roda with them and enjoyed a fine French meal.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Hot on the heels of the success of the Potato Leek Soup; I moved on to the next recipe, Cream of Mushroom Soup. This one was a bit more work than Potato Leek and not vegetarian. You start by making a roux out of onions softened in butter and flour. Then you add chicken stock and mushroom stems. Since I only had store-bought chicken broth, I got to add parsley and thyme from my garden to improve the flavor. It was my first time using my home grown herbs in a recipe. Anyway you simmer the base for 20 minutes, then strain it, and then add mushrooms sliced and cooked slowly in butter and simmer more. I tasted the soup at every step and it was amazing. So rich tasting.

Right before serving, you mix up some egg yolks and cream. Slowly add the soup to the mixture so as not to just make scrambled eggs. Once it is incorporated, cook 2 minutes and then serve. For some reason, the addition of cream and eggs sort of ruined the soup for me. It still tasted good, but lost all that amazing richness it had before. It is possible I messed up on the last step. I did rush through separating of the egg yolks and may have lost some yolk in the process.

I am not sure that this counts officially as a velouté because it is a soup and not a sauce, but I am going to count is as my first velouté*. If you are wondering, a velouté is one of the four mother sauces of French cuisine. This is all making the horror on Top Chef last season when Frenchman Mattin made a velouté sauce with bacon and served it to Chef of the Century, Joel Robuchon, make a bit more sense.

*Since I started keeping official records.

potato leek soup

Potato Leek Soup

To further my study of French cooking and because I never know what to make for dinner, I decided to make the first recipe in the first chapter of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, potato leek soup. Perfect, I love potato leek soup. I went to the grocery store with my list of ingredients. Hmmm… potatoes… leeks…. That can’t be right. I also got heavy cream and chicken broth, in case I missed a few steps.

It ends up, you make potato leek soup by simmering 1 part sliced leeks to 1 part of diced potatoes in water for an hour and then mashing them up. You can finish with heavy cream, but you can also just use butter. I thought it tasted great with neither, but since I bought heavy cream why let it go to waste? It also shocks me that I enjoyed a vegetarian soup. I always thought that soup can’t actually taste good without a meat stock base and this recipe could easily be vegan.

I can’t really say this is a pantry recipe because you have to have leeks on hand. Although I suspect that after a few more weeks of French cooking, I will always have shallots and leeks in my kitchen.

Baron, Bourbon and Doughnuts

Baron, Bourbon and Doughnuts

Last night a bunch of us visited Grace Restaurant for their Bourbon and Doughnut flight. Once we all sat down, we realized that we didn’t really know what a Bourbon and Doughnut flight was. We also realized that we were pretty hungry. So we started with a meal.

pork chop

Pork Chop

Brian ordered the pork chop. He wasn’t sure between the chop and the shank, but since none of us knew definitively what a shank is, he got the chop. The chop was big enough to feed the whole table.

Scallops and English Pea Risotto

I ordered the scallops, but cobbled together a tasting menu by also trying out the pasta, beet salad, olive oil poached halibut and the pork chop. The scallops were definitely my favorite. Of course, scallops are probably what I would order as my last meal (maybe a little surf and turf).

Here is a little Michelle origin story about my love of scallops… When I was just a wee scallop in my mom’s belly, she went to Paris with my father. He was on a business trip, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take my mom to that classy city. I think it was both of their first times in Paris. They agreed that every night, one would order the seafood special of the night and the other the… uhhh… mammal special. On the first night, the seafood special was Coquilles St. Jacques. My mom loved it so much that she preceded to spend the entire trip ordering it at every restaurant. Because I gobbled up so many scallops before I was even born, I was bound to love them.

my parents in france in the 80s

My parents in France

Here is a picture that I really love of my parents in France, years later.

salad and bread

I am not going to pull a Julie and Julia, but I have started reading through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

Here is what I have learned so far:

Oil – French cooking doesn’t use olive oil. It has too strong a taste. For French cooking use odorless and tasteless vegetable oils. Since I moved to LA, I already have gone through a big bottle of olive oil. Now on to Canola.

Butter – French butter is more akin to salted butter in the U.S. So there is use for salted butter besides for bread after all.

Bacon – If you use American smoked bacon in a French recipe, you should blanch it first.

Creme fraiche - Creme fraiche can be recreated with whipping cream and buttermilk. It takes a long time so luckily Pavilions carries creme fraiche.

Flour – French household flour is like 3 parts all purpose flour and 1 part bleached cake flour.

Vinaigrette – Sugar is heresy in vinaigrettes. I can’t get behind that rule because of my Aunt Sara’s Poppy Seed Vinaigrette Dressing in the picture above.

Here is what I learned from my own kitchen experiments:

Tapioca starch – Tapioca starch and tapioca starch modified is not the same thing. Especially when the modified tapioca starch is called Ultratex 3. If you know what Ultratex 3 is, then you know what I tried to do is pretty funny. I will stop buying weird chemicals that I don’t know what they are. I will buy tapioca starch and make pao de queijo.

Oh and if you want to know more about the title of the post, you may want to check out What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by my favorite author Haruki Murakami.