les vosges

Last week in the Vosges, I cried many times.

The first time, I was at Julien’s house for dinner. After spending my first morning in the mountains pruning the lavender fields in the blissful October sunshine, and the afternoon crafting apple-pumpkin-ginger jam, I had worked up quite an appetite. Exhilarated by my first taste of life in plein nature, I was ready to relax.

Being my first official dinner invitation chez un francais I was a little nervous. But with  my hosts Guy, Solonge, and Tom by my side, their friends welcomed me with open arms. Over plusiers coups de champagne, Julien had us going. His animate personality was a perfect match for the kind and more introverted Dominique, his wife. After four hours at the table, a game of touche-moi-la-fesse got a little rowdy (don’t ask), and the music was turned on. It started with Dr. Dre, followed by Eminem, Nirvana, and eventually ABBA. By the time the air band got going, Dominique mistook Julien’s symbols for the triangle, and I couldn’t hold it in anymore; tears were streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard my belly hurt.

The second time I cried, I was on a quad, raging through the forest, dodging branches and plowing over potholes. I was holding onto Tom with all of my might, the wind whipping at my face so hard I could not hold back the tears. A rush of adrenaline poured over me, a we passed waterfalls and sweeping autumn cascades. A veteran driver of sixteen years, we even popped wheelies over the plains. Ca va?, he asked me. My laughter was my only response.

Then, came Into the Wild, film version. Curled up in the family room, we watched as Chris, the main character, traveled the country to find personal solitude. When he finally realizes that even amongst the most heavenly wildlife, even when one has created something out of nothing, one cannot be happy without anyone to share it with, tears dripped right into my steaming mug of thé, made with homemade sirop de menthe.

And of course, the onions. While working happily next to Solange, churning the apples from the garden to make fresh compote, she asked me if I wanted to cook something for them. I decided to make a pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner for my hospitable French hosts. After a horrible explanation of pumpkin pie (it just doesn’t come in cans in France), I knew I had to whip up something good to destroy the American cliché. Guy had been chiding me all along, if it’s not ready by seven we’re going to a restaurant! he joked. I was taking my time, looking at the view as I slowly pieced together my American App-le Pie, twice baked sweet potatoes, green beans, and chicken. But those darn onions. When Tom offered to cut them, I happily conceded. But when it came time to put them on the stove, the heat got to me, and a little tear slipped out.

Brenna, what will you tell your family, that you cried the whole time you were in the Vosges?! Guy joked. Little did he know, I would.

The most lovely part about this little adventure was not the allure of a 400 year old stone house in the middle of the forest, because the isolated mansion is a little paradise in and of itself. But the sharing of moments; a mid-morning thesane break next to the fireplace, a mandatory apéro following a surprise visit from friends, a pair of slippers neatly placed outside your bedroom door. That warm welcome into another person’s life is something you won’t read in guide books, you can’t pay for at museums, and you won’t find in hotels.

Merci à Guy, Solange, et Tom pour une belle experience 🙂 Je  ne vous oublierai jamais.

paella party

Sometimes, when you wake up in the morning and you can see your breath, you just need a little spice.

Cue Thursday night dinner club. You are all wecome to join, although you must bring wine. C and I were hosting this week. On the menu? Stuffed mushrooms, baby tortillas, paella, and rice pudding.

It all started off innocently;  C and I sipping tea, chopping onions, peppers, and sausage, peacefully browning the chicken thighs. Little did we know what was in store for us.

We lit some candles and played some Ray Charles, eager to relax in the warmth of our apartment, enjoying the smell of our simmering paella. Our guests slowly trailed in, leaving the frost behind them. We chatted about our students, traded ideas about our upcoming vacation, and grumbled about the train schedule, (as usual). But when the mushrooms and baby tortillas arrived, along with L and A, the ambiance changed. The spicy salsa fresca and the creamy guacamole fait à la main triggered something a little crazy in each of us.

Then, came the paella. It was creamy, it was spicy, and it was delicious. It had mussels and clams and scallops and chicken and shrimp. Each and every grain of rice was scraped from each and every plate. And just when we thought we couldn’t eat a drop more…

The rice pudding came out. And that really did us in.

Suddenly French rap came on the playlist. Ponytails were let down, bottles were cracked. Confessions were made. Secrets were told. Things happened that we cannot take back.

I advise you to make this paella tonight. But please do be careful – your wild side may surprise you…

Paella

(adapted from BBC food recipes)

  • 170g/6oz spicy sausage, cut into thin slices
  • 110g/4oz lardons (pancetta), cut into small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp soft thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 570ml/1pint paella rice
  • 125ml/4fl oz dry white wine
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints chicken stock
  • 2 chicken thighs, each chopped in half and browned
  • 1 bag of frozen seafood (mussels, clams, scallops, squid)
  • 110g/4oz canned peas
  • 1 can of tomato purée
  • 125ml/4fl oz good olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 5 tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat half the olive oil in a paella dish or heavy-based saucepan. Add the chorizo and pancetta and fry until crisp. Add the garlic, onion and pepper and heat until softened. Add the thyme, chilli flakes and Spanish rice, and stir until all the grains of rice are nicely coated and glossy. Now add the paprika and dry white wine and when it is bubbling, pour in the hot chicken stock, add the chicken thighs and cook for 5-10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil with the garlic cloves in a separate pan and add the seafood. Sprinkle in the peas and chopped tomatoes and continue to cook gently for another 10 minutes. Now add the seafood to the paella. Serve immediately.

epic kitchen fails

I had many culinary trials this week. Because I do not work forty hours a week (in fact I work much less than that! mwaha), I am able to spend more time than usual cooking. I am loving it! However, I have made some horrible mistakes in la cuisine. Most tragic was spicy chili, which ended up being very spicy and very dry (I am attributing this to a lack of canned beans and canned chilis in France, which led to an awful experience at the supermarket, entailing me mimicking post-spicy-chili consumation…le sigh).

Even though I had epic kitchen fails, C did not. He whipped up some delicious borscht, and also apples baked in Calvados (apple liquor) with buttered cabbage and white sausage. Yummm! Nothing could get us down. Even when our light went out in the kitchen, C and I still managed to eat by romantic candlelight*. You should try it! We ate for hours, dunking our baguettes into our steamy soup. Of course, we finished with our newest love, Chaource. A cheese from Troyes, it has stolen our  hearts with delicate and creamy deliciousness. At least we know where our priorities lie…

*I realize this seems like we’re dating. We’re not. We’re just two roomates who share a love for food, french, and witty banter.

au marché

I love the marché. I love watching little old French ladies small talk with their favorite fermier. I love gouter, tasting cheese and saucissons and pineapple. I love walking around with a baguette hanging out of my purse, even if the end part is missing. I love the hustle and bustle of people, couples and babies and dogs, all socializing and doing the bise. I love unpacking my panier, filled with apples, pumpkins, and potatoes.

Fall is here in France…and chez vous?

‘rogi night

What do you get when you put two foodies on a limited budget with four hot plates in a small French kitchen?

Why, ‘Rogi night of course!

In an effort to show you my amazing cooking skills, (or maybe in hopes of become a famous food blogger so people will send me product samples? Jiffy? Chobani? Quaker Oats? Can you hear me?) I present to you, Pierogi night.

When C and I were stumped as to what to do with our leftover cabbage from borscht night (C lived in Ukraine this summer), we put on our thinking caps and came up with Pierogis. A traditional Polish meal, we decided it couldn’t be that hard and invited our starving English assistant friends over to join us.

What resulted was mass amounts of chewy, doughy, buttery, goodness. We stuffed our ‘rogis with both a cabbage carrot slaw and onion potato mixture, and served them with a side salad, of course, to balance out our plates.

To recreate this magical evening in the comfort of your home kitchen, il faut plusiers choses.

First, the dough.

We combined 3 cups of flour, some salt to taste, one egg, 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche, and about a ½ cup of lukewarm water in a mixing bowl. Then, my good friend L dove right in with her purple nail polish, until everything was well mixed and the dough was in the shape of a ball. While you let that sit for fifteen minutes, you can start working on the filling!

For the cabbage and carrot filling, C really outdid himself. He started by grating the cabbage and carrots into a pot, added some butter (he won’t tell me how much), and of course about a glass of dry white wine. Then he heated the little baby up on medium heat, until the cabbage and carrots were soft. Then you must season with salt and pepper! When the filling is just right, let it cool (we just opened a window and let the pot sit) so that the filling doesn’t melt the dough when you put it in.

For the potato filling, I boiled six potatoes, and started chopping the onions (Disclaimer: if there is one thing C and I love, it’s onions. If there is another thing we love, it’s garlic. A perfect seasoning match is a rare find, people. I’m convinced it’s fate).  I used lots of onions, but you can use as much as you would like. Heat up a skillet, add some butter, and add lots of garlic and onions, cooking until the onions are brown and soft. While this is happening, your potatoes should be simmering. When they are soft, drain them, add some butter, and mash them up. You can also add salt and pepper to taste, or parmesan cheese! We ended up with a garlicky, cheesy, delicious potato mixture.

Now, if you happen to have a rolling pin, you can use that to roll out your dough until it is about 1/16 of an inch thick. You can always use wine bottles, which work just as well. When that is done, cut the dough into 4 inch circles. Place a dollop of the filling in the middle of the circle, and fold over, pressing the edges shut. It is important that none of the filling is on the edges, otherwise the ‘rogi will not close and the filling will be everywhere instead of in the buttery pocket it’s supposed to be in!

The next step is to drop your ‘rogis, very carefully, into boiling water. After a few minutes, the ‘rogis will rise to the top. This is when they are done! If you happen to have an oven, you can use a slotted spoon to remove them, and put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees, adding a little drop of butter to the outside of each individual ‘rogi. If not, you can put them in a pan with butter like we did, so that the outside edges brown.

Serve with a healthy side salad! Top with a dollop of crème fraiche (sour cream will do), or a sprinkling of pepper and salt.

If you prepare the dough in advance, this really is a simple dinner to make, and it’s also  quite fun. We certainly enjoyed ‘rogi night, and are going to continue with the international theme as we host more dinners throughout the year. Right now, I am craving some fall chili! Next recipe to come?

Email me tales of ‘rogi adventures at fabuleuxdestinbrenna@gmail.com or leave a comment!