Tag Archives: french

Embracing the spirit of French cooking

I had my first French meal and I never got over it.
~ Julia Child

I remember only a few things about my first trip to France. Being fascinated and enamoured by the French dish and its name – soupe de poisson (fish soup). Discovering the folly of eating at McDonalds in France (never to be repeated). Trying to enjoy the view from the Eiffel tower while the cold wind whipped my hair into a formidable tangle.

Then, I was a child too young to grasp the notion of romance, or the charm of the French spirit and culture. I was cold, and unaccustomed to eating so much dairy, or indeed, what seemed to be very rich food no matter where we went. I focused on the wrong things, like trying to spot signs in English, or getting my parents to buy me a miniature Eiffel Tower to take home. I ate escargot In Lyon without fuss – thanks to my food-loving family – but without the appreciation for the novelty of eating escargot in France which I would now have.

Years later, the magic of France would once again beckon, this time through a friend asking me to join her at the Alliance Française for evening classes. She had recently fallen for a French man. I rolled my eyes but oui, I went along. And twice, after class, we took the train down to a little French restaurant nestled in Little India in Singapore where we ate – I forget what now, except that our meals were unbelievably delicious. As life will have it, mere weeks later, I encountered a French man who – despite my inhibitions – managed to make me lose my head briefly. Alas! My friend had told me it would happen. She had warned me that I would find a French man “irresistible”. No, that will never happen to me, I had said to her, I will vomit if someone is too romantic. Also, it would be such a cliché.

Never be proud. Never say never. Or you’ll have to eat your words one heavy morsel at a time … c’est la vie

I went back to Paris in 2010 with my friend Annisha, after I spent a few days visiting her in London. We were there for a day. Our brief visit was nice but a little less than what we had hoped it would be. Annisha was feeling quite ill, we were so cold we could hardly think, and we were not successful in getting to the places we had hoped to see. The main redeeming moment for me was us, lost and hungry, stumbling upon a small humble hole-in-the-wall shop that turned out to have the most stunning slice of Tarte Aux Pommes.


From my visit in 2010

Here we are in 2017 and my heart aches for some of the things that have taken place and are taking place in beautiful France (not to mention the rest of the world). Yet as I pen this post I know that there are some things which will endure for as long as the French spirit endures. Her timeless beauty, her rich history, her elegance, her decadence, her soul, her charm, her deep connection with the seasons, her rituals, her ability to celebrate the everyday, to name a few …

For some reason France has been on my mind a lot of late, and yesterday, looking at some leftover wine from our dinner party last week, I decided to try making a version of coq au vin. I can hardly describe how good it smells frying sliced white onions and diced carrots in a pan just recently used to fry tiny strips of bacon and brown a few wine-stained chicken pieces. Sadly the finished dish did not turn out as I had hoped, despite the good smells and presence of good wine and a pretty bouquet garni. I had not followed any one recipe for it in particular, but I have definitely learned now that it is not a dish that deals well with indecision or an attempt to shortcut the process. It is a simple dish, but it is not easy … it is not a dish you can make without presence of mind and attention to detail. I have no doubt a well-made coq au vin would make a memorable meal … some time I will try again.

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After spending the afternoon in the kitchen, I asked my husband if he would come with me to visit the Green Bay Street Food market. We went along, it was delightful, and – still in French mode – I could not resist a crêpe with Nutella from the friendly couple running The Fab Truck. Verdict: C’est délicieux!

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, having had a series of unsettling dreams. For some reason or other I found myself looking up Julia Child’s recipe for scrambled eggs online. I then went into the kitchen, placed a saucepan on medium-low heat, and slid a generous chunk of butter into the saucepan. While it melted with a pleasing aroma, I beat two eggs quickly in a bowl with a dash of salt and pepper and slid a slice of frozen bread into the toaster. Swirling the butter in the saucepan until it evenly coated the bottom, I poured the eggs in, and cut up some leftover chives I had in the fridge. I stirred the mix with a wooden spoon, watching as the bottom started to cook – at which I added in a dribble of milk and gave it a slow stir again. The slice of toast popped out nicely brown. I put it on a plate with a sprinkle of grated cheese, and stirred the soft egg mixture again till it looked almost done. I took the saucepan off the heat, ladled the egg on to the toast, added the chopped chives over the lot … and found The Cure for Unsatisfactory Sleep.

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… And perhaps gained a little more practical understanding of the spirit of French cooking: taking care and effort, being unafraid, allowing elegance and simplicity to meet in a dish as simple as scrambled eggs.

Bonne journée.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
~ Julia Child

L’Assiette – post #2

Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.
~ Walt Kelly

L’Assiette is not a place you are likely to just visit once. Oh, no. I don’t know what it is – there must have been a secret spell tucked into the heart of the croque madame I had when I first visited this place – I’ve now been there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between. Not all the time, but still. That’s a lot of meals to eat in one place in just two months.

I had dinner there for the first time last night. My friends Matt and John came to visit from Wellington, and I thought they might enjoy it…

We got a bottle of 2009 Domaine Lafond Côtes du Rhône Roc-Epine for the table (lovely red, like a silk dress). John ordered their scotch fillet served with a bourguignon garnish and roasted potatoes; Matt opted for the fish; I was very close to ordering the duck but decided to pick the fish in the end because, well, if I am to ever like cooked salmon or polenta, I felt L’Assiette would be the place to change my heart.

They did.

The fish made me want to kiss someone.

I’m not sure why I am describing it that way, but it was honestly the first thought that entered my brain (I hasten to add that I did not give the boys seated across from me this honour). Last night’s poisson du jour was a sublime piece of salmon cooked so beautifully I even ate the skin (usually a no-go zone for me). The sauce did what every sauce should do – it made the star (the salmon) shine. Also, the texture was amazing – so light that each time I placed a bit of it in my mouth I felt like I was eating a savoury cloud.

The skins on the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes on the side were just getting ready to burst; the tomatoes collapsed readily in my mouth.

I looked at the polenta on my plate, hesitating slightly.

I’ve tried polenta fries, polenta cakes – and, mostly, it’s been sort of disappointing. Reminiscent of rice or cous cous in a jelly mold.

Last night, I was so sad when I got to the last bite of the polenta! If you want to make someone love polenta, send them to L’Assiette. And have them eat it with their salmon.

We weren’t given a long time to mourn the completion of dinner – the dessert menu made its way to our table, and the well-lit cabinet in the background perked up as we looked towards its offerings. The boys ordered a mille-feuille and a creme brulee respectively; I opted for a coffee éclair. I was given a fork and knife to eat this – it felt like an occasion. This is one of the many little things that cause me to love this place; no matter what you order – a macaron or a main – they are designed to please, and served with thought and care.

L’Assiette – 9 Britomart Place, Auckland – Phone: 09 309 0961