Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bistros of Provence and a Giveaway

I've been feeling very French lately. Perhaps it's because I've just discovered the lovely blog Paris and Beyond and it's brought back wonderful memories for me of our trip to Provence. This lovely watercolor is from the cover of a menu of a French bistro in Maussane-les Alphiles in Provence.  Maussane is a charming village in the south of France near Saint-Remy-De-Provence with a lovely square where several bistros serve meals al fresco around the village’s fountain. As you can see, each bistro is distinguished by a difference set of tables and chairs.

Just a few kilometers down the road from Maussane is the tiny village of Paradou. Paradou is the home of Patricia Well’s favorite bistro – Le Bistrot de Paradou. Perhaps you may remember our lunch when we were there.

Because of Patricia Well’s stamp of approval and the fact that the food is outstanding, Le Bistrot du Paradou is a very busy restaurant. The owner, Jean-Louis Pons, carefully protects his bistro’s reputation by never allowing more people in than he can comfortably seat, so reservations are highly recommended. How I wish more restaurants in the US would follow Jean-Louis’ lead and not jam so many people in as they seem to do too often here at home.

On another day we enjoyed déjeuner under the umbrellas at La Petite France, also in Paradou.

Outside Le Petite France was proudly displayed Maîtres Cuisiners de France, meaning their chef was a member of the prestigious Master Chefs of France.

Seeing that sign about the chef and remembering these bistros and the fabulous meals we enjoyed there made me think that sometimes I wish I had gone to culinary school. Do you ever wish you had gone to culinary school? I’m retired now, so it’s far too late for me to pursue a culinary career, but I do enjoy reading about those who have - which brings me to the giveaway.

I’m giving away to one of you a copy of Under the Table, Saucy Tales from Culinary School by Katherine Darling. The book is a memoir of Katherine’s adventures in the student kitchens of the legendary French Culinary Institute in New York City, flavored with celebrity chefs, eccentric characters, and mouthwatering recipes. To quote part of a review from the Wall Street Journal, “Ever since Anthony Bourdain's best-selling "Kitchen Confidential," celebrity chefs and wannabees have flooded the market with boastfully naughty -- and often downright raunchy -- cook-and-tell confessions. No doubt that explains the publisher's title for "Under the Table: Saucy Tales From Culinary School." But it turns out that author Katherine Darling is a happy exception to the trend.”

It’s super easy to win - all you have to do is leave a comment telling me if you have ever dreamed of going to culinary school. If you are a follower, please leave an additional comment saying so and you’ll get two chances to win.

I’ll be taking a brief intermission to move into our condo and will return next week, when I’ll announce the winner of the book giveaway.

À bientôt mon amis – see you soon my friends. In the meantime, this is a photo of the most outstanding dessert of our trip to Provence, created by the Master Chef presiding over Le Petite France in Paradou.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shrimp and Scallop Salad with Mango Salsa

I find that when people visit from other areas of the country and are invited to dinner, they expect certain foods to be served. For instance, if I visit my sister in Texas, I hope she’ll prepare some of my Tex-Mex favorites, since good Mexican food is hard to find where we live in the mountains. If we’re going to Maine, I want lobster and lots of it. If we drive over to eastern North Carolina to see friends, I always have my fingers crossed they’ll roast a pig they are so famous for that’s basted with vinegary eastern Carolina BBQ sauce. Last year when we visited our old home in Abaco, I couldn’t get my fill of spicy Bahamian fresh conch salad with fiery bird or goat peppers and seasoned ever so lightly with native sour oranges.

If you live in Florida as we do in the winter, guests expect seafood. I like to have a recipe up my sleeve that’s easy, so when people call and say, “We’re just driving by. Can we stop and say hello?” I can eagerly answer, “Yes and please stay for dinner” and mean it. If you live in a tourist area, it’s smart to be prepared, because people are bound to drop by unexpectedly sooner or later.

By easy, I mean two different kinds of easy. The first easy means easy to put together. I want to spend time with my guests, not be stuck in the kitchen. The second easy is versatility. I want a recipe where I can easily substitute ingredients and know that the recipe will still work.

This seafood salad fills both bills. It can be put together in under thirty minutes, perhaps even fifteen if you multitask. If the scallops don’t look good at the market, use all shrimp. If you don’t want to use shellfish, fish or even grilled chicken would work well. We’ve used broiled salmon or mahi mahi (also known as dolphin fish) many times with great success. Perhaps you remember this salmon with fruit salsa.

No mangos? Use peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe or honeydew. Want it spicier? Leave some of the seeds in the chopped jalapeno. If you have a guest who doesn’t like cilantro (and there are definitely some of those), leave it out or use some flat leaf parsley. Just don’t leave out the tomato, onion, or basil. They are the foundation of the salad. After that, almost anything goes.

Do you have foods that people expect to be served when they visit you?

Seared Shrimp and Scallop Salad with Mango Salsa
Adapted from Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook Home Collection

10 large scallops, preferably dry pack
10 large shrimp, wild caught, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Baby lettuce mix, for serving
Mango salsa, recipe below

Dry the scallops and shrimp well. Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet, add the butter and, when it has melted and starts to foam, put the shrimp and scallops in the frying pan. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, or until lightly golden on both sides and just tender to the touch, taking care not to overcook. Arrange a bed of baby lettuce mix on four plates and spoon over the salsa. Top with warm scallops and shrimp, and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Mango Salsa
Adapted from Little Moir’s Food Shack, Jupiter, Florida 

2 mangos, peeled and diced
1 ripe tomato, diced
½ of a red onion, minced
Juice of ½ to 1 lime
1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tablespoon honey
1 - 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss. Serve immediately, or can be left at room temperature for up to an hour. Taste before serving and add more salt, pepper, rice vinegar, honey, or hot pepper to taste if necessary.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grilled Bread with Prosciutto Barefoot Contessa Style

This grilled bread with prosciutto recipe is in Ina Garten’s (The Barefoot Contessa) latest cookbook How Easy is That? Ina put it in the cocktails category, but for us it easily was dinner when we combined it with a green salad and a cold beer.

Since the recipe isn’t on the Food Network site yet, I’ll talk you through it below, with a few changes. I used regular fresh mozzarella cheese instead of the fresh smoked one that Ina called for because I couldn’t find smoked mozzarella. Ina grated the cheese, but what I bought was too soft to grate, so I broke it up into bits with my fingers. I also thought the dish needed a burst of fresh flavor, so I added fresh basil leaves in the layer between the cheese and the prosciutto.

Choose a good, sturdy bread and cut it into 6 slices. Grill or toast the bread in a toaster oven on one side until golden. Immediately rub the grilled side with a half of a slice of a large garlic clove. Ina recommends that if you like a real garlicky flavor, rub hard. We thought that the garlic really made it, so don’t skip this step. Drizzle each slice with a little extra virgin olive oil.

Crumble 2 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese well with your fingers or grate it and divide it into six piles. Tear 2 ounces of Prosciutto de Parma and divide into six piles. To assemble, place one pile of the prosciutto on the grilled side of each bread slice. Slip in a fresh basil leaf or two, and top with crumbled mozzarella cheese. Return the bread to a hot grill or toaster oven to melt the cheese and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the slices and drizzle with a little more extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, season to taste with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and serve hot.

This is a rich appetizer, both in terms of taste and your wallet. When you are making a dish with only a few ingredients, it’s essential that you use only the finest of ingredients, which is what real Prosciutto de Parma is as opposed to the stuff you find in styro-packs at the grocery store hanging on a rack in the deli. It is also expensive. Combined with the melted mozzarella, this is a very rich and filling dish. As far as easy goes, Ina was right on with that. It took only a few minutes to put it together.

Would we serve it again? As much as I love Ina and trust her recipes and own all of her cookbooks, probably not on this one. The main reason is we felt that the mozzarella cheese overpowered the prosciutto and all we tasted was cheese. If I’m going to buy the good (and expensive) Prosciutto de Parma, I want to savor and taste every morsel. In all fairness, Ina called for prosciutto and did not specify Prosciutto de Parma. But would you really want to use the cheap stuff? Plus, the dish was, in our opinion, too heavy as an appetizer and would spoil your or your guest’s appetite for dinner.

Have you tried this recipe and, if so, what did you think of it?