Parmesan & Honey

We fell in love with this combination that we'd never before had back in 2009 when we went to Italy. We had it at Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino, outdoors, after walking along the castello walls and while looking forward to exploring Brunello di Montalcino land for the day. We were in the courtyard of an old castle and got to sample several different ages of Parmesan (we did this several times on the trip and oldest was always best) along with delicious honey.
I think it is fun to serve this with a few different ages of Parmesan for tasting comparison, or with just one good one.

Serve it as a lovely snack or appetizer before an Italian-themed meal, or sprinkle with walnuts and peppercorns and serve as an elegant nibble to pair with a wine tasting, which was how we had it in Italy.

With good ingredients, this is the perfect combination of simplicity and deliciousness-- things I'd very much like to channel more of.

Ricotta is another cheese that is good with honey, smeared on toast and drizzled with it.

Black-Bean Soup

Garlic-pepper sauce being made
This post has been an intention, and this recipe a loved one, for so long that I had photos in here of baby food jars, filled with it and ready to freeze. Margaret has always loooved this soup. And well she should, because it is delicious. The name and the fact that it is a gray, pureed soup makes me never really crave it or remember how good it is. But when we make it and actually eat it, the flavors are just so alive and bright; it is really startling how tasty it is. I think the fresh lime juice, as in most things, makes a big difference, so again I think it's super important to keep a few fresh ones in the crisper. I have made a really quick simple meal of this soup on weeknights alongside grilled cheese because all you really need to have are the cans of beans and the garlic-pepper sauce stored in the freezer (one of the few pre-made and frozen meals I seem to reliably keep on hand these days). I have also given a batch of the soup, along with a quiche, as a dinner for new parents or a coworker-- packs up nicely to give away and can be frozen or eaten right away. We haven't had it in a while but before we know it it will be soup season so here it is! I've been lucky enough to be invited to a super-fun (and super productive in the sense of filling the freezer with pre-made meals) soup swap a few years in a row. Once I brought carrot soup and once I brought this Thai-coconut one (also limey and bright tasting); maybe this winter I will bring this.

Oh and I really love having an immersion blender, recommended for this recipe. The blade end pops apart from the plug-in part and goes in the dishwasher as one piece and cleans well. It is a gadget surprisingly well worth having. I don't miss splashing hot soup batch by batch into a blender.

Black-Bean Soup
from marthastewart.com

1 C garlic-pepper sauce (recipe below; I make this and freeze it in one-cup Pyrex and it is enough to make the soup a half dozen times or more)
14.5 oz. chicken broth
1/2 C water 
2 15.5-oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed 
salt and pepper
2 - 3 t fresh lime juice (or up to half a lime that we squeeze in)
(optional: sour cream on top which we don't feel it needs) 

In a large saucepan, heat garlic-pepper sauce over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. 

Stir in beans, broth, and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 5 minutes. 

Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt and pepper. 

Squeeze in lime juice, stir, and serve. (Serve topped with sour cream or yogurt if desired.)

Garlic-Pepper Sauce

3 T olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 green bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
2 red bell peppers, " " 
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 t dried oregano
1 t ground cumin
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
3 C mixed cilantro leaves and tender stems 
salt and pepper

In a large Dutch oven or pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion. Cook, stirring often, until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. 

Add peppers, garlic, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring often, until peppers are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Add tomato. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes more. 

Transfer to a food processor/blender (or get out immersion blender). Add cilantro, and puree until slightly chunky. Season with salt and pepper. 

Transfer sauce in 1-cup quantities, to containers to freeze and use as needed to make a batch of soup, above. 


Family Trip to France

(Ha! I notice the last post I did was during last year's February vacation. Well here I am a year later.)

We went to France! I have such fond memories of this trip. It struck me as such a beautiful country and has a soft spot in my heart. We were talking near the end of the vacation about our favorite things. Gordie mentioned being able to see the ironwork of the Eiffel Tower up close and learning about how it came to be; experiencing the countless impressive bridges and tunnels through dramatic landscapes as we drove over to the Alps from Burgundy one day; and the double helix staircase at Chateau de Chambord, possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Some of my favorite things were the amazing macarons in pure flavors with their luscious textures; the coq au vin I ordered one night (at the oldest cafe in Paris, which I am sure added to the romance) that was so perfect and was like so many dishes we had that were cooked well and tasted really good; and how I loved the cafes everywhere that were a part of life in Paris, with chairs perfectly lined up behind tiny tables filling the sidewalks aimed to watch the street and how you could just sit yourself down at one whenever you needed refreshment or a break without waiting to be seated. So, basically, his favorite things were buildings and my favorite things were food. 

I found Paris such a charming city. I am sure it has its pickpockets (which we'd read about multiple times) and darker sides, but we never felt in danger. I was struck by how there was never a gritty or unpleasant street I turned down. Every street was charming, with its cobblestones, tiny shops, and narrow sidewalks echoing another time. It was so much fun to discover what we could of it for the week we were there. In lots of ways I could see why Paris seems to be more of a destination for couples rather than families, and I found myself imagining us going back there maybe in a few years on our own without kids....as well as maybe visiting parts of the country we didn't get to, such as Provence and Bordeaux. 

We knew there was a chance this was a little crazy with young kids. But we went, with the reasoning that Willem was old enough to get something out of it, Margaret was young enough to still be portable and wouldn't be big enough otherwise to handle a trip like this for several more years, and because we had wanted to go to France for a long time. But I was so pleased (and relieved that we weren't crazy after all) because they were great travelers. Willem was a great walker, pounding the sidewalks all over Paris all day long without complaint. He loved stairs for some reason and would dash up or down them in museums and metro stations, waiting for us at the top or bottom of long sets before continuing. Our New Hampshire boy also was thrilled by the subway and became quite adept at turnstiles, crowds, and reporting to us exactly how long until the next train arrived as soon as we got to the platform. It was nice to give him a taste of city life, not to mention the tastes of French life. Both kids were up waaaaay past bedtimes, the concept of which we let go of during the trip in exchange for some of the restaurants we wanted to eat at not starting dinner service until 7. (Except for cafes that advertised service continu, restaurants generally were open about 12 - 2 for lunch and 7 - 11 for dinner.) We didn't stop and go back to the apartment we rented to allow Margaret to nap either (gasp! in our normal lives), because the days were so full of wonderful sights and things to eat; she very flexibly snoozed a couple times a day in the Ergo baby carrier while we wore her around, including every time we ascended something for a view, which was often. She also got excited, pointed, and learned to say bird ("buh!") whenever we saw pigeons. 

We spent a week in Paris and then three days in Burgundy, so we only had a brief visit, but these are some of the food-related things we did and noticed and reveled in while we were there.

Willem loved ordering a different sirop at every cafe we went to along with sparkling water to mix it with himself (part of the fun) to make his own special drink. He tried mint, peach, violet, cassis, grenadine, lemon, and more.

We enjoyed these long yet not overly filling sandwiches. This I think was jambon y fromage. I had one that was just brie and chopped nuts and pepper. Willem had jambon-beurre (ham and butter) several times. They were simpler than how I would normally think of filling a sandwich but just a different style and did the trick.

While Willem is not as open-minded about what he eats at 6 as he was when he was younger, I enjoy that he at least likes to think he is adventurous and always wants to try especially wild-seeming things for the sake of doing so. He did some solid sampling of frog legs, oysters, and, below, escargot, complete with special little tongs and fork. 

Favorite dessert! Cafe gourmand was on many restaurant menus. An espresso with a sampling of small versions of several desserts.
Nothing like starting the day people watching at a cafe with both a pitcher of pour-your-own hot chocolate (chocolat chaud) and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. The fresh-squeezed OJ of course was delicious, and it was the norm everywhere; there was even a machine for it with the oranges piled up and ready at the top in a tiny little convenience store attached to a train station.

I loved starting our days outdoors at a cafe on the street. How could that not put you in a good mood about the day to come?
Cafes on the street are pretty pleasing any time of day. This was a late afternoon breather.

I really enjoyed my only eggy breakfast of the whole trip: omelette aux fines herbes. I rarely make omelettes at home that aren't loaded with vegetables or some filling of substance and of course grated cheddar cheese. But this was the opposite. I had read a French omelette was all about technique. This one was lovely and refined, fresh and delicious with only the chopped fresh mixed herbs.

One morning we skipped the cafe routine and instead went to the market on the street where our apartment was and got these yummy sweet fraises des bois-- wild strawberries-- and other berries, and walked a few more feet and got some croissants at a bakery (a selection, naturally) and went and sat on a bench shooing pigeons away as we passed them all around.

This was a gorgeous display at the produce market.

My delicious coq au vin. In the seven months since our trip I have tried cooking things we've had, including omelette aux fines herbes, boeuf bourgignon, salad with chevre chaud, but not this yet. I think it was too perfect to feel attainable to recreate! So. Good.

And another pic of it on my plate...

Sweet little Margaret woke up partway through dinner from her late afternoon snooze in the front pack that day and she liked it, too. I had to cut it into tiny pieces for her since at that point she had basically no teeth yet.

She was a big fan of steak frites when we had it, too.

Aside from the meats at dinner (and there was a lot of meat!), for Margaret, this was a trip of many croissant bits and lots of gnawing on the le quignon-- the prized crusty pointy end of a baguette.

No high chairs! We also didn't see many French kids out in restaurants. I've heard different reasons for this. Maybe they eat in, maybe they go out later than we do, maybe they are just not used to the same conveniences. I have ever since then thought of the ability to put my child down and eat, and help her eat, with two hands free as a luxury. Luckily, she was a great sport and there were two of us to share this job. Amusingly, once as we prepared to leave a restaurant where we had eaten with her on our laps, Gordie noticed on the way back from the bathroom two or three high chairs/booster seats stacked up high on a shelf collecting dust. Maybe it's more of a choice or philosophy to go high-chair-less!

We had some crepes, of course. The best were the most simple: honey, lemon and sugar, butter.

One day in sight of the Eiffel Tower Willem enjoyed this less restrained version that he was more familiar with. (I was just showing him these pictures I was going to post, and he said, "they, like, put a whole jar of 'Tella on that thing!")

Never having gone in a cheese shop in Paris is one regret of our trip. We didn't prioritize it in the first few days, then once we thought of it, we would look places up and find that they were closed Thursdays, or didn't open till 2 on Mondays, or were located very far from anything else we were thinking of doing that day. Once we came tantalizing close to going in one when we walked by one that was closed but peeked in the window at the tremendous variety and smelled the stinky-in-a-great-way, earthy smell wafting out through the door. In any case, I ordered cheeses at restaurants at least. They would serve a lot of cheese, always with a little salad for accompaniment, but usually not with bread and never with all the various little accoutrements that are often a big part of cheese plates here.

Salade de chevre chaud was a favorite way we consumed cheese-- goat cheese toasted on baguette slices floating atop a salad. We now have found a French goat cheese at our co-op that we love and we make a version of this at least once a month or so.

We of course had to seek out the best places to have super-thick hot chocolate served with a heaping bowl of whipped cream on the side. Here is Willem assembling his late afternoon pick-me-up.

Hot chocolate notwithstanding, this trip marked the first time ever that he was so tired he literally fell asleep at the dinner table.

Paris brest (pastry and praline-flavored cream):

Chocolate-shop deliberations. We had some delicious chocolates. The people manning these counters were so friendly and generous, offering samples and giving us extra pieces with our selections, seeming to be really proud of their product and enjoying themselves immensely.

Here we are having dinner with the folks at Moulin de Buffière where we stayed in the Burgundy countryside. (They had a high chair!)

The ritual of a leisurely time for aperitifs was so enjoyable. They brought out apple juice just for Willem, the only kid on premises at the time. We enjoyed Kir as we did in Paris-- a splash of creme de cassis in a glass of dry white wine. It's easy to get it too sweet but just a pale pink is very refreshing.

Margaret liked the melon soup so much, the second night chef/owner Dominique put some of the leftover in a sippy cup just for "MAH-gah-ret"

Veal blanquette-- the meat is not browned, but cooked low and slow in a creamy sauce. We as well as the other guests we ate with that night had seconds, even though that's maybe not something very French to do.

Trying frog legs on an outing in Burgundy

One day we did a (crazy-sounding to our French hosts) two-hour-each-way day trip from Burgundy to the French Alps for a day hike and to take in that incredible landscape. We stopped on the way back in Annecy, which was quite reminiscent of Venice, but with a big lake and wide open spaces and mountain vistas and a big grand park in addition to the alleys and canals and stone everywhere. We got to sample some fondue and other food with a bit more Swiss influence.

One last French country breakfast before our drive-- to the train station, to the airport-- on the last day of our trip. It was quite different from our espresso and croissant breakfasts in the city. We loved Dominique's homemade yogurt in little jars and her whole lazy Susan full of various homemade jams and preserves to sample. We had fresh-squeezed OJ and coffee in handle-less mugs; Willem had bowls of hot chocolate with his breakfasts. 

It was a fabulous, delicious trip, and I'm so thankful for the adventure.