The New Convivialist

Salade Lyonnaise and Other French Mountain Fare

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A few weeks back I had the privilege of spending four days with friends at Benoit’s country house in Alsace. I say privilege not only because France, country house, and friends all in the same sentence is a delight which is self-explanatory, but also because this particular group of friends is so culinarily-oriented that we joked we could charge visitors a full-board fare of hundreds per night, if we were so entrepreneurially-inclined. The weather was not entirely conducive to the outdoor playing we had hoped for, but it did enable a kind of festive Christmas-like eat-a-thon that left us all basically incapacitated and unable to do much more than sit in front of the fire and play Settlers of Catan.

If you’ve never eaten the Alsacian regional specialty Choucroute, I cannot lie and say you need to run out to your butcher tonight to try and recreate it. It’s rather a kind of dish akin to, say, Icelandic puffin, which one needs merely to check off the list one time as done. I had first learned of Choucroute when reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s thrilling account of eating his way through Alsace. This essay fermented the idea in my mind of Choucroute being an exciting, mysterious, even cult-like kind of delicacy. However, I soon found that this steamed ensemble of sauerkraut topped with an eye-popping array of sausages, hocks and other fatty pork pieces (some identifiable, others not) is not for the meat-phobic or ‘flexitarians’ among us. I myself was slightly queasy before we even started the feast. (I might also add here that dinner the night before had consisted of the not exactly light fare of saucisson, fresh Maultaschen in broth, flaky duck pie, and flan.) We ordered enough Choucroute from the local butcher for the nine of us, but were encumbered with leftovers upon leftovers well into the following day, which we tossed on the grill to a quite satisfactory result.

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The inclement weather did hold long enough for two or three solid walks in the Vosges trails. Between intermittent sprinkles of rain and brilliant sunshine, we foraged for the sweetest of wild myrtilles along the trailside. Upon Benoit’s warnings of the dangers of fox pee on wild berry bushes and the horrendous sickness that can result, we resisted snacking on-site. Even so, picking enough of these tiny berries for a proper tarte was a challenge. We managed, though, with enough left over for what was perhaps the most heavenly jam I’ve ever eaten on my morning toast.

Ahhhh, salad! When it was suggested one day for lunch that some fresh salads might be prepared, we all breathed a distinct sigh of gastric relief. It turned out that two of Benoit’s childhood friends who joined us at the house own and operate their own salad bar in Lyon. The four Lyonnaise in the group got to work in the kitchen, chopping fennel, garlic, onions, and oranges, like line cooks in a harmonic progression that only old friends can accomplish. But when I saw a big slab of bacon being sliced into thin lardons, I became suspicious, wondering what in the world was going on with this salad concept? Damian, a former Lyonnais now living in New York, showed me how to make the traditional Salade Lyonnaise: fresh croutons sautéed in garlic, fried lardons, mixed in with fresh, bitter greens and mustardy vinaigrette, topped with a runny poached egg. The combination of the savoury and creamy with the sharp and crunchy makes for an exceedingly balanced, yet still fairly light salad, one for which we were all grateful.

 

Recipe: Salade Lyonnaise

Day-old French bread, roughly cut

Garlic, two cloves

Olive oil

Butter

Smoked bacon, sliced against the grain thinly in strips (lardons)

Frisee or other bitter greens

1 egg per person, poached

Vinaigrette:

1 Tbsp. Mustard

1 Tbsp. Melfor Alsacian honey vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you do not have this)

2 Tbsp. Olive oil

Salt and pepper, to tastealsace-food-blog-convivialistsalade-lyonnais-convivalist-blog-foodsalade-lyonnais-recipe

  1. Bring frying pan to medium heat and add olive oil and garlic. When garlic begins to become fragrant, add the bread pieces and a few small cubes of butter. Fry until golden and crunchy. Set aside to cool.
  2. Fry bacon strips until crispy. Drain and set aside to cool.
  3. Make vinaigrette: whisk mustard and vinegar together and slowly add olive oil in a steady stream. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette and mix in the croutons and bacon.
  5. Poach eggs: Bring pot of water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir in a spoonful of vinegar and swirl the water in a circular motion. Crack the egg into a small bowl or teacup and gently lower it into the swirling, simmering water. Allow it to cook for 3-5 minutes until the white has set and then remove with a slotted spoon and allow to drain. Repeat with remaining eggs.
  6. Divide the salad onto individual plates and top with one poached egg each. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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pancake day

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In honor of Shrove Tuesday, known in some parts of this world as, yes, Pancake Day, I present you with this fine recipe for a baked apple pancake. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Dutch Pancake’, the trick to this pleasantly puffed show-stopper is the dual treatment of the stovetop and oven. For this I like to use a very special pan from the Netherton Foundry, an English company I got to know a couple years ago, whose owners Neil and Sue actually first told me about the tradition of Pancake Day in the UK.

The vision of a big baked pancake is actually the reason I bought the 10” spun iron pan by Netherton in the first place. Although frittata is also nice. I dreamed of lightly caramelizing apples in butter and sugar on the stovetop, only to pour the batter over top and flip the whole pan lightly into the oven without care or fuss. And with spun iron material, as opposed to massive cast iron, this ‘flipping’ I speak of really is no hyperbole. Spun iron is a far lighter-weight material than cast; it won’t take four hands to haul it out of a hot oven. I can only recommend it. Made in England and from local materials only, you don’t have to worry about chemical coatings and the like. And the gorgeous wooden handle of local oak and brass fittings can simply be unscrewed (or left unscrewed) if you are doing a lot of stovetop to oven maneuverings.

Pancake Day stems, like just about everything of European religious origin, from Paganism. This year its date falls rather early, but originally it would have marked the start of Spring, fighting a victorious battle against the dark forces of Winter. Thus, a pancake would be baked to represent the sun and the warmth it begins to emit around this time of year. As I sit here drinking an Earl Grey tea (pure coincidence: something I almost NEVER do) I can’t help but feeling delightfully British on this sunny Pancake Tuesday.

 

Recipe: Baked Apple Pancake

2 eggs

½ cup flour

½ cup milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1 apple, thinly sliced

1 tsp cinnammon

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 tsp sugar, divided

sprinkling of powdered sugar

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the flour, milk, vanilla, salt and nutmeg and lightly beat until blended but still slightly lumpy.
  2. Melt 1 tbsp of the butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet (preferably spun iron) over medium heat. Add the sliced apples and cook down a bit, adding the sugar and cinnamon after a couple of minutes. When the apples are slightly caramelized and very soft, turn up the heat to med-high, add the rest of the butter and let foam.
  3. When the butter is very hot but not brown, pour in the batter. Bake in the oven until the pancake is billowing on the edges and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  4. Working quickly, remove the pan from the oven and, using a fine-meshed sieve, sprinkle with the powdered sugar.

Serves 2 to 4

 

Foraging

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For me, the activity of foraging for mushrooms has always elicited an aura of both danger and decadence. I imagine a romantic scene: I trek lightly over a soft layer of ground cover amidst the early morning mist of an autumn day in Emilia-Romagna. Poking along gently with a forked end of a stick, I dream of finding a roost of fat porcini under a perpetually overlooked tree. A satisfying pluck from the forked end of a stick and into the hunting basket it goes. Read the rest of this entry »

A Marriage and a Seaside Paella

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A couple weeks back I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the wedding celebration of our friends and across-the-hall neighbors Nikolaus and Clarissa on the stunning island of Ibiza. No, it did not take place at the mega-club where Skrillex was in residency. The Ibiza we experienced was instead a dry, rolling farmland sheathed in a quiet interrupted only by lambs trotting through clumpy fields. All the wedding festivities were centralized around the hills of the tiny village of Santa Agnes de Corona, which the bride’s family has known as a home for nearly four decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Blue Sky Bakery Muffins a la Vegan

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I always love a good challenge in the kitchen. Some years ago I started trying my hand at ‘special diet’ baked goods, not because I was vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, paleo, low-carb, or anything really, but because I thought it was fun. This may also have coincided with my decision to join the local food co-op, whose alternative diet offerings were endlessly appealing. The rows of organic produce, whole grains and nuts and fresh spices inspired eating in a specific (healthy) way. But maybe I really just wanted an excuse to buy that big brown bag of teff flour or huge squeezy container of agave nectar. They just looked so exotic that they needed to take a rightful place in my kitchen cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

Like Beige Floating in Beige: A Käsespätzle Recipe from Scratch

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After over three years of living in Germany and foolishly believing countless friends in their promises to show me how to make Käsespätzle from scratch, finally I receive an invitation. It is the invitation to beat all invitations. It comes from Lea, my friend and the girlfriend of the fabled Benoit (of canelé and tarte tatin notoriety). Read the rest of this entry »

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A Better Potato Salad (mayonnaise-free)

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Both potato salad and egg salad, in their traditional senses, have always left me cold. Potato salad recalls a sweltering August afternoon, an enormous Tupperware container of gooey white mass, hanging out somewhere between the gas grill and the Dr. Pepper. And egg salad, even worse: grade school lunch. Smushed between two slices of white bread, mummified in plastic wrap, the sickening smell divulged all at once, as the thermo-bag in which it has been fermenting for five hours is unzipped. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Homepage for Convivialist

Convivialist food blog

I’m happy to present Convivialist’s new home page!
I’ve moved, so in the future, please use theconvivialist.com for all new posts.

enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Bulgogi and Vegetarian ‘Bulgogi’ : A Recipe

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In rural Spain, the tastes of South Korea are elusive. Or… not really. During my stay in the mountains outside Barcelona, I didn’t learn how to prepare calçots (the seasonal specialty that’s everywhere this time of year) nor did I try to recreate a melt-in-your mouth dish of stewed pigs feet I ate at the local restaurant. Instead I observed how to cook a staple of the Korean kitchen. Bulgogi, or ‘fire meat’ is one of the most popular Korean dishes, eaten both in the home and in barbecue restaurants as well as, apparently, in rural Catalunya.

I recently returned home after spending a couple of weeks in Catalunya at art artist residency, which consisted of a big old farmhouse renovated to accommodate up to twenty artists and writers living and working for short periods of time. I found myself there rather spontaneously and arrived without too many expectations. One perk of the residency is that dinner is prepared for all the artists nightly, allowing focus and attention only on the work at hand and not on such ‘mundane’ tasks as cooking a meal. While I appreciated this gesture in theory, naturally, being me, after three days I was itching to get into the kitchen and cook something inspiring for myself, even if it did take precious time away from working.

I was thrilled that among the other residents, two artists from Seoul were invited for the month. Apparently fed up or bored (or both) with Spanish food, they began at lunchtime a gradual commandeering of the kitchen to make Korean dishes. That is, within the confines of the limited ingredient availability found in rural Spain. One of the Koreans, Daniel, a bad-ass (just no other way to describe her) sculptor and street artist, was determined to perfect a version of Bulgogi and share it with the others in the group one night near the end of her stay. So, every day for a week, she could be found in the sunny kitchen chopping heads (yes, entire heads-see photo below) of garlic and marinating beef in a pungent soy sauce mixture, practicing her technique.

That last Thursday night, at the exceedingly early hour of 7pm – remember this is Spain – the dinner of beef and vegetarian bulgogi, along with a thick spring onion-cheese omelet was inhaled all of us, including the most traditional of the Spanish eaters, in utter silence.

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Recipe: Bulgogi

½ kilo beef, best is rib-eye or sirloin steak, cut across the grain in thin slices

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

2-3 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan

 

1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the sliced beef, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and gently stir with your hands, lightly massaging the meat to infuse it with the sauce. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, or at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the meat on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time)

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves

 

Recipe: Tofu Bulgogi

¼  kilo firm tofu, cut into thin bite-sized squares

½ head of garlic, minced

1 onion, cut in half and sliced into moon shaped pieces

5 spring onions, white and green parts, sliced

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1-2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

red chili flakes, to taste

black pepper, to taste

neutral oil, for frying pan

 

1. Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, sesame seeds, chili flakes and pepper in a bowl and stir together.

2. Place the tofu, garlic, onions and spring onions in a bowl. Pour the marinade over the top and very gently stir with your hands, since the tofu breaks easily. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least a few hours.

3. Heat the oil over medium flame in a frying pan. Sauté the mixture in batches, browning the tofu on one side, and then turning over (flip only one time).

4. Serve with rice or lettuce leaves

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