Archive for July, 2011

In Brittany | Mussels with shallots and white wine

25 July 2011

I am in France spending a large part of the summer with my family at my sister’s beautiful, old, and very run down farmhouse in northern Brittany.

While New York was smouldering under the heat last week everyone in France complained about the cold, and here, too, temperatures have hovered around 18°C (65°F) and it rains more often than not. But no one complains. Northern Brittany is known for blustery weather and beautiful coastlines, and we’ve been enjoying both.

Food-wise, beyond crêpes and savory buckwheat galettes – Brittany’s most famous culinary exports – the region has fresh fish and seafood in abundance, is famous for artichokes and pink onions, breeds pigs, and bakes far and kouign amann for dessert. This of course being just a cursory list. We’ve been enjoying all of that, too.

But first, mussels.

I forget how easy it is to cook mussels so I don’t make them often in New York, but here mussels are not only on every market but also on the beach, and on all of our minds. This is one of the most basic traditional French preparation: moules marinières, or sailor’s mussels, with shallots and wine wine. Add cream (as I do here) and they become ‘moules à la crème.’

Serves 4 as a main dish (count 1 lb of mussels per person)

4 lbs (2 kg) mussels*

4-5 shallots

2 cloves garlic

3 Tbsps butter

Olive oil

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

2/3 cup (200 ml) crisp white wine such as muscadet

2-3 Tbsps crème fraîche

Freshly ground black pepper

Large bunch flat-leaved parsley


Thoroughly scrub the mussels clean, wash them under clear water, and drain.

Peel and thinly dice the shallots. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Wash and finely chop the parsley and reserve for later.

In a large cooking pot, melt the butter with a dash of olive oil. Add the shallots, and cook until they become translucent. Add the garlic, stir, and cook for another minute. Throw in the sprigs of parsley and stir again to combine the flavors.

The shallots shouldn’t turn brown. As soon as they start to turn golden, pour in the white wine and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add the mussels, cover with a lid, and turn up the heat. As soon as the lid starts to let off some steam, take the pot off the fire and, firmly, with both hands, shake it with a few gentle jerks in order to turn the mussels inside the pot.

Place the mussels back onto the stove for a few minutes more. Most of the mussels should be open. If not, jerk the mussels again and return to the stove.

Once the mussels are open, transfer them carefully with a straining ladle to a warm pot or bowl for serving.

Place the coking pot with the shallot/wine sauce back onto the fire. Stir in the crème fraîche (I prefer the sauce to become milky and not creamy, but add according to taste), and some pepper.

Pour the very hot sauce over the mussels, sprinkle with lots of parsley, and serve immediately.

*At home, poke breathing holes into the bag of mussels and store in the refrigerator.


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Breakfast in Montréal | Le Cartet and Olive + Gourmando

17 July 2011

In my fantasy life I keep clearly organized folders of clippings, weblinks, and friends’ recommendations, collected over the years, about noteworthy restaurants and singular out-of-the-way hotels all over the world. That way, when one day I go to Sicily, Copenhagen, Singapore, or Atlanta, I will know just where to stay and what to eat.

In my real life I have no folders, I don’t always buy a guidebook in advance, and we rarely book a hotel before we leave. It’s charming and spontaneous, as vacations should be, and sometimes leads to unexpected, memorable moments like sleeping in a thousand-year-old manor house nestled on Dartmoor in the South of England. But not always.

So our family of five drove up to Québec over Fourth of July weekend in what may well be the last trip of our aging VW Beetle. The only room we were likely to find in Montréal during a weekend that turned out to be not only the height of the jazz festival but also Canada Day, was in a large nondescript hotel. And, despite the fact that since I acquired the cookbook five years ago the legendary restaurant “Au Pied de Cochon” alone seemed worth the trip up to Québec, I hadn’t booked a table.

We saw a lot of Montréal in a day and a half. We walked more than was reasonable with three young children, from the old port up past the recent Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec toward Parc La Fontaine and finally to Parc du Mont-Royal before heading to the jazz festival.

In the end we barely stopped for lunch, and didn’t plan for a civilized dinner; but we did eat two exceptional breakfasts. I would have stayed weeks longer just for the granola, the scones, and the apple cinnamon bun.

Le Cartet

Le Cartet has a store in the front with a large relaxed restaurant in the back. Everything on the breakfast menu seemed tempting and it was hard to choose. It’s the type of breakfast I like. You don’t have to decide for just eggs or just granola (though you can certainly opt to simply eat two soft-boiled eggs with toast).

The brunch plate I ordered included ginger granola with cashew nuts, yogurt, and blueberries; poached eggs on mesclun salad and whole wheat toast; cheddar; figs; and fresh fruit. And a very good cafe latte.

Le Cartet

106 McGill St
Montréal, QC H2Y 2E5

+1 514-871-8887

Open Mon-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat-Sun 9am-4pm



Olive+Gourmando was crowded on Saturday morning, as it apparently often is, so we decided not to wait and rather take our breakfast out to a small park around the corner: coffee, croissants, scones, and an apple cinnamon bun to put all apple cinnamon buns to shame.

The blueberry scones, too, were probably the best I have eaten, perhaps thanks to a generous amount of lemon zest and, I would guess, a respectable quantity of butter.


351 Rue Saint Paul Ouest
Montréal, QC

+1 514-350-1083

Open Tues-Sat 8am-6pm


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Children’s dinner | Cowboy food

6 July 2011

I take no credit for this meal, which is Thomas’s creation. He makes lentils with a fried egg and calls it “cowboy food,” because apparently cowboys ate beans and eggs; so naturally, lentils and eggs… In any case it’s a great meal, a brilliant name, and I have fallen for it, too.

I have decided to write about the easy, quick, weeknight dinners I prepare for my children, and it seemed fitting to start with “cowboy food,” which is an uncontested favorite. The other day as Balthasar asked what I was preparing and I replied “something with egg” (I hadn’t yet made up my mind), completely unprompted – and somewhat surprisingly as we haven’t had lentils for a while – he cheerfully exclaimed “cowboy food!”

I had mentioned cowboy food before in connection with a two-step lentil recipe. This is the quick version of lentils – the whole meal takes only about 35 minutes to prepare, and most of that is the lentils simmering away by themselves.


Two cups make a lot of lentils, but it’s always great to have lentil leftovers. They can easily be reheated, or made into a salad.

2 cups green lentils (preferably Castelluccio or du Puy)

1 small onion

Some vegetables: for example 1/2 bulb fennel, one or two stalks celery, a carrot

A few sprigs of flat-leaved parsley

2 bay leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Very good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to serve

1 egg per person


The lentils

Pick through the lentils to look for small stone intruders that must be discarded. To wash the lentils, cover with cold water and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Peel and cut into large chunks the onion and the vegetables.

Place lentils into a large saucepan with 4 cups (double the volume) water. Add the vegetable chunks, the parsley, and the bay leaves, bring to a boil and let simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes. Remove from heat when the lentils are done to your liking – I like them al dente, with a bit of bite.

Discard the sprigs of parsley, bay leaves, and vegetable chunks. Season the lentils with salt, pepper, good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and adjust.

The eggs

**It’s better to cook the eggs once the lentils are ready, because while the lentils are just as delicious warm, the egg should be eaten straight off the pan.**

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. Once hot, crack the eggs into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Fry until the white is set but the yellow still runny. Serve over the lentils.


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Lentil and fennel salad with parsley


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