Recipe Of The Day

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I’m just starting to appreciate the fact that our local newspaper has a recipe each and every day, and almost all of them look good.  Here you can see a random assortment of recent recipes.  For those statisticians among you who may be wondering about my randomizing technique, I’ll just say that I pulled out all the papers in the recycle bin and cut out their recipes.  We’re mad recyclers here, as is apparently everyone else in France, but some papers do go into the fireplace, so these recipes aren’t a perfectly consecutive assortment and tend to be a bit heavy on the dessert end of the scale.

But what we have is, clockwise from the bottom left: monkfish in a cheeseless pesto sauce, artichoke bottoms stuffed with vegetables, orange cream served in the orange shells, pita stuffed with tuna and vegetables, a flan with pineapple and rum, a crepe cake with a meringue topping and chocolate cream filling, a pear and chocolate tart, and a terrine of chicken livers. 

I’ll start by saying, with a good measure of affection, that our local paper is the sort that mentions every school classroom that got a visit from Santa, every seniors’ club meeting in a 100 kilometer radius, which drug stores are open all night on any given day, and other similarly urgent matters.  So the recipes might be expected to be rather pedestrian, at best.  And while I’m sure it’s true that a more sophisticated paper would have more upscale recipes, think about a small town near you.  Would you expect to find recipes like these in a small paper there each and every day?  Although there’s nothing particularly exotic or wildly creative about any of these dishes, they mostly all sound worth trying, and several look positively good.

In looking through this random peephole into a French kitchen, the thing that strikes me first is the matter of timing.  The pita recipe only takes 20 minutes to prepare, but that’s normal for a sandwich.  The rest of the recipes range from 40 minutes to 2 hours in preparation and cooking  time.  That’s a lot of slow cooking, by today’s standards.  The dishes do rely on a certain amount of pre-prepared ingredients: purchased all-butter puff pastry for the pear tart, a dehydrated court bouillon for the monkfish, frozen artichoke hearts and frozen vegetables to stuff them with, and the pita.  But aside from that, it’s all made from scratch. 

There are certain ingredients, like crème fraiche, powdered almonds, fromage frais for the pita, and vanilla sugar, that are probably not readily available outside of Europe.  Other than that the ingredients are quite ordinary, and you could make any of these dishes at home.  Let me know if you’d like to give any of them a try and I’ll post the details.

What really fascinates me are the assumptions that these are the things that people are likely to want to eat, and that the average reader is expected to spend at least an hour a night in the kitchen.  And that French readers are expected to know how to cook, at a time when American recipe writers are looking for words to replace simple kitchen terms like whisk and sauté, for fear that today’s cook no longer knows what they mean.  A very experienced cook myself, I had to read the crepe cake recipe three times to figure out that there are no instructions for cooking the actual crepes, you just need to know how it’s done.  Challenging some of my other assumptions about French cooking, while there’s rum in the flan, not one of the recipes includes wine as an ingredient, and of the eight recipes only two include cream.

On the other hand, because the quality of the prepared foods that are available for purchase is so high, it’s ridiculously easy not to cook at all in France and still eat well.  So why would a French woman come home from work and spend an hour or two in the kitchen putting dinner on the table? 

I think it’s because mealtime is still more or less sacred here.  Sitting together at the table is the glue that holds the fabric of French society together.  If you want to really tick off a waiter in France, be in a hurry to eat and run.  If you want to offend a drop-in visitor, forget to offer a glass of something.  To mark yourself as a real outsider, just complain about the shops closing in the middle of the day.  Of course everything is closed for two hours around noon!  The people who work in those shops need to go pick up their kids from school and go home for lunch together.  Ok, maybe a few of them sneak in a little housework or even a nap during that time.  But for sure they eat lunch, and preferably in the company of others.

As an experiment, try taking a two hour lunch every day for a week and see what it does for you.  Once the dust settles, I think you’ll find that your life has become richer, even without adding cream.

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4 Comments on “Recipe Of The Day”

  1. Lori in PA Says:

    Great post! I am a cook who regularly spends a few hours a day in the kitchen — as a stay-at-home, home-schooling mother, I have the ability to work on meals in bits and pieces throughout most days, fitting prepping tasks in between going over math lessons and answering the endless “How do you spell ______?” queries.

    I’ve visited Europe a few times and been both delighted and chagrined at the long mid-day closed shop period. What I’m curious about is this: how would you compare American and French productivity? I wonder how the different mindset affects that. Personally, I prefer (and have) a lifestyle where my work is satisfying to me and not something to be gotten through in a set time period, kept separate from the rest of my life. For me, work and relaxation and family time and writing and even my mayoral duties, small though they are, blend together so that they are all of a piece. Do you find that to be more common in a country where families go home together in the middle of the day for a long lunch/together time? Or is everyone just as stressed and rushed?

  2. Abra Says:

    Wow, that’s a series of really good questions, not that I’m very qualified to answer them. I guess it’s all in how you measure productivity. France still makes things, as opposed to the American service economy. And they make things like high speed trains that run like clockwork, so by that measure they must be very productive.

    Your attitude about work and play and family sounds very French to me. I’m sure there’s a whole class of French people who put work ahead of everything else, but I haven’t met any here. In this backwater, quality of life seems to be the prime thing, and being stressed and rushed isn’t anthing I’ve observed here.

  3. Nancy Says:

    I’d like to try the pear and chocolate tart, if you’ve really a mind to post the details.

    As someone who’s generally caught up in the mad race enough to feel rushed, but not enough to impress Upper Management, I’ve marveled at the gait of daily life for most Americans. Thanks for showing that it isn’t that way everywhere, and for suggesting that productivity may have more than one definition.

    Not to try to steer your blog, but if those on your side of the water are watching the election stampede over on this side, I’d be interested to read about their views.

  4. Abra Says:

    Every person with whom I’ve discussed the elections in the U.S. is excited at the prospect of having either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the White House. The Bush administration is not popular here.

    The pear and chocolate tart goes like this:

    Cream 50 gms of powdered almonds and 50 grams of sugar with 50 grams of softened butter. Incorporate one beaten egg. In a microwave-safe bowl place 50 grams of chopped chocolate and 5 cl of crème fraiche. Zap for 2 minutes (sounds a bit long to me, I’d have a look after 1 minute). Stir and mix with the almond cream.

    Peel and thinly slice 5 pears. Place them on parchment paper, sprinkle them with 2 packets of vanilla sugar, then bake for 10 minutes at 150 C. Let them cool.

    Take one round of puff pastry and set it on parchment paper. (no indication as to circumference, I’d guess 9-10″) Spread the almond-chocolate cream over the pastry then arrange the pears on top of the cream. Leave a margin, brush it with beaten egg yolk, then cover with another round of puff. Pinch or roll the edges to hold in the filling, then brush all over with the remaining egg yolk. Chill for 1 hour. Bake for 25 minutes at 200 C. Serve warm.

    If you make this, I’d love to hear how it turns out!


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