Croque-Monsieur

The Croque-Monsieur sandwich is classic French bistro fare. This past Monday I made these sandwiches for my husband and myself. They’re so decadent and delicious, and it was such a treat to have a long and lazy lunch in the middle of a busy work day (the perks of working from home). I had a few slices of sweet brioche leftover from a batch of weekend French toast. The bread is layered with a nutmeg-rich béchamel sauce, slices of ham, shredded gruyère and Dijon mustard. The sandwiches are topped with more béchamel and a sprinkle of thyme, then baked until golden and oozing. The sweet and savory combination is out of this world! I absolutely love gruyère cheese and every time I use it to make a gratin or French onion soup, I save a bit just so that I can make these sandwiches later in the week. 

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A Valentine’s Day Prelude

I’ve been in a Valentine’s mood for the last few weeks. Ever since hearts and cupids started showing up in the stores right after New Years, Valentine’s Day has been playing like a love song in the back of my mind. I even impulsively bought a Valentine’s day mask and heart shaped pendant the other day and I have Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” on repeat in the kitchen. It’s funny because Valentine’s Day was never my favourite holiday. I looked at it as just another excuse for the kids to eat way too much candy. Maybe it’s the Covid quarantines, on and off lockdowns, and the fact that, through forced confinement, our family has grown even closer this past year, but this February I’m all about the hearts, roses, sweet treats, LOVE and yes, even the candy. Really, I can’t wait for a reason to celebrate. Are you feeling the same?

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Juggernaut 2018 Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon

This week’s wine review is brought to you by my husband who chose the wine. Standing in our local wine shop last week, I might have skimmed past it as I was scanning the shelves, but he pointed it out to me. “That looks interesting,” he said, eyeing a bottle with a vibrantly illustrated label. The owner of the shop, who is also a trusted connoisseur, assured us that we would love it, so naturally, it came home with us. It was the label that caught my husband’s attention – a lion, with teeth bared, lunging with ferocity at some unseen foe. It’s a very masculine image which appeals on a visceral level, but what really struck me were the fine lines of the illustration and the contrasting colours. Specifically, crimson leaves scattered beneath the beast’s turquoise claws and jowls. Like something from a synesthetic dream, and that appeals to me, viscerally.

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Rascal 2019 Pinot Gris and a Rotisserie-Style Roast Chicken

Wine label art has become a genre of modern art all to itself and is a topic on which whole books could be written. It’s become a fun pastime of mine to peruse the shelves of my local wine store admiring the labels on each bottle and wondering about the meaning behind each image. I like to look at labels through an analytical lens in the same way someone might decipher the meaning of a poem. While many wines have elaborately illustrated labels without mention as to what the pictures represent, there’s also much beauty in simplicity. The first is like an epic poem, so full of fluff that it struggles to keep the line and measure in its extravagance while the latter is a crisp and perfectly executed Haiku. Of course, it goes without saying that no matter how compelling the artwork on the label, the wine inside must be equally, if not more, delicious, complex, interesting. All of these properties converged perfectly in this Rascal 2019 Pinot Gris. The simplicity of the label is what first caught my eye – on the top, a dog with a halo. You know there must be a good story behind the picture. I turned the bottle over and read that Rascal Wine gives back a portion of the proceeds to animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country. It’s no secret how much I love our rescue dogs. That sealed the deal.

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Marchesi Torrigiani 2016 Chianti

Living in Italy during my early twenties was like experiencing an epiphany or, one might say, a “Big Awakening.” I found everything to be, in a way, more authentic, raw and real. The people are more genuine and passionate, the food is purer, fresher, more life-giving. It goes with out saying that the coffee is far better and the wine is an institution of the kind I had never experienced before. Growing up in the US, albeit with European grandparents, wine didn’t play a big roll in our everyday lives. I remember, at holidays, my grandfather would pull out a Magnum-size bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel from the refrigerator with much ado, and I might get a little taste, poured into a liqueur glass. Until I was 18 and boarding a plane to Europe, that Zinfandel was the sad extent of my wine knowledge.

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Galette des Rois aux Pommes

I meant to make this Galette des Rois on Wednesday for Epiphany but we were so glued to the news of the unrest in Washington DC that I completely forgot. Yesterday morning I woke up in a bit of a panic at my blunder and made one right away.

Galette des Rois is a lovely French tradition that brings the holidays to a sweet close. The cake is served on the 12th day of Christmas (Epiphany) to represent the visit of the three wise men to baby Jesus. Yesterday may have been the 13th day of Christmas (better late than never!), but I quickly whipped together this one using store-bought puff pastry and, for the fève, a (very clean) coin which I wrapped in aluminum foil. The tradition, which goes back to Roman times, dictates that a fève – a little trinket or small, porcelain nativity figurine – is hidden in the filling of the cake before baking. Whoever finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day. As the name suggests, a dry fava bean was originally used; however, last year I baked a real bean into the cake and it was never found. (!!) I’m always on the hunt for antique porcelain fèves but so far haven’t had any luck finding them in the US. Last night, Eva was the lucky fève finder. Her first order of business as Queen was to play a board game with me. 

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Gruet Barrel Select 2017 Chardonnay

Gruet Winery is best known for producing some of the US’s favourite Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines, but did you know that they make an exceptional collection of stills, as well? With Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes grown exclusively in New Mexico, the quality of which I have written numerous times, Gruet was established in 1984 by acclaimed French champagne maker Gilbert Gruet, and run under the expertise of his son, the winemaker, Laurent Gruet. But the state’s winemaking history goes back over 400 years, far longer than the history of the United States as a country. New Mexico’s desert landscape, high elevation, fertile soil and dramatic temperature swings provide ideal growing conditions, something Spanish monks of the 1600s recognized when they smuggled vines out of their homeland to plant in the new Americas. Today, Gruet has partnered with the local indigenous population of the Pueblo of Santa Ana and others to grow grapes to the unique specifications of the winemaker.

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Holiday Poppyseed Bread

When I got out of bed on January 1st and thought about the very first thing I wanted to eat this year, I knew it had to be this poppyseed bread. It’s a family recipe; my mom has made it for her neighbors at Christmastime for as long as I can remember – and I woke up dreaming of it. I texted her early in the morning (or at least what can be called “early” only on New Year’s Day … 9:40 am) to get the recipe. When you wake up craving something, you absolutely must eat it! Otherwise, it will haunt you like the memory of a missed opportunity and past regret. And, I decided, that’s not the best way to start a new year!

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Winter Vegetable Soup with Oxtails

I went to the butcher the other day to pick up some beef soup bones. I was craving a very wintery version a traditional beef and barley soup, my favorite as a child, with sugar pumpkin and parsnips. I couldn’t believe they were completely sold out of bones! I like to think that, because of the virus lockdowns in these uncertain times, more people than ever are leaning into homemade, slow cooked, ultra-nourishing dishes like bone broths, soups and stews. I picked up a few oxtails instead, thinking they would make a more luxurious alternative. Later, at the market, there were absolutely no pumpkins or parsnips anywhere to be found.

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Pear Clafoutis with Whipped Mascarpone

At the market last week there were these huge bins of pears. They were all so beautiful in jewel tones of ruby, emerald and topaz, I couldn’t resist buying way more than we needed. Where some have a weakness for jewelry or an addiction to well-made handbags, I have a thing for pears. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the craftsmanship of an Hermès Kelly bag, or that I would turn down a diamond if offered, but there is something so aesthetically satisfying in a bowl overflowing with pears. Like a Baroque era still life, I love to have big bowls of seasonal fruit sitting in the centre of the table and on the counter tops. It’s part of the ever-changing landscape of our kitchen. The thing about pears, though, is, like avocados, they ripen and then turn in the blink of an eye. When I saw that they were getting a little soft, I whipped together a quick batter of eggs, flour and cream, and made this pear clafoutis. It’s a delicious way to keep them from going to waste if you happened to have overindulged a bit at the market.

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