Category Archives: french food

‘Shroom Love

When you work in magazine publishing, there are days you love. Two-hour lunch days. Down time days right after the close. Days you want to last for weeks but only last a day or two at most. Then the worry of the status of the next round of articles kicks in. You find yourself walking or running to the nearest café or deli. Hopefully, they make decent food that you can gobble down at your desk while working. 

One of these lunch stops, the very French-American Café Clementine, that I frequented was a neighborhood favorite that often sold out of specific items. Café Clementine got so many complaints from hangry customers over the often sold out items that they put their menu online before the lunch rush. 

Hallelujah. I could check to see if my favorite lunch from them was available. Ah Mushroom soup! I was always in the mood for its creamy, comforting and mild but unique flavor. I could taste the fantastic blend of earthy mushrooms, pungent garlic and sweet onions. 

The texture and taste of this soup never disappointed. I could eat this soup at my desk—in an open office plan—and still embody happiness as if I was celebrating Christmas in the Swiss Alps with a view of tallest snowcapped mountains while I sat by a lovely fireplace. 

Upon seeing mushroom soup listed on Café Clementine’s daily online menu, I’d sprint across Broadway at 11:30ish before it sold out for the day. The usual lunch window (12pm-2pm) was too late for this soup. 

Its light gray color didn’t look very appetizing but the flavor and texture more than made up for it.

When I made it at home the first time, my son called it prison food. The texture was too thick. I used too many mushrooms and too many spices and not enough broth. 

The second time with added arrow root powder and soy creamer was a winner. It’s not an exact replica of Café Clementine’s mushroom soup but it comes very close. Try the baked mushroom topping for an umami experience.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Magical Mushroom Soup

Ingredients 
2 tbsp oil for frying
1/4 cup onions, chopped
1 tsp butter
4 cups sliced mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp arrowroot powder 
1/4 cup water or broth
1 heaping tbsp crushed garlic
A pinch of oregano
2 cups unsweetened dairy-free creamer (optional)

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Sautee onions till golden brown. Sprinkle with oregano.
2. Set aside onions and add butter and a little more oil if needed. Turn the heat up. Add mushrooms and let brown. Drain any excess water and return mushrooms to heat.
3. Add chicken broth, cooked onions and Worcestershire sauce. Let mushrooms simmer on low for 30 minutes or until tender.
4. Transfer mushroom, onion and broth mixture to a blender. Blend until mixture is pureed. 
5. Mix arrowroot powder with water or broth and add to blender. 
6. Add salt, garlic and oregano. Also add more broth or water if the mixture is too thick. Blend until smooth and creamy. Pour in a mixing bowl.
7. (Optional) Add 2 cups of cream and gently whisk. This step will make the soup a bit light and airy and ready to serve.

Crispy Mushroom Topping 

Ingredients
2 large portabella mushroom caps, cleaned with a damp cloth and sliced thin
Oil for frying
Sea salt 

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and lay mushroom slices flat. Make sure they don’t crowd each other.
3. Brush mushroom slices with oil and season with salt.
4. Bake mushrooms for 15 minutes, turn and bake for another 15 minutes. Use more oil if needed. 
5. Remove from oven and let cool and crisp up.

Avocado Crevettes

Soho. Spring 2013. Still lives. Galleries. Gray skies. Fashionably depressed cars gloomily snail along. Bumper to bumper traffic. The chatterbox mouth of the Holland Tunnel. Maybe a week after the close—about six days of slow torture in the magazine publishing world. My talented friend. Me. The long three-block sprint from our company’s office to our lunch date venue, Wine and Flowers. 

Bursting with white and pink peonies, and wine bottles everywhere, Wine and Flowers was not just a pretty Soho French restaurant, prime for a two-hour lunch getaway. It gave us life after a storm of work. We walked in loving the quiet happiness, and chose the restaurant’s only table by the only window that faced the sidewalk and dreary buildings across the street. 

Two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with avocado crevettes—avocados stuffed with shrimp and topped with an amazing, creamy saffron sauce—later, and we were fans of Wine and Flowers for life, or until our company moved.

I thought back on all the authentic French food I’ve tasted over the years, and avocado crevettes remains a clear standout. Why? 

1. I’ve always loved the mild, earthy creaminess of undressed avocados. Just a little sprinkle of sea salt and you’re good. What a perfect vehicle for flavorful, juicy shrimp!

2. The flavor and texture of the shrimp was just right. There is always something so elegant about seafood that has been cooked well. 

3. The creamy saffron Marseillaise sauce was unbeatable in taste, color and smooth consistenct texture. 

In the recipe below, I’ve tried to recreate the unforgettable Marseillaise sauce at Wine and Flowers, only afterwards finding an even closer recipe in the NY Times cooking section. Alas, the recipe below is authentic and includes super French ingredients: the ever popular and expensive saffron threads, cream or vegan cream substitute and a dry white wine. 

Share it with your girlfriends, sisters, moms, and anyone else who will appreciate nice, simple, southern French cuisine.

Avocado Crevettes Recipe 

Ingredients 
4 medium ripe avocados
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup minced shallots 
2 tbsp minced garlic
8 jumbo shrimp
1/3 cup white wine
2 tbsp tomato paste 
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp of sour cream*
Chopped mixed herbs: basil, parsley, thyme 
Sea Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
1. Peel and halve avocados and season with sea salt. 
2. Heat oil in a pan and lightly brown shallots. 
3. Add the garlic and cook till fragrant.
4. Cook shrimp till beautiful, golden brown.
5. Pour in the white wine and simmer for three minutes.
6. Add tomato paste, saffron threads, and season with salt and pepper.
7. Remove shrimp and finish the sauce with cream and butter.
8. Top each avocado half with shrimp and drizzle with creamy saffron, tomato sauce.

*I used a soy creamer with added seasonings as a substitute for the sour cream and it worked perfectly.

The World Needs (Vegan) Crème Brûlée

A crème brûlée experience is like no other. You’re in New York. Eating at a lovely (and expensive), New American restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or an authentic (and not so expensive) French café in a converted brownstone in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

The appetizers and entrées were well done or barely cooked, whatever you prefer. Your friends and/or business associates are engaged in a deep conversation about politics. You’re interested and contributing to the conversation here and there, but you can’t help but wonder, ‘What’s on that dessert menu?’

Finally, you order the crème brûlée and it comes out beautiful, shiny, and appealing. You’ve never seen anything like it, have you? With hesitation to mess up its perfect, golden brown beauty, you break its candy crust, and soft Mozart violins start to play.

Tasting the burnt sugar candy is enough to make you grin like a child. But the sweet, silky vanilla cream is simply addictive. It’s a dessert of opposites. Hard and soft. Burnt and barely cooked. Deep and mild flavor. When you’re finished you ask yourself, who originated this loveliest of lovely desserts? And how am I the last one in the world to know about it?

According to my research, crème brûlée is derived from the Spanish Catalan cream, but the French has made it their own.

And, in turn, made me a fan of their cuisine for life! Crème brûlée one of the biggest reasons why I love French food. I may not be able to remember exactly the first time I had crème brûlée, but I’m sure that it was just like the amazing experience I described above, so much so that I had to have it if it was even an option.

Now I find myself missing fine dining and making crème brûlée at home. I made two versions: traditional and vegan.

My son craves a classic NY Times version—I’ve posted it on Frealthy. It’s a traditional recipe that is pretty much the same everywhere online: eggs, heavy cream, vanilla, sugar, and burnt sugar finish. 

Most of my family loves this vegan version—also posted on Frealthy—originally by namelymarly.com, which defies the need for eggs and heavy cream. It was easy to make but took a while to finish because the “cream” must set over night in the fridge to thicken. 

The vegan crème brûlée never really sets like the traditional recipe, at least mine did not—perhaps I should’ve used more cashews or arrowroot powder to make the “cream” a thicker and richer texture. But, nonetheless, it turned out fantastic in flavor and creaminess. 

Five Reasons to Fall for Carrots, Again

Lately, I’ve been craving carrots. They’re something I generally don’t crave or even think about, unless I’m having a dire, need-to-lose-five-pounds moment. (I have a carrot and celery temporary weight loss trick that works every time.) It’s surprising to me, that in the last two years, the healthiness and taste of carrots have been up for debate. Here are six reasons why I haven’t lost faith in one of the most underrated and versatile veggies of our time. 

1. It’s pure joy to watch and engineer the transformation of carrots into cakes, soufflés, fritters, salads and any other edible. There are so many fun ways to prepare them. 

Like at Olmsted, the carrot crepe that I woofed down in about five minutes was spectacular. Filled with other veggies and tiny seafood, it was a thing to be remembered and cherished. It was honestly one of the top seven dishes at a resto that I’ve ever eaten in my life. 

Or, like this carrot soup recipe, try it with or without the topping of caramelized onions, homemade bacon bits and scallions, for a creamy and satisfying start to a special occasion meal at home. Perfect for a birthday, anniversary or girlfriends’ brunch.

2. Carrot juice still gives the body a natural and powerful energy boost and a ravishing glow. 

3. The nutritional value of carrots—vitamins A, K, and C, calcium, beta carotene and fiber—promotes overall health and fights disease.

4. As they are one-third of a major French cuisine fundamental, the mirepoix (carrots, celery and onions), carrots have been a mainstay in fine and casual dining for centuries across the globe. Why give up on them now?  

5. They taste divine when you roast them with onions, garlic, fresh herbs and the protein of your choice. The smell that emanates when carrots are roasting is the ultimate ingredient that makes a home feel like a home. 

Parisian Potato Salad

Once upon a summer, my son—who was four at the time—and I traveled to the beautiful City of Light. Paris! 

It was magical by day. Jumping up and down on the second level of the Eiffel Tower as we tried to count the moving spots that were people, 115 meters down (377 feet). The panoramic view of Paris from Sacre Coeur. Fun kiddie rides at a makeshift amusement park in front of the Louvre. Macarons. Madeleines. Chocolate. Chocolate. And more chocolate!

It was magical by night. Dinner at a family restaurant with autographed pictures of Muhammad Ali. Champagne. Night views of the lit Eiffel Tower. Sweet French accents everywhere. 

But my goal of teaching my son why France and travel in general, is amazing and important is still and always will be a work in progress. 

He did fall for the food pretty hard though. We both loved the potato salad at a chicken shop in the food court of a shopping center. I know it probably sounds like a random thing to remember. But it was cheap, delicious, fresh and satisfied my craving for pickles. It was also very different from the American southern potato salad that I’ve eaten all my life. 

This Parisian potato salad was chock full of sweet onions, Dijon and grain mustard, and herbs and vinegar. I noticed that it was egg- and mayonnaise-less. But after two bites, I forgot about the missing eggs and mayo. I didn’t even miss the tangy and sweet—and ridiculously high in sodium—relish that I craved on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. 

I usually make potato salad the way my mom makes it, but I wanted to share this healthy French potato salad recipe because it’s a great tasting, low-calorie option. 

Try it as a satisfying and flavorful side dish for various summertime meals. BBQ. Fried chicken. Or, maybe just by itself with some grilled veggies.

Click here for my recipe for Parisian potato salad. Hope you enjoy it!

What We’ve Been Doing for the Last Five Months, Plus My Homage to Café Lafayette: Shrimp Fritters

For nearly five months of lock down, my family and I have enjoyed getting fat from eating too much soul food—not my mom because she eats like a bird and not my son because he loses weight as he gains it. He’s in the Ninja phase.

Also, on our list of quarantine activities are:

  • cleaning
  • fighting like Ninjas
  • completing online learning tasks (now the endless summer packet)
  • working from home
  • reading and watching the news
  • becoming addicted to the news
  • getting sick of the news
  • avoiding the news 
  • loving the videos and pictures of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests across the country

Of course, my all-time favorite activities are cooking, eating great food and hearing how wonderful my food tastes.

During the quarantine, I’ve made a bunch of new things. Among the best is a shrimp and sweet potato fritter. My love for the late, great, and quaint Café Lafayette’s shrimp fritters, inspired me to make it. 

Before the treasured Fort Greene spot, Café Lafayette, closed in 2017, my sister and I spent quite a few Sundays brunching in the living-room sized restaurant. Downing mimosas and Kir Royales. Listening to Nina Simone and other Blues notables. Regrettably sharing one chocolate lava cake, instead of ordering two. 

Café Lafayette was one of OUR places, which meant neither of us were allowed to bring anyone else there. We also agreed that the shrimp fritter—juicy morsels of shrimp laced with crispy shreds of sweet potatoes and carrots—was a remarkable, tasty and satisfying bite. 

My family loved my recreation of this shrimp fritter. Omitting the carrots, I added a bunch of other stuff to add flavor and to “French” it up a bit. It’s definitely lighter, moister and richer than I remember.

Try it and I think you’ll agree that it’s the kind of appetizer that takes the word “appetizer” to whole new level.

For the shrimp and sweet potato fritter recipe and more healthy, French cooking, check out Frealthy, a page for francophiles that love to cook.

Video by Melinda Wright.