Travel: Nice, France

IMG_3124My first time in the south of France was when I was 16, on a trip to Arles with my family. I was immediately taken in by the pastel-colored buildings, the warm air (even in March) and the warm, friendly people (not to mention the delicious seafood.) We stayed with a delightful family in a small bed and breakfast, and spent the few days we were there exploring the Roman ruins, traveling around the region and eating (a lot.) IMG_4299This trip was a bit different. Ari and I didn't quite know what to expect, neither of us having been to Nice or the French Riviera before. (I was basically envisioning Casino Royale with more croissants.) We were immediately charmed by the gorgeous architecture and the incredible views of the Mediterranean, and one of my favorite moments was when we decided to walk up to the city Chateau and stumbled across a waterfall. We also had some incredible food--though we didn't get to go to Le Canon because I forgot to make a reservation, we still were able to eat at a number of wonderful restaurants.

IMG_4310.JPGLe Franchin Situated on a little side street, this traditional bistro served the best seafood bisque I've ever had. We actually went here after we learned that Le Canon was booked on a recommendation from the owner, and it didn't disappoint. A great spot for affordable wine and delicious fish--and the staff speaks English, so it's easy to communicate.

IMG_4318.JPGRestaurant Aphrodite The menu at this molecular gastronomy restaurant looks pretty crazy at first glance, but don't be afraid. Ari and I had two different tasting menus, and everything was wonderful--but we especially loved the asparagus dish with an egg and caviar, and the incredible edible forest, complete with tiny souffle "snails" and mushrooms. Chef David Faure and his wife were incredibly nice and friendly, and the staff explained everything about the menu in great detail.

IMG_3132Parcours Live Situated just outside Nice in the hilltop village of Falicon, Parcours Live is a Michelin-starred restaurant in an unassuming old farmhouse that just happens to have world-class views of the Riviera. When we got there it was already dark, but food more than made up for it. Chef Frederic Galland is clearly super talented, and the spacious dining room was very comfortable and quiet. I particularly loved the rabbit terrine and the red snapper with zucchini flowers.

IMG_3057Other notes: we stayed in two different hotels, Hotel La Perouse and the Hyatt Palais Mediteranee. Both quite different and equally lovely, but I loved the old world charm of Hotel La Perouse. Though they're both on the Promenade des Anglais, La Perouse is a bit more off the beaten track, and their roof deck has some of the best views of Nice.

IMG_4290We also enjoyed a delightful lunch at a sidewalk cafe in the Place Durandy, and we loved walking through the Promenade du Paillon, which was probably one of the best city parks I've ever seen. We didn't make it to any museums, but I've heard wonderful things about the Chagall museum and the modern art museum, should you be so inclined. As it was, we were very happy walking around the old city and having an aperitif or an ice cream cone when it suited us.

 

Blender Hollandaise

_MG_6147There's a part in the movie Julie and Julia where Stanley Tucci (as Paul Child) walks in on Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) frantically whisking bowls and bowls of mayonnaise in their Paris kitchen, perfecting the recipe for her forthcoming cookbook – the trick being that warming the bowl beforehand made combining the egg yolks and oil much easier._MG_6135 Julia Child's great gift was bringing complicated French techniques and dishes to the American masses, and nothing represents this philosophy better than hollandaise made in a blender. It combines French emulsifying techniques with modern convenience, and of course, plenty of butter. Three ingredients, about 5 minutes total, and not even a thought of whisking – what could be easier? As shown in the movie, warming the blender beforehand ensures that the egg yolk and butter will blend into a creamy sauce and not a separated mess._MG_6149

_MG_6153 Quick Blender Hollandaise (makes about 3/4 cup, adapted from Bon Appétit) 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes Salt and pepper

Fill your blender with hot water and set aside. Melt butter until foaming in a small saucepan over medium heat, then remove from heat.

Empty blender, then dry thoroughly. Add egg yolk and lemon juice to blender, and pulse on low to blend. Working quickly and with blender running, pour melted butter in a slow stream (almost dripping) through the hole in cover, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the pan. Blend until sauce is creamy, and season well with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. (Here, we topped quickly sautéed asparagus and poached eggs).

Chocolate Mousse

_MG_5789 _MG_5786When I was growing up, Valentine's Day meant a special dinner with our family, and most importantly, CANDY. I still remember one V-day in particular where my sister and I each received a giant Hershey's Kiss, and I'm pretty certain that we both ate at least half that night (Solveig, you know what I'm talking about). _MG_5812Besides having an incorrigible sweet tooth, Valentine's Day was never really my favorite holiday – I never really thought it was necessary to have one day to let the people close to you know that you love them. Of course, I'm never going to say no to a good dinner, so when Ari and I were deciding what we were going to do (obviously, House of Cards was the first item on the agenda), I thought it would be fun to come up with some things I don't make on a regular basis. Surprisingly, I have never tried my hand at chocolate mousse, always one of my favorite desserts at French restaurants, but after this I will definitely be making it again. Seems fancy, and is deceptively simple  – plus you can make it hours ahead of time, which makes it perfect for a dinner party._MG_5792

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Chocolate Mousse (adapted from Bon Appétit)

1/2 cup chilled heavy cream, divided 2 large egg yolks 1/4 cup espresso or strong coffee, room temperature 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt 3 ounces semisweet chocolate (60-72% cacao), chopped 2 large egg whites

Beat 1/4 cup cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form; cover and chill.
Combine egg yolks, espresso, salt, and 1 Tbsp. sugar in a large metal bowl. Set over a saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is lighter in color and almost doubled in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 160 degrees, about 1 minute. Remove bowl from pan. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth. Let stand, whisking occasionally, until room temperature.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another medium bowl on medium speed until foamy. With mixer running, gradually beat in remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until firm peaks form. Fold egg whites into chocolate in 2 additions; fold whipped cream into mixture just to blend.
Divide mousse among 4 teacups or 4-oz. ramekins. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours and up to one day.
Before serving, whisk remaining 1/4 cup cream in a small bowl until soft peaks form; dollop over mousse.

Crème Brûlée

I seem to be on a bit of a Barefoot Contessa spree, but really, this is the only crème brûlée recipe my family uses. While it actually isn't terribly difficult, it does take a bit of practice and due to the amount of heavy cream it probably isn't something you want to make on a daily basis. It is, however, an excellent dessert to make if you really want to make someone feel special (without going to all of the effort of making a three-layer cake). Crème brûlée has maintained its position as the epidemy of French dessert for all of these years for a reason -- it is classic, silky, and an utterly perfect contrast in texture and taste. Since the recipe is copyrighted, you can find it here. My only notes are these: use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract for stronger flavor. Additionally, if you don't have a gas torch (as I do not, although that may need to be my next kitchen investment), you can just as easily caramelize the sugar under the broiler on high. Just be sure to keep an eye on it, as it burns easily.