Posts

Mastering the Art of Eating Cheese Fondue by Ann Mah

Have you ever read a book about travel, food and gastronomic history then been so curiously hungry to try it out for yourself that you’ve booked tickets the next day?

That happened last November. Some of you may recall I packed my bags and jumped on the train to Lyon for a gastronomic weekend after reading Chapter Four of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating Then the other day, as Ann and I were exchanging the latest Parisian bathroom leak stories and French insurance companies, she let drop that her book has just been released in paperback.

To celebrate its release, Ann has given us a few ‘Fondue’s and don’ts’, an extra bonus taken from her chapter on Savoie and Haute-Savoie where she learns from the locals about mastering the art of eating the most delicious of cheese fondues.  Like all ten chapters in her book, while she tours deliciously around France,  a recipe is given at the end.

Are you sitting comfortably? Have you brought out the fondue set?  Cheese (she’ll help you choose that too) all cut up and ready? Then let’s start the lesson:

How to eat Cheese Fondue like the French

Fondue Etiquette

I’ve always thought of fondue as a casual dish, a winter warmer enjoyed with a round of backgammon. But when I set out to research the classic Alpine dish, I discovered an intricate web of politesse surrounding the pot of molten cheese. Fondue hails from Switzerland and/or France, and—like most things Swiss and/or French—it involves a host of rules. Here are some of the fondues and don’ts I’ve discovered:

* Don’t stir counterclockwise: Traditionalists say you must stir clockwise or in a figure-eight pattern to keep the cheese homogenised until you reach the very bottom.

* Do twirl your fork: Keep things tidy by twirling those flyaway strands of melted cheese around your cube of bread. Please, no tapping, scraping, or double-dipping, unless you want to give your Swiss host a heart attack.

* Don’t drink any water: Sip only white wine, kirsch, or an herbal tisane with your fondue meal. According to Swiss lore, any other drink—be it water, juice, or beer—will cause the melted cheese to coagulate and form a giant ball in your stomach, leaving you with debilitating indigestion. Yes, it sounds silly, but do you really want to risk it?

* Don’t lose your bread in the pot: If your cube of cheese-soaked bread goes missing in the pot of molten cheese, you’ll have to drain your glass of wine, or kiss your neighbor.

* Do make some noise: Feel free to scrape, clang, clank, and use whatever means necessary to dislodge the crust of browned cheese at the bottom of your empty fondue pot. Called “la religieuse,” the shards of crisped cheese have a toasty crunch and are considered a delicacy.

* Don’t follow cheese fondue with chocolate fondue: A meal of Switzerland’s two most famous food exports seems like an obvious progression, but the two together might send you directly into a cholesterol coma. Instead, end your meal with fresh pineapple: The fruit’s acidity is a bright counterpoint to the creamy cheese, while its enzymes help you digest more quickly.

Ann Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese. Ann was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 and her articles about food, travel, fashion, style, and the arts have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine, and the South China Morning Post, among other publications. The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah currently splits her time between New York City and Paris.

Ann Mah Author of Mastering the Art of French Eating

Thanks to Ann for enlightening us on our French fondue etiquette.  My personal favourites are “Don’t drink water” (this always riles my Mother-in-Law up silly as she doesn’t drink wine and always talks at the table about her digestive system – I must tell her to drink a herbal tea, though!) and the “Make noise…”.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a fondue – or cheesy gratin for that matter – when my family doesn’t fight over who gets the delicious toasted scrapings at the end!

cover of paperback book of Ann Mah's Mastering the Art of French Eating

I’m thrilled to say that the lovely people at Penguin have kindly offered a Giveaway copy to readers of le blog!

To enter the #Giveaway, just comment below telling us about your favourite cheese fondue stories – or just tell us if there’s a fondue set in the family – and, even better, share news of the Giveaway via Facebook or Twitter.  The Giveaway ends Sunday 9th November 2014, midnight in Paris.

Giveaway now closed.

Congratulations to Tonessa West Crowe who wins a copy of Ann Mah’s paperback!

 Good luck! 

Red Onion Chevre Tatin

I’m thrilled to be a guest over at Ann Mah’s Tuesday Dinner series with this easy red onion chèvre tatin recipe.

Ann inspired me to pack my bags and jump on the train to France’s gastronomic capital, Lyon. Reading her book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, you may just find yourself doing the same! When I met Ann in Paris we munched on macarons with chocolat chaud but today it’s virtual and savoury.

Red Onion Chevre Tatin

In short, this is one of my favourite savoury dishes that’s handy to make with basic ingredients I like to keep in the fridge and pantry. It’s also so easy that it’s not much of a recipe. By following a classic tarte tatin recipe (see Mango and Orange Tarte Tatin for example), you can make up your own creations using different fruit and vegetables.

This is a baked version of a French salade de chèvre chaud (packed with onions en plus) since it can be made easily in advance and popped in the oven while picking up the kids. It’s also great for all seasons and, depending on who’s sitting at the table, it can be dressed either up or down for something simple but oh-là-là effective.

Here’s the recipe but pop over to Ann’s website for the chatty part, which is far more interesting! It’s always a delight to see when someone has made the recipe.

Red Onion Chèvre Tatin

Serves 4 as a light dinner

Special equipment: a frying pan that can transfer to the oven

2 large onions
2 red onions
large knob of butter (30g)
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp herbes de Provence
3 crottins de chavignol (fresh goat’s cheese)
1 ready-rolled puff pastry round (all butter is best)
Handful of walnuts

1.  Peel and cut the onions into thin slices. Meanwhile, over a medium-low flame, melt the butter with a dash of olive oil in a sauté pan that can be transferred to the oven. Add the onions to the pan and leave to soften and cook for 20 minutes, turning only once or twice to coat the onions in the butter and oil.

2.  Preheat the oven to temperature suggested on box of puff pastry.

how to make savoury tart tatin

An upside down tart so the cheese is hidden. Woah!

3. Stir the balsamic vinegar, herbes de Provence and salt and pepper into the onions. Slice the crottins of goat cheese in half horizontally and distribute them on top of the packed caramelised onions. Top with the large disk of puff pastry, tucking it in around the sides of the pan. Prick the pastry with the fork then transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

4.  Remove from the oven. Place a plate larger than the pan over the top. Turn the tatin upside down quickly on to the plate.

Serve with a salad tossed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and extra toasted walnuts.

onion chevre tatin

Make this tarte tatin with white onions, too, and serve with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Ideally, serve a wine from the Loire Valley since it’s The French region for goats cheeses. For a change from Sancerre, why not serve a Quincy?

That now makes two tatins at the table, ready for dinner tonight chez Ann Mah.

Bon Appétit! 

Mastering the Art of French Eating in Lyon: Chez Hugon

When I met my journalist friend, Ann Mah, for a chocolat chaud and macarons in Paris this summer, she was radiant with the prospect of ‘twins’ on the horizon: a baby girl soon to be born in New York and her new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, which has just recently been published by Penguin Viking. Had I known Ann at the time, all alone in Paris for a year as a diplomat’s wife – not unlike Julia Child, as the title suggests – while her husband was assigned a post in Iraq, I would have loved to have joined her. You see, in order to combat loneliness in the City of Light (and I know what that’s like at first – not easy), she embarked on a gastronomic adventure around Paris and the rest of France.

As David Lebovitz says on the back cover, “Her personal culinary tale will have you packing your bags”. I didn’t think that before I’d even got to the Salade Lyonnaise recipe at the end of Chapter 4, I would have booked a weekend in Lyon! It was about time, after a long haul of being stuck in the house with back problems and builders. Besides, in over twenty years I’ve lived here, I’ve only passed through Lyon en route to visit my French parents-in-law in Provence. As France’s gastronomic capital, how could I have just gone through its tunnels under the Saône and Rhône?

One of Ann’s favourite addresses in Lyon is a typical bouchon eatery, Chez Hugon. I’m not going to give you all the gastronomic history here, as she beautifully documents it in her book but, as a first introduction to Lyon, I can tell you the ambience was contagiously uplifting.

chez Hugon Lyon

Opening the Bouchon door and seeing the long, communal packed tables with diners in full conversational swing, one diner must have seen my panic-stricken face at the lack of space. ‘Mais, you’re too late – there are no seats left’, he teased. Sensing the Lyonnais sense of humour, just as his friend got up to go to the toilet, I grabbed his seat.  Luckily, two wooden chairs were waiting for my friend and I at the end of a table, just cosily next to the kitchen, so we could relish the lively banter from both sides of the restaurant.

As an ex-vegetarian, I didn’t quite make it to the traditional Andouillette tripe sausage but instead went for the lentils with bacon and a Quenelle de brochet, just as Ann had tasted, “served in a puddle of langoustine sauce”.

Just as we were studying the traditional dessert menu, glistening in the fluorescent lights that Ann had mentioned, a couple entered with guitars. My first reaction was, och – there are really no tables left but they took their coats off, opened their cases and started strumming and humming until there was a marked crescendo with Brassens’ songs; to Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose‘; to Renaud’s ‘Tel qu’il est’…Ce qui n’est pas marrant c’est qu’il ronfle, on dirait un pneu qui se dégonfle…. (Trans: It’s not funny but when he snores, it sounds like a deflating tyre’.) 

Chez Hugon Bouchon Lyonnais

Suddenly the chef, Eric, joined his mother in the front and burst into full song, with “Mexico, M – e – x – i – c – o….!” As I downed another glass of Fleury wine (one of my preferred Beaujolais Crus which I prefer on a day like today) accompanied by pears in wine (when in Lyon…), the neighbour at my table was handed the key to the toilet; on a marrow bone.

Chez Hugon Lyon Bouchon

Ann hopes that readers of her book feel encouraged to travel and explore, to ask lots of questions, to embrace their curiosity and be flexible and open to new experiences. Well, Ann, chapeau to you! I’ll definitely be returning to Lyon to discover more traditional bouchon eateries and join in the friendly banter. With ten chapter/regions in the book, from Paris to l’Aveyron, you’ll be ready to pack your bags for a delicious adventure, too.

Don’t forget to devour a copy of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. As a companion to her book, Ann is currently posting a series on her blog, ‘Where to Eat in France‘.

Traditionally today, on the third Thursday of November, let’s give a toast to Beaujolais Nouveau Day!  Chez Hugon is usually open Mondays to Fridays but, exceptionally this weekend, they’re open to celebrate with a few pots of Beaujolais Nouveau.


P.S. Have you tried my favourite caramelised red onion tarte tatin recipe yet?