Sunday, December 16, 2012

Crab Benedict

     We have this poster in our house, which I gave to Dear Husband years ago.  It shows two skiers and the caption says, "Again to Austria."  Dear Husband told me at breakfast yesterday that maybe we should cross out Austria and write in France.  While we were not going skiing on Saturday morning, we were getting ready for our second trip to France in 48 hours.  
     Last Thursday, we took a "study trip" to Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace to experience the Marche de Noel (Christmas market).  (In school, they no longer call outings, "field trips" but rather "study trips" and since we were pulling Dear Daughter out of school for this outing, that is how I explained it to the school.)  Strasbourg has been hosting a Marche de Noel since the late 1500's, so we figured that it must be something special.  The market is dispersed amongst four different neighborhoods of the old part of the city, which leads to a nice walking experience.  Strasbourg, while a spectacular city, is very touristy and we picked a weekday to visit in hopes of being able to enjoy the market without the crowds.  We arrived shortly after 10am and were rewarded with near empty streets.  We strolled through Petite France, taking in the cobblestone streets and the old buildings decorated to the hilt.  Every restaurant in town was advertising foie gras on the menu and we had skipped breakfast in hopes of enjoying a nice lunch.  
     The largest area devoted to the market is around the famous Cathedral.  The church is massive and a true wonder to experience.  Back outside, we strolled through the markets sipping vin chaud (hot red wine with spices), while Dear Daughter had the most incredible hot chocolate.  On sale in the little huts were all sorts of trinkets; candles, decorations, hats, jewelry and even local Alsatian food products.  I think that it must be wonderful to see the city in the early evening.  Wonderful lights hung across the streets and even chandeliers were dangling above us.  While the visit definitely put us in the Christmas spirit, a visit at night would be truly magical.
     We settled down to lunch at a very small, very cute, traditional Alsatian restaurant.  For the next two hours, we savored the most incredible dishes.  Dear Daughter and I shared a typical Alsatian salad composed of Emmentaler cheese topped with cold sausage and dressing followed by Chicken in a Riesling sauce with panfried spatzle.  Dear Husband could not resist the foie gras appetizer but he was blown away by his main course, a thick Venison stew.  None of us could manage dessert and after a digestif and a coffee, we were in the car headed for home.  It was snowing again by the time we arrived at the Air Base to pick up our Christmas tree.  But by Friday, the snow had turned to rain.

Dear Daughter in Strasbourg with Hot Chocolate
Main Christmas Market in front of the Cathedral - Strasbourg
    With the weather still yucky, we decided that we needed an indoor activity on Saturday.  Metz, the capital of Lorraine, is only a 90-minute drive and we had yet to venture there.  Knowing that there was an impressive cathedral there along with a covered food market, we decided to make the visit.  Wow, the cathedral is impressive.  Dating back from the 1200's, it boasts  the largest amount of stained glass of any cathedral in Europe.  Over time, many famous French artists have contributed stained glass works and we spent some time finding the ones made by Marc Chagall.  
     Just across the street is the Marche Couvert, the Covered Market.  Opening the doors, I went straight to food heaven.  Oysters from Brittany, foie gras from the Alsace, the most incredible cheeses, fabulous looking produce; it was all there.  It was almost overwhelming.  I had to buy something but I couldn't decide.  It all looked so good!  But as I walked past the butcher, I noticed my favorite cut of beef that I have not been able to find for almost a year now.  I immediately pulled a number and began the long wait.  I observed those standing around me, also in line.  There were fifteen orders still ahead of me and I could tell that many around me had been standing there for quite a bit of time.  Yet no one was huffing and puffing; no one was impatient.  Why get upset - you are standing there for food and food takes time.  When a number was called, the owner of that number would raise his or her hand in the air, and call out the number.  The butcher would walk over to the person and the ordering and the talking would begin.  The French cannot just make the order.  The French have to talk about what they are getting, ask questions, tell a story.  It is all a part of the process and we enjoyed watching it.
     Loaded down with my kilo of beef and some farm fresh eggs, we settled down to a light lunch of soup at the only restaurant in the market.  Soupes a Soup - serves....soup - almost 20 different kinds.  The working kitchen is tiny and we sat at the bar and ordered three different soups and beverages.  All the wait staff were women and the chef loved to call out to them, "Mademoiselles or Mes Enfants".  It was also another sort of entertainment for us.
     Back at home, we settled down after dinner to watch "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - all of us huddled together on the couch, singing the songs, laughing and enjoying the time together.  The events of the States were undoubtedly in our subconscious and I think that we needed the extra "family" time.

Stained Glass - Cathedral in Metz
Stained Glass by Marc Chagall
Dear Husband and Dear Daughter - Metz
     So we are at the end of our weekend and one more week before the holiday.  We are planning a short overnight trip for next weekend in advance of the holiday.  Again to France...this time to Reims - in the heart of the Champagne region.  There we will visit their Marche Couvert, their Marche de Noel, their cathedral (where the Kings of France were once crowned) and the Musee de la Reddition (where the surrender documents of World War 2 were signed).

     Today's dish is perfect for Christmas morning.  It is easy to make, decadent and festive.

Crab Benedict

Crab Benedict

Crabcakes - either make them yourself or buy them.
Poached Eggs
Hollandaise Sauce

Saute the crabcakes in butter.  Poach eggs.  Place one crabcake on a warmed dish.  Top the crabcake with a poached egg.  Drizzle Hollandaise sauce on the top.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives.

While I made the crabcakes from scratch, I found a very good, French brand of Hollandaise sauce - which made this dish very easy to complete!

We served with bacon and pan fried potatoes....and of course, champagne.

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