Monday, February 24, 2014

Keeping It Simple, Part 2: Red Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp

     The French (and the Belgians) seem to love Oriental food.  At every French market that I have been to there is always a vendor selling Vietnamese food.  (Remember, Vietnam was theirs at some point in history.)  Sometimes, it might just be various kinds of spring rolls, which they call "Nems".  While at other markets, you will see all kinds of noodle dishes, Pork with Caramel Sauce, a Curry Chicken, etc.   The lines are always long at the Vietnamese stand.  When Dear Daughter was young, we would bribe her at the market with a Crepe stuffed with Nutella.  As she is now on the verge of the teens, her taste has expanded...and we now bribe her with a Crab Nem.  Many times, the vendor will have a small fryer and will ask you if you want them froid/cold (for cooking later) or chaud/hot (for eating now).  We normally take the chaud and munch on them as we stroll through the market.  (Well, Dear Daughter and I do...Dear Husband has much too much restraint and declines the second breakfast.)

     Lille's market also had a Vietnamese vendor, selling three or four kinds and sizes of Nems and two different noodle dishes.  We deprived DD's normal snack and order them froid as I knew that I had an Oriental dish on the menu for tonight.  Needless to say, she wasn't thrilled with me.  Oh well, won't be the first...nor the last.

     We woke up this morning and I think that we all had the same idea...where did the weekend go?  They really seem to just fly by and then it is time again for work and school.  However, at least today, we woke up knowing that this time next week, we would be on vacation again.  Not only do we have a two week Spring Break in April, but we also have a week off in March...and they call it "Ski Week".  I guess you are expected to go skiing...which we will.

     An equally nice thought was that I had planned a nice Monday night meal...not complicated but a little nicer than most Monday night meals.  With our lovely Nems as appetizers, we gave ourselves a bit of a treat on a school night.  The nice thing about this is so incredibly easy that you will want to make it again and again.   Really!

Red Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp
(Adapted from

Sunday, February 23, 2014

France: Exploring Lille and Keeping It Simple

     Yes, it was time for a small adventure.  While I cannot say that Dear Daughter was happy about getting up early (8am) yesterday morning, she managed to rally.  Our destination was once again France, to Lille, the 4th largest city in France and only a short hour drive away.  I had recently learned of their indoor food market and was eager to visit.  I love food markets.  With every visit, I want to purchase nearly everything.  While outdoor markets are great, I really like the indoor ones.  These seem to be more authentic to me and I think you tend to see more regulars.  The vendors are more likely to strike up a conversation (not with me of course, because I can't converse with them!!!).  

     We arrived mid-morning and I was surprised at how quiet the market was for a Saturday morning. Although the parking lot was nearly full, the market was quiet and peaceful.  It was a lot smaller in size than what I had expected or hoped for but once I walked around for a few minutes, I realized that this place had a lot to offer.  I just tend to go a little crazy...wanting everything I see.  There were two fishmongers selling anything from oysters to large crabs and lobsters to whole fish.  Our favorite, scallops, are still in season and I was itching to buy a few...perhaps we could have them as an appetizer?  Dear Husband just shook his head.  No, scallops...then how about some oysters.  They are from Brittany and the price is really good.  He shook his head again.

     We did have an idea for dinner that night so I quickly headed for the butcher.  I suddenly panicked as I remembered that I did not know the French word for the cut of meat that we wanted.  We wanted to make Osso Bucco and needed to find veal shank.  How do you say Veal Shank in French?  I searched one butcher and did not see a cut resembling the shank.  I headed to the other butcher and there it was... and it was labeled as "Osso Bucco".  Really???  Yes, it was that easy.  However, the butcher did not have enough.  So, we went back to the first butcher where I asked in my expert French....Avez-vous osso bucco de veau?  No, he did not.  

     We ended up purchasing two pounds of hanger steak...our favorite cut of beef.  If you haven't had it before, you need to try it.  Super flavorful and easy to cook.  Several minutes later, I had all kinds of goodies packed in my bag.  Three types of cheese; an 18-month reserve comte and two goat cheeses.  The cheese lady also sold fresh farm eggs so I had to get a dozen.  We passed on the fish but could not resist getting a few appetizers from the Oriental shop.  We decided to check out another butcher across the street from the market - just in case.

     I love these little neighborhood stores.  While the focus is on meats, normally these shops sell all kinds of homemade goodies.   This one was no exception.  Without looking at what they had, I found my place in line.  I figured that by the time it was my turn, I would have decided what to buy...and I have to buy something.  But what?  It all looked so good.  A menu started forming in my mind, not only for dinner that evening but also for brunch the next day.  Why make it complicated - just enjoy the simplicity of it all.

The Market in Lille

     In the end, dinner consisted of delicious hanger steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare and topped with a classic shallot/red wine sauce.  Accompanying it was a gallette de pomme de terre - otherwise known as a potato pancake made by the butcher.  While I wish I could say that we made a nice vegetable to go along with it...we did not.  The steak and the potato were enough.  Our dessert consisted of our three cheeses along with a small winter salad.

     Late this morning, we had our brunch - again with the simple items purchased at the butcher.   First, was an absolutely delicious smoked salmon.  We followed that with a fabulous onion tart and a variety of sausages.  Brunch was leisurely and relaxing...and more importantly...really tasty.

     I am normally not such a big fan of prepared foods and our debate at brunch was whether or not we could get such delicious food back in the States.  I am sure that it is available but I just love the experience here.  The small stores or the indoor markets...the way that the old lady just asks for a cut of meat and trusts that the butcher will know how much to give her after he learns how many people she is feeding.  I love how the vendors really want to talk to you...they want to talk to you about food.  They want to give you hints on how to prepare what you buy.  I love that one vendor only sold boudin blanc (a white sausage)...fifteen different varieties and the name of his business was Le Roi de Boudin, the King of Boudin.  I love the community of it all.

     We did manage to head into the old part of Lille and it was quite a treat - beautiful architecture and  definitely a place we will want to visit again.

The Grand Place in Lille

The Lille Opera House

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Does Every Day Have To Be An Adventure: Mid-Winter BBQ: Sweet-Sour Balsamic Glazed Ribs

     Life is an adventure but do you need one every single day?  Maybe not, but given that we are in Europe for a limited amount of time, in the back of my head, I keep thinking that if not every day then every weekend needs to consist of an adventure...or it is all a waste.  Crazy, I know but it has led not only to incredible weekend experiences but equally stressful failures.
     However, two years into this "adventure", I have begun to learn that sometimes doing nothing is a good thing.   In fact, I think that we are beginning to perfect that mantra.  As Dear Daughter gets older and the stresses of school and swimming increase, it seems perfectly reasonable to have a "nothing" day every once in a while.  In fact, I think we have to demand it.  
     Swimming is coming to an end. Next week, we travel to The Netherlands for the European Forces Swim League Championships where Dear Daughter has earned spots to compete in five events.  This is a very big deal given that last year, we did not go.  The amount of progress that she has made in the last year has been nothing short of phenomenal.  So, while her parents hoped for a side trip to the only Trappist brewery in The Netherlands on Sunday afternoon, we were thrilled (and a bit disappointed) to learn that she had been seated for a fifth event for Sunday afternoon.  I guess, La Trappe will have to occur on another adventure.
     However, that means that having a nothing day over the past two weekends was warranted.  Evening practices continued; homework is mounting; the Olympics are now why not devote a day or two to staying home and doing almost absolutely nothing.  I think that sometimes, we Americans feel that every waking moment of our day has to be consumed by some sort of activity.  I hope that I have learned something by living here in savor life a bit more.
     We did nothing yesterday and it felt GREAT!   We watched the Olympics; I planned future adventures, Dear Daughter made Duck-Tape change purses and Dear Husband...well, he was a bit more productive.  Laundry is completed along with the making of his delicious hummus.  I guess he has not yet embraced the "do nothing, stay in your PJs Saturday".
     I do now have some great trips planned in my head and we need it.  I feel we travelled a bit more when we lived in Germany.  Now in Belgium, we have built more of a community life - dedicating a lot of time to swimming and it has definitely paid off in terms of DD's swimming progress.  Crazy, but I think that we have enjoyed it as well.
      For an adventure, we ventured a whopping five miles to the brewery of St. Feuillen.  Everyone knows that Belgium is known for its beer and the five pounds I have gained since moving here in August is proof that they make really incredible beer.  St. Feuillen is our local beer and it is wonderful.  Around here, many breweries make a Christmas beer and this one was one of the best that we sampled (and we sampled as many as we could find...of course).
     One day a week, the brewery offers a tour of the premises without reservation.  We were surprised that almost 20 people had shown up for the 90 minute tour.  Only one other individual was English speaking but the tour guide made a point of providing us an English translation along the way.  Granted, it was much shorter than the French version and I tried really hard to pick up on the French story, but in the end, I was thankful for her efforts.  The brewery has been in the family for 140 years and the current owner (who came around and shook our hands) is also the mayor of the village.  The process had not changed much in 140 years...still mixing all that stuff in one vat...until this past summer, when they built a new facility that can triple their capacity.  However, the entire process is still located on one city block and it is remarkable to see.  At the end of the visit, we were invited into the tasting room, where we were "encouraged" to sample two of the breweries beers.  In fact, St. Feuillen not only makes beer for Belgium, but they also make specific beers just for export to other countries, including the U.S.  So, we enjoyed sampling the beers specifically made for The Netherlands and the U.S. and then had a bit of our favorite, the Grand Cru.  Not a bad adventure...
Until 6 months ago, every beer started in this vat!

How lucky are we...our neighborhood beer...

My recipe today comes from The NY Times...and while it is a bit crazy to think of ribs in the Winter...and ribs made in the oven...this is a fantastic recipe and goes well with a good Belgian beer.  Who cares if it is February.

Here's to nothing Saturdays!!!

Sweet-Sour Balsamic-Glazed Ribs
Adapted from The New York Times