Friday, April 25, 2014

French Food Fight Friday: Asperges aux oeufs et lardons

Nothing says spring (and fertility) like asparagus, and nothing really says spring and fertility like asparagus with eggs. Even if you've never been fond of this once-a-year vegetable, this 10-minute preparation will make you love asparagus. The combination of the yoke and bacon fat running onto the asparagus is irresistible. We find that bulk double-smoked bacon makes a fine substitute for French lardons.

Asperges aux oeufs et lardons

Serves 1:

8-10 fresh asparagus spears
2 eggs
6-8 half-inch chucks of double-smoked bacon
Olive oil
2 TBL Vinegar (for poached eggs)

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Snap off asparagus bottoms where stem becomes woody
  3. Cut bacon into about 3/8 - 1/2 inch pieces. 
  4. Place asparagus on small roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet (the smaller the better). Sprinkle on a bit of olive oil and toss, then season with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss in bacon pieces
  6. Place in oven till bacon is crisp but not over-cooked, about 10 minutes. Turn off oven, but leave asparagus in with door open to keep warm
  7. Meanwhile, boil water in a small saucepan. When simmering, add 2 tablespoons vinegar (this helps keep the whites together). Break egg into a small custard cup or something similar and slip gently into water. Repeat with other egg. Spoon simmering water over eggs until whites are just set, about 2 minutes.
  8. Place asparagus and bacon onto plate, top with eggs, and season eggs.
Bon appétit!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Learn French (No Joke!)

When I felt ready to tackle a dual-language book (French on page, and the equivalent English on the other)I struggled through a chapter or two of classic French short stories, all the better to get the maximum cultural impact, before throwing in the towel. Among my many problems was that these classic works use the obsolete passé simple, a tense used only in written French, and now hardly at all.

I think I would've been better off with Jeremy Taylor's Learn French with Jokes. Although the French is better than some of the jokes. A sample:

« Docteur, docteur, je ne peux plus sentir mes jambes ! »
« Ce n'est pas un miracle, nous vous avon amputé des bras. »

[sentir = to feel]

"Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!"
"I'm not surprised, we amputated your arms."

As in the sample above, some less obvious words are defined on the French page, and there are a few exercises to make sure you're not just reading the English.

The jokes in the iPad version have French audio, read by a lovely French voice. It really enhances the book. So, if you want to try something offbeat, give this a try, and impress your francophone friends with jokes -- in French. Links to all of the various media versions at

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Saved from the...cliché

A story in today's New York Times about an endangered French textile mill uses the phrase "facing the guillotine." Pity the maligned French, who are still living down this razor-sharp form of execution, even though they haven't used the guillotine since Napol-- what?? Since 1977?

That's right. The French last used Robespierre's favorite toy in just 1977, less than fifty years ago -- after the breakup of the Beatles, and the founding of Apple Computer -- to cleanly slice off the head of one Hamida Djandoubi, who went to the grave with the consolation that some day something called Wikipedia would be invented -- and his dubious honor would get him into it. (I've been wondering what I have to do to get my name into Wikipedia.)

The French doubtless would still be using the guillotine today if they hadn't abolished capital punishment in 1981, for up until that time it remained France's standard method of execution.

So I apologize to the Times for being about to castigate them for referring to what I thought was a cheap shot about a long-abandoned symbol of France. However, I won't let them off for using the cliché!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beurre Blanc, Demystified

See as how it's both Friday and Lent (although Lent is probably observed in France about as much as Tag der deutschen Einheit -- German Unity Day), it seems like a good time to discuss one of my favorite classic French sauces: beurre blanc. It's one of my favorite things to dress up any white fish: mahi mahi, orange roughy, you name it. Best of all, this white wine and butter sauce is really simple and quick to prepare. I like to throw in some fresh herbs (whatever is around), but that's totally optional. Here's the recipe:

Beurre Blanc with Herbs
3/8 cup white wine
1/4 cup vinegar
1 large shallot, finely chopped
6 Tablespoons butter
1-2 teaspoons assorted fresh herbs (use less for strong herbs such as thyme, more for milder one such as basil and parsley)

  1. Simmer shallot with wine and vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.
  2. Strain out shallot and return liquid to saucepan (you skip this step if you're lazy and don't insist on a silky-smooth sauce)
  3. Add chopped herbs, whisk in butter a tablespoon at a time until sauce is creamy and smooth. Serve immediately over seared, grilled, broiled, or sauteed fish.
Bon Appétit!