Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Springtime, I think

The months of March and April have been slow to show us how beautiful spring really can be in Switzerland, but I think we're beginning to turn the corner...I think, no maybe after a little more snow in the mountains and the temperature at night gets above 35'F, and the rain goes away. OK, so I'm not too happy about the weather, but I know we're on the cusp of some great weather and obviously great food. Just look, our local store has begun to carry the mother load of asparagus...and that can only mean one thing. Somewhere it's springtime (even if that somewhere is down the road in a some farmers greenhouse).  
An entire row of asparagus!
The safflower has begun to bloom, a good sign.

A cloudy day in the Jura, as the snow line creeps even further down.

Most villages decorate their water fountains with some elaborate gear to welcome spring. The water actually powered this bike and the wheels turned. I was impressed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tartiflette or you may say...potatoes+ bacon + cheese = more please!

Back in the US we would eat a slice of pizza, have a burger or huddle over a big bowl of chili topped with shredded cheddar cheese after a long day of skiing or tromping through the snow.  But here in Switzerland and France many people will be bellying up to a very filling and flavorful tartiflette.

And how can you go wrong with such few and simple ingredients as potatoes, cheese, and bacon?  Ok, maybe I’ve somewhat fallen off the vegetarian wagon, ever so slightly, but you must add bacon or lardons, or some kind of smoky ham to a tartiflette – or you wouldn’t be true to its terroir.  This potato dish, originally from the Haute Savoie region in France, was created by the Union Interprofessional Reblochon to add value and increase sale of their very distinct cheese (who knew that one kind of cheese could have a whole union?). Technically Reblochon is a soft-washed-rind and smear-ripened cheese most often made from raw cow’s milk.  What you really need to know is that it looks like a soft round disk that has an earthy smell and nutty flavor but when heated it melts like Velveeta (but not at all as nasty and without the preservatives) and the smell and flavor mellow to create a seriously flavorful dish.
You can manipulate this recipe to your heart’s content.  If you can find Reblochon that’s great, otherwise almost any soft-rind cheese will work (Tomme Vaudous, Brie, Taleggio, Raclette...etc) and if no soft cheese is available then improvise with what you have.  This recipe will feed 4 normal people who did nothing during the day or 2 very active people who may have cross-country skied for 8 hours (without a break). 
12-15 small to medium potatoes 
3 yellow onions
1 package bacon or lardons 
1/4 cup cream or milk
Salt & pepper
1 medium-sized soft rind cheese (Reblochon)
2 T sour cream or crème fraiche
  1. Boil the potatoes until fork tender...then slice into small disks.  Cool and set aside
  2. Dice onions into small pieces
  3. Dice bacon (better yet, use pre-diced lardon)
  4. Sauté onions and bacon until golden
  5. Add the onions and bacon to the potatoes
  6. Toss the cream/milk, potatoes, bacon, onions together and place in a greased 9x9 baking dish
  7. Cut soft rind cheese into small chunks or break up with your hands and spread on top of potato mixture
  8. Bake for 15 minutes at 400° F
  9. Take out of oven and place small spoonfuls of sour cream on top of mixture, bake additional 5 – 10 minutes until bubbling and irresistible

She just scooped it out of the cast iron pan and dumped it into an enormous bowl that I shared with my entire family.
It's actually made by little elves...that's how good it is!

Here is the homemade version sans huge cast iron pan, but still really good!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vin Chaud - Hot Mulled Wine

The snow has finally arrived in the Jura and across Lake Geneva you can see the peaks are beginning to get blanketed with the white stuff. So it is only fitting to talk about vin chaud, hot wine, mulled wine, or as I like to call it moldy wine. The Swiss and French love their vin chaud.  You’ll see it served in large black cauldrons outside cafes, bars and most definitely at every village market.  At first glance it seemed strange to watch groups of people standing in the freezing cold drinking spiked wine from paper cups, but as surreal as it is, it is fun and the drink is always good (as I found out later cognac is the secret ingredient, and offers that little extra oomph to warm the soul).     
After a few attempts and some seriously strong stuff, I finally came up with a good recipe that balances the alcohol, fruit, and spices and takes very little prep.

Vin Chaud
1 bottle fruity red wine (expensive by no means required)
4 ea. cinnamon sticks
1 piece of orange zest- 5 inches x 1/2 inch
1/4 cup of orange juice (I used a blood orange, but you can use any kind)
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 ea. cardamon pods 
5 ea. whole cloves
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup cognac  (enough for 1 teaspoon per cup served)
Pour the bottle of wine into a non reactive pot (All Clad or something similar) add the next seven ingredients and increase the heat to where you see a few wisps of steam above the wine. This low temperature can be held for 2-3 hours, if you can wait that long.  Just prior to serving add the cognac to a cup, pour the hot wine mixture over the cognac, and fasten your seat belt (attachez votre ceinture de sécurité). This could even be put in a crock pot for a few hours prior to serving, just make sure not to boil.  You’re infusing the ingredients, not killing them, and boiling would eliminate the smooth balanced wine flavor (and also the alcohol content).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Raisin en Self-Service (Pick Your Own Grapes)

Growing up we would pick our own apples, blueberries, and pumpkins...unfortunately so far we have only been able to pick our own raspberries here.  The irony of it is that we live in a very agricultural area, heck...most of Switzerland is farmland, cow pastures, and tractors everywhere.  So I was sure as Fall rolled around and the vision of apple pies, apple sauces, and chutneys took the place of summer grilling, that we'd be able to pick the local produce during the harvest season to preserve for colder months.  But the response I got from a few farmers and locals was "why would you want to do that?"

Why? Because it's tradition, it's just what you do in the drag your family out in the middle of a field to pick fruits and vegetables that eventually can be turned into some great treats.  Of course you have hay rides and eat plenty of apple cider doughnuts, apple cakes, caramel apples...all the quintessential Norman Rockwell picture perfect postcard events of American life (at least from growing up in the Northeast).  So why don't they offer a "pick your own apples" farm here?  As this is Switzerland and not America, when they say "we don't do it that way" they mean they don't and they most likely won't...ever.  People have their own fruit trees, or they help themselves to their neighbors plentiful bounty from the orchards next door.

But what they do have in Switzerland, and is most likely their own tradition every Fall, is to pick your own grapes.  If you can't own a vineyard and want fresh grapes to make grape juice, grape jelly, and wine then why not set aside a small area of vines for "pick your own"!    
This couple was kind enough to explain what I needed to, though there were a lot of hand signals and pointing since my French lessons are still in progress. 

More or less...use these scissors that are hanging here, pick between the flags only, weigh on this scale,  and put 3 francs per kilo in the little slot below the arrow.  Et Voila!  

The grapes have a perfect home wedged between Lake Geneva and the Jura Mountains.  This is actually an ideal climate for grape growing, but you will not see a lot of Swiss wine throughout the world because they are very good at selling and consuming it within their own borders (we of course are helping with the consumption).

The harvesting was in full swing...this truck was filled in no time

Strap this fiberglass bucket on your back, start filling it up, and let the grape juice drip down. 

As one of our friends likes to say: "Ah, the Swiss."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A few weeks back in the USA!

We finally headed back to the good ole' US of A as a family. I was once told that flying overseas with kids takes 2 years off your life...confirmed!  After 8 months of living in Switzerland it was good to get back to the States for a few weeks. This trip was obviously about seeing family and friends, as always that goes hand in hand with great food and quality drink! I headed down to Philadelphia to meet up with a good friend and in the short period of a few days we packed in so many food and beverage stops I'm still amazed to be here today. 

Summers on the Jersey Shore always meant crabbing in the bay and blue claws are king. Kevin and I both polished off 6 each and picked at least that many for crab cakes. 

When Kevin picked me up in Philly we immediately speed off to Long Beach Island to recall all my childhood memories. Surprisingly, most everything was as I remembered feeling pretty darn nostalgic we stopped off at Mustache Bill's dinner to enjoy some Barnegat Bay flounder and a very non European turkey club (it was awesome).

We visited one of the cities best BBQ places...Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse (owned by my former partners from Boston, Brook and Jim Gershel.

Can't beat their smoked chicken and smoked kielbasa.

We had to hit a craft brewery...Philadelphia Brewing it was.

Two studs wishing they could have all that Kensington.

The tour was quick, but we got to see the entire process and be right on the floor while production was taking place...unlike large breweries that just manufacture summer swill.  

Who wouldn't want this as a tasting room?

I know it's not pretty, but keep in mind it's 1am, we're drinking some strong Dogfish Head  IPA, and they don't do chicken wings in Switzerland. 

Hoagies done the right way

Ending the day at Germantown Cricket club with an incredible Bluecoat gin and tonic.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Art of Cheese Making, Swiss Style

I want to do a lot of things (understatement), but I really want to make cheese! This is something that I’ve wanted to do for many years and truly have a passion’s a combination of my creative side (like being a chef), my artsy side (I’m still perfecting my stick figure drawings) and my science side (ever evolving).  I have a huge respect for artisan cheese makers who take a few raw products and craft them into something as complex and living as cheese.  The process of making artisan cheese is so basic and has been going on for thousands of years, but it’s not something that can be replicated on an assembly line type of production and will quickly loose its sense of place or terrior.  

So a good friend and I decided to journey into the mountains and learn the basics of cheese making, the old school copper kettle, wooden tools, a stone for a press, an open flame, and true old time Swiss cheese masters to guide us. 

Two well aged cheese masters who teach their art to crazy people like me and Alex 

Adding the renet, which makes the milk coagulate...a very important part of cheese making (ok, you wouldn't have cheese without this step)

Looking for a clean break. Looks more like jello milk.
Cutting the curd, not the cheese
Hey Miss are your curds and whey
Check out the wooden heat shield
Alex is working hard to make our cheese, but "this damn heat shield does NOT seem to be working"
That's the curd in the cheese cloth and the rest is the whey. Whey is high in vitamins, protein and minerals and this whey will be feed to local pigs. Otherwise the Swiss will use whey in carbonated drinks to add some healthy quality.A truly sustainable product.

A stone really is a unit of measurement, no joke.

This is where our cheese will age for the next four months

On the way home from the Emmentaler region we had to stop at a cheese shop to round out our the likely place, was a truly inventive and experimental cheese shop called Chas Glauser located in the German speaking part of Switzerland. He is doing some incredible creative things with cheese. 

These fresh cheese are suspended over Calvados so they can absorb and soak up the liquor...adding an amazing flavor

I couldn't resist a picture amongst a huge wheel of Emmentaler (the inside looks like what most people associate with swiss cheese but this cheese is nutty and smooth, but is certainly not meant for a sandwich).

There are jars and containers all over the store with Herr Glauser's experiments. Yes, you can actually purchase these

Serious chemistry!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Carpentras, Provence, France

We had family in town and it was time for us to take a trip, sans kids...
so we headed out of Switzerland for a weekend getaway to the South of France.  

A quick stop in Grenoble to have lunch and for me it was one of my most memorable meals...isn't that always the case? So simple, no one spoke English, it was really called the Snack Shop, and we were absolutely the only ones NOT from Grenoble.  Awesome!

Frites, haricots verts a l'ail, de poulet dans une sauce brune avec champignons, steak grille - tres delicieux
Château du Martinet in Carpentras

Outside the Pope's Palace in Avignon
In the hill town of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
A great meal and view and an incredible sunset at Le Mas des Vignes, Route du Mont-Ventoux, near Bedoin