Wissembourg, Alasce: Kugelhopf, Little Goats, and Cheese

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8comments No tags Permalink 0

A few more notes on Wissembourg before we head back to Paris.

I’ve been lucky to travel a good deal in the last few years, and this trip was certainly among the best. Growing up in Hawai’i we usually traveled in the direction of Asia, exploring Bangkok, Tokyo, China, and my parent’s hometown of Vietnam (we’re of Chinese descent but have three generations in Vietnam). Luckily my parents and sister love traveling just as much, if not more.

Now that I live in NYC, I’m making it a priority to explore more of Europe. We have Italy and Greece on our list for next year. Fingers crossed we can make it happen. But there is always Hawai’i, and no matter where I go, you can always count on me visiting Hawai’i at least twice a year.

Now, getting back on subject. I’ve written of the beautiful mirabelles and mille-feuilles, and a spectacular tarte flambée, all essential elements of this holiday. The best food we ate was really the home cooking from Pierre’s mom. I mean, when is home cooking not the best? ;) His parents had just come back from Carnac, Brittany the day before we visited. They brought back wonders like golden Breton Butter Cakes

…and fresh eggs from his grandma’s farm. We visited the farm last year remember?

We indulged a bit too much on the first few days in Wissembourg. Excellent wines, cheese at every meal, foie gras, and of course that tarte flambée I can’t get out of my mind. It was that good.

So on out last day, lighter food was in order, and Pierre’s mom whipped up a clean stir fry with plenty of ginger and all the vegetables from the garden.

We had a different fish preparation each day…

…always paired with salad. Collards greens (also from the garden!) sautéed with thin sliced onions and raisins.

One morning we woke to a fresh Kugelhopf, almond-studded on top and with an abundance of plump golden raisins. I wish I could send you the yeasty, sweet and nutty scent of warm kugelhopf over the computer!

Here it was rising the night before.

And then, breakfast. Always with a pot of Jasmine tea. Espresso for Pierre.

P.S. One afternoon while walking to town, we found this little goat. The poor thing was lost, no more than a month old. He was frightened by passing cars but affectionate and trusting with humans. He even walked up to a girl in a cafe and tried to lick her ice cream cone! A lady eventually picked up (just like that, with both arms) and put him in the front seat of the car. She drove little goat to the police station, and he sat in the car seat, quiet and calm as if he belonged there!

Wissembourg, Alsace, France: Pâtissière Rebert

Monday, August 15, 2011 0 No tags Permalink 0

A quiet ten-minute stroll from home takes us to the center of Wissembourg, a tiny and picturesque town with more pâtissières than one could imagine.

Of these patisseries, the star and center of town is Pâtissière Rebert, a local gem with a pastry chef who comes via Lenôtre in Paris. The first thing you’ll notice is the prices. In Paris, the sweets ranged from 6-10€ for a single dessert, but here the prices were between 3-5€. It starts to add up when you’re eating multiple pastries a day ;)

Though the prices may be lower, there is no sacrifice in quality and atmosphere. Inside, high ceilings and glass cases filled with chocolates and wicked delicious bonbons to the right. And on the left, a rainbow of sweets and cakes with éclairs presented front and center, and savory pastries further into the store. It’s a tea salon as well, with both indoor and outdoor seating. A perfect way to devour a slow summer afternoon.

The pâtissière is rich with tarts, clafoutis and millie-feuilles, but the signature sweet is the…

….éclair, which comes in coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. Coffee is my favorite of the trio and it is sinfully indulgent, the buttery coffee crème pâtissière heady and intense as an espresso, just piped tight into the choux pastry shell. So fresh.

At the very center of the appropriately named Royal, is crunchy and nutty sweet feuillantine praliné cocooned by a buttery chocolate mousse. Almond macaron serves as the base. Creamy, crunchy and crisp – a little of all textures bound by dark chocolate.

We ate so many Mille-Feuilles on this holiday that I can barely keep track of them all. Pierre loves them because they are the “most buttery and least sweet” of desserts, and I’d have to agree. The strawberry version from Pâtissière Rebert features a strawberry-soaked génoise tucked between vanilla bean custard and sweet berries on top. Fresh is key when it comes to mille-feuilles lest you risk the chance of soggy puff pastry.

And for an afternoon stroll (on the single warm day of our visit ;) what could be better than a just-dipped ice cream bar of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and crushed almonds on the outside? They also do a beautiful strawberry ice cream dipped in pistachio glaze, but the classic pairing of vanilla + chocolate just seemed to good to pass up. Hope everyone is having a good start to the week!

Alsace, France: A Crate of Mirabelle Plums

Sunday, August 14, 2011 2comments No tags Permalink 0

Pierre’s mom was out in the garden. She came in with a crate full of just-picked mirabelle plums. Tiny and golden. The last ripe batch of the summer season.

She turned them into endless jars of jam…

…the sort where each spoonful is the perfect balance between smooth and chunky with the stewed fruit. Just mirabelles, sugar and lemon juice. Simplicity is best.

We ate it straight out of the jar, and spread on baguettes with butter for breakfast.

And for dessert, we found them tucked into a homemade tart shell, right above a creamy, almond-rich brush of frangipane. Another glass of wine, followed by a fresh mint tisane and lush evening of jazz on the stereo. Ahh, vacation.

One More Bite Please: Tarte Flambée

Thursday, August 11, 2011 3comments No tags Permalink 0

I love a good story and because of that, often have a tendency to embellish. So you’ll have to smile and forgive me when I tell you that this Tarte Flambée, a regional specialty of Alsace is insane, incredible, and reason enough alone to travel to the northeast of Alsace. In the town of Hoffen – about a 20-minute drive from Wissembourg (where we are staying with Pierre’s parents), Au Soleil is legendary among locals for Tarte Flambée.

In NYC, tarte flambée from The Modern is great. Or so I thought. The one we had last night put everything in a different perspective. Tarte Flambée is made for group eating. Order each tarte one at a time, and it’s served in precisely 10-minutes. Slice into eighths and devour. Sometimes they give you plates, sometimes they don’t. Either way, this is one dish that even the French eat with both hands. Baked in a wood-fired oven, the cracker-like crust is smothered with fromage blanc, sliced onions and an even distribution of salty, meaty lardons. The spread of fromage blanc looks thin upon first sight, but then you realize that the edges of the crust are slightly raised and the center is pushed in, making for a quarter-inch thick spread of the cheese. It is heaven and the more you eat, the more you’ll crave.

Start with a few rounds of Tarte Flambée Traditionnelle, the classic version. And then get creative. Do you want Tarte Flambée Gratinée? That comes with a layer of grated emmental melted over the top. Pierre actually prefers Tarte Flambée Gratinée over Traditionnelle. I can’t say that I agree. Original is best. Au Soleil also offer Tarte Flambée avec du Munster (with munster cheese) and Tarte Flambée Aux Champignons (with mushrooms). We shared three tartes between four people, making sure to save room for dessert…

…a sweet version of Tarte Flambée! Here we opted for a half-half of apples and bananas. It’s served in the same style as the savory tarte, only here the surface of the fromage blanc is dusted in white sugar. A glass each of rum (for the bananas) and calvados (for the apples) is poured over the surface and lighted. WOOOOSH!! Flambée!! Slice and devour, no talking.

One more round, another glass of beer, muscat to finish.

Travels: Two Days in Alsace and Germany

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 9comments No tags Permalink 0

Bonjour!

Pierre and I have been in France for a week and I wish I could stay for another dozen. The weather is horrible, non-stop rain and thunderstorms, and we nearly canceled the trip due to a last minute emergency on my part (the thing on my face turned out to be an infection requiring multiple doctor visits, medication, and I’m still in recovery). Then Pierre got food poisoning (no more steak tartare for this guy) our second day in Paris. It seemed like everything was working against us! But somehow, we managed and I can’t imagine a better vacation.

We spent the first few days in Paris, and then took the TGV to Alsace yesterday to see Pierre’s parents. Pierre’s family is originally from Brittany (where we visited last year) but he was raised in Alsace. His mom and dad picked us up from Strasbourg, the capital city of Alsace, where we spent hours touring the city…

So picturesque and peaceful…

…a peek at the magnificent Strasbourg Cathedral. Don’t forget about it’s equally famous astronomical clock.

Rainy afternoon

From Strasbourg we drove an hour north to a very small town surrounded by wheat fields called Wissembourg, Pierre’s hometown. It’s literally at the border of France and Germany, and the center of town is a single street lined in medieval-style buildings and a surprising number of pâtisseries, the windows filled with kugelhopf.

This will be the relaxing part of our vacation,” Pierre declared. And that it was. For the next three days we would literally do nothing but relax in his parent’s home. Memorable home-cooked dishes, fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden, wine at every meal, short walks into town, and reading and working from our room, which was practically a house itself. Some of my favorite photos from the last two days…

The cheese course at the end of each meal. Usually about five cheeses, and always with a fresh baguette.

Afternoon tea time…

…and then apéritif a few hours later.

Pierre’s mom makes amazing fruit jams with fruit from her own garden. Three ingredients and nothing else: fruit, sugar, and lemon juice.

Sliced baguette, butter, and then smear on the jam. Hot tea on the side.

The same fruit goes into her desserts – a new one made every afternoon! One day featured a mirabelle tart

…the next evening we devoured a truly summer sweet plum tart dusted in cinnamon and sugar.

On the savory side we ate zucchini gratin topped with grated gruyère. Done two ways: one with zucchini from the north of France (her garden) and the other from the south of France. We all concluded the one from the north was sweeter and more flavorful.

A simply prepared, and delicious duck

…then fresh trout in a light cream sauce with toasted almonds.

The trout was served with butter-cooked potatoes, each one so tiny, tender and sweet with just a bit of salt.

Salads were no afterthought, this one done with grilled octopus and chives, a balsamic dressing.

One afternoon we drove across the French border and to the town of Baden-Baden in Germany. It’s best known as a luxury spa town, but we stuck to…

…shopping, museums, and water.

Water? Oh yes. Thermal water. The water in Baden-Baden is naturally hot, free for drinking and thought to have healing powers.

Our trip was cut short from the thunderstorms and rain. But no worries, only a 30-minute drive back home, just in time for apéritif.

Foie gras and wine anyone? ;)

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