Two French Recipes for Fennel Pollen

Here’s how to use Fennel Pollen–the French way–with two super-easy recipes for fennel pollen.

I always appreciate a great “Wow! What is it?” ingredient—something that treats everyone at your table to a new taste sensation.

Fennel pollen does just that. Collected from the blooms of wild fennel, the delicate spice recalls the subtle licorice tones of fennel, but in a sweeter, more ethereal way. I use it often as part of a dry rub in meats—I especially love it on pork tenderloin.

Weeknight Porcetta ready for the oven. This is a recipe inspired by Bon Appétit magazine (I use 1 teaspoon fennel pollen rather than the fennel called for in the recipe).

Weeknight Porcetta ready for the oven. This is a recipe inspired by Bon Appétit magazine (I use 1 teaspoon fennel pollen rather than the fennel called for in the recipe).

Bon Appétit magazine has one of my favorite recipes for pork tenderloin (see my ode to it here). It involves wrapping the super-lean piece of meat with bacon, and flavoring it with rosemary and garlic.

Weeknight Porcetta--straight from the oven.

Weeknight Porcetta–straight from the oven.

My number-one use for it, however, is in my Green Olive Tapenade. Serve the tapenade as part of my Happy Hour Crackers. If you read this blog at all, you know this little number: You simply slather some purchased hummus atop a cracker (Trader Joe’s Original Savory Thins are great for this), and top with a wee bit of the tapenade and a little snipped fresh parsley.

Make my Green Olive Tapenade with fennel pollen. You won't be sorry.

Make my Green Olive Tapenade with fennel pollen. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the recipe for the tapenade:

 

French Green Olive Tapenade with Fennel Pollen
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups (8 ounces) pitted large green olives, drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ teaspoon fennel pollen
  • ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon dried tarragon
  • ¼ teaspoon curry powder
Instructions
  1. Place the olives, oil, garlic, fennel pollen, red pepper flakes, tarragon, and curry powder in a food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a coarse paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Transfer the tapenade to a bowl and serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator in a tightly covered, nonmetal container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1 cup.

I’d love to know: How do you use fennel pollen? (Bloggers–feel free to share a recipe link to your blog!)

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French Hangover Prevention: Or, Three Reasons Why I Never Get Hangovers in France

Here’s how to minimize the instances (and severity!) of hangovers via lessons learned in France. 

Me, on my studio balcony in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with two of the three hangover prevention tactics. Read on!

Me, on my vacation-studio balcony in St. Jean Cap Ferrat, with two of my three hangover prevention tactics. Yes–one of them is wine (but the right wine) Read on!

I am very hangover-prone. Actually, I think this is a good thing, as it keeps me from over-serving myself.

I consider myself a moderate drinker; at home, I rarely drink more than two glasses of wine a night. I start with an apéritif, and I have a small glass of wine with dinner. And then I’m done, because I know that that third glass will scalp me the next day.

Trouble is, when I’m out enjoying good food with friends, and the night stretches on, I’ll have that third glass. And it never fails to do me in the next day. (Yes, you’d be fair to ask why I never learn….the answer is, well, you know: friends, food, and wine.)

And yet, I just spent seven weeks in Ireland and France (mostly France), and only once did I get even a mild hangover, even though I very often went for that third glass of wine.

Over the years, I’ve thought about what it is that makes me less hangover-prone in France, and, more important, what I can do in the US to reduce the possibilities of hangovers (besides of course, not drinking—not an option for this wine-loving epicurean).

A few observations:

1. French Wines Are Generally Lower in Alcohol

French wine currently in my home right now: All under 13% alcohol by volume; all priced under $15 a bottle.

French wine currently in my home right now: All under 13% alcohol by volume; all priced under $15 a bottle.

When it comes to hangover headaches from wine, many wine-drinkers point to the higher level of sulfites often used in American wines, claiming that the preservatives are the culprits. However, research on this is not conclusive. Can you eat dried fruits without getting a headache? Then sulfites are probably not the problem–as dried fruits are loaded with ’em.

For me, boils down to alcohol content. Many American wines simply have a higher alcohol content (14 percent and more) than most French wines, which often weigh in at 13.5 percent or—usually—even lower.

Yes, it matters: If you drink a 14.5 percent glass instead of a 12.5 percent glass, you’re getting about 13.8 percent more alcohol in each glass you drink. That adds up over a night.

Let’s get one thing clear here. I’m not anti-lift in any way. I like (actually, I adore) that nice feeling of joy and well being that moderate drinking can bring. But I also like to sustain that light, pleasant lift over an evening, and not get stupid halfway into the first course. French wines let me do that (not get stupid, I mean).

Takeaway? Drink French wine, and look at the label: Go for those with 13% alcohol or less. Happily, the timing for this is just right: These days, with the strong dollar, you can find good values from France. In fact, most of the French wines I buy these days are around $12 a bottle.

2. For Heaven’s Sake, Eat Something! (Even If You Have to Be Sneaky About It!)

The modest nibble with your drink. So common in France; so hard to find state-side. These days, I BYON (bring my own nuts) to bars that don't serve snacks.

The modest nibble with your drink. So common in France; so hard to find state-side. These days, I BYON (bring my own nuts) to bars that don’t serve snacks.

Drinking on an empty stomach = a dumb idea. We’ve known that since college, but why is it so hard to get a little nibble alongside a drink in an American bar? (And no, I don’t always want a plate of cheese and charcuterie or a basket of fried appetizers at this point, okay? A nibble. Just a nibble. Please.)

I wrote elsewhere about the little snack that the French always serve with a drink, even at the most casual of cafés. Not only is it a gracious gesture, but it’s a smart one, too. Drinks on an empty stomach get you drunk. And hungover the next day.

What? Serve drinks without a little snack? Well, that might happen in France...if you were dining chez a pack of badgers.

What? Serve drinks without a little snack? Well, that might happen in France…if you were dining chez a pack of badgers.

Hence, the little bowl of nuts or olives or snacks served alongside drinks in just about every café in every French town.

For me, eating something when I drink has become such a ritual that I cannot do without. Back home in Amerique profonde, if I’m meeting friends for drinks at an American bar that doesn’t serve food (and wouldn’t think to bring a little nibble alongside your drink), I often bring a little bag of nuts along to furtively nibble on while I imbibe. I share, of course.

3. Eaux, the Water!

In France, Mr. Eau and I always start the evening with an apéritif, either in our apartment or at a café. We have dinner with wine—but in moderation. Then, we take a walk; a nice long walk around wherever it is we’re staying.

At home, I call my husband Mr. Sportcoat, but in France, he has another nickname: Mr. Eau. He adores French mineral waters, even more than I do.

At home, I call my husband Mr. Sportcoat, but in France, he has another nickname: Mr. Eau. He adores French mineral waters, even more than I do.

And then, it’s time for what we call “Café Eau.”* We are absolutely nuts about French mineral waters, and always have a huge array of them in our apartment or hotel room. We pull up a table and chair by the window (or in the garden or on the balcony) and polish off a liter of cool, wonderfully tasting mineral water as we chat into the night, recounting our day’s pleasures, annoyances, and discoveries. Café Eau is just as important (and enjoyable) to us as that pre-dinner apéritif.

Some hotel, somewhere in France. Mr. Eau and his supply of water.

Some hotel, somewhere in France. Mr. Eau and his supply of water.

And it’s a piece of the puzzle that keeps me from getting a hangover.

Not just any water will do. I think there’s something in mineral waters that truly do the body good–as in nutrients that get replenished. And they taste good. My favorite is Vittel, a very rain-on-wet-stone-tasting still water. And I adore Badoit**, a very-lightly-fizzy, slightly bicarbonate-y sip that’s really refreshing and also makes you feel better after a heavy meal.

Mrs. Eau and her after-dinner bottle of Badoit.

Mrs. Eau and her after-dinner bottle of Badoit.

Drinking great French mineral waters is so much more joyous than that end-of-the-night gulping down of tap water. (Kind of like the way taking long walks in a beautiful city is is more pleasurable than walking on a treadmill.)

In short: It’s easy to drink more water when you love the taste of the water you drink. And the more water you drink, the better you’ll feel the next day.

Forget San Pellegrino. Would somebody please start importing Badoit?

Forget San Pellegrino. Would somebody please start importing Badoit? Photo credit.

Sadly, neither Badoit nor Vittel are available back in Amerique profonde, so I settle for the ubiquitous San Pelligrino (yawn) or Volvic (good, but dreadfully expensive at my local Whole Foods).

We don’t have “Café Eau” every night at home, because we’re not exactly on vacation anymore and our days and evenings aren’t as leisurely. But I do keep lots of really good water around.

And that, my friends, is how I generally avoid getting hangovers in Amerique profonde.

So, I’m curious: Do you find you get fewer (or less severe) hangovers in France—and if so, what do you attribute that to?

* Eau is the word for water. Eaux is the plural. Either way, it’s pronounced “Oh.”

Yorre** PS: A word to the wise: Select St. Yorre mineral water at your own peril. It’s refreshing and has a compellingly saline-y minerally flavor and wonderfully tummy-soothing qualities, but can also have, um, laxative effects. You’ve been warned. You’re welcome.

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The Things I'll Miss Most about French Food and Dining

I’ll say it again: American fine-dining has caught up with that of France; I’m home now—back in Amerique profonde—and I’m sincerely looking forward to going to some of our best local restaurants.

That said, there are some small things I’ll miss mightily about French dining and food in general. Here’s where the French have us beat:

1. The Snack with the Drink.

No matter how modest the cafe or restaurant, whenever you order a drink, they bring you a little snack to go alongside. Not to be confused with the amuse-bouche found in high-end restaurants. This is everywhere, in the simplest of spots. And it's just so gracious.

Just one of the many snacks served alongside our apéritifs in France.

No matter how modest the cafe or restaurant, most everywhere you order a drink, they bring you a little snack to go alongside. Not to be confused with the amuse-bouche found in high-end restaurants, it’s usually something quite simple. You see, the French understand that drinking on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea. But they also don’t expect you to order a huge appetizer that will (paradoxically) ruin your appetite for dinner. This little touch is everywhere, in the simplest of spots. And it’s just so gracious.

2. The Little Treat with the Coffee

Ditto the little cookie you usually get with your coffee. Here's a chocolate Madeleine that helps keeps that strong coffee from burning a hole in your stomach. It's so thoughtful!

It’s just so….civilized.

Ditto the little cookie you usually get with your coffee. Here’s a chocolate Madeleine that helps keeps that strong coffee from burning a hole in your stomach. It’s so thoughtful! (PS: The coffee pictured is “une noisette”: espresso with a little touch of milk. Find out more about how to order coffee in France here.)

3. Magret de Canard!!!!!!!!!

Yes, I've used up my monthly allotment of exclamation points, but it's worth it. Magret de Canard is not to be confused with just any duck breast. You see, in the US, we get mostly White Pekin duck. The French serve Moulard (Mulard, en français), a different breed. And it's the breast of the duck that's been fattened in foie-gras fashion, so it's pretty amazing. You can't find this in the US unless you're in a major city, and want to shell out major cash. This dish is as ubiquitous as chicken, and usually costs about 18 Euros ($20), tax and tip included.

Magret de canard: Not to be confused with any ole duck breast!

Yes, I just used up my monthly allotment of exclamation points, but it’s worth it. Magret de Canard is not to be confused with just any duck breast. You see, in the US, we get mostly White Pekin duck. The French serve Moulard (Mulard, en français), a different breed. And it’s the breast of the duck that’s been fattened in foie-gras fashion, so it’s pretty amazing. You can’t find this in the US unless you’re in a major city, and want to shell out major cash. This dish is as ubiquitous as chicken, and usually costs about 18 Euros ($20), tax and tip included.

4. Artisan Butchers

Yes, I wrote about this in my last post on cooking in France, but it bears repeating. I sorely miss artisan butchers, who cut your meat fresh and to your specifications. Pork had beautiful marbling and great flavor. The veal. The farmer chicken. The sausages. I could go on and on.

Pork chops from a great artisan butcher in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Yes, I wrote about this in my last post about cooking in a small French kitchen, but it bears repeating. I sorely miss artisan butchers, who cut your meat fresh and to your specifications. Pork had beautiful marbling and great flavor. The veal. The farmer chicken. The sausages. I could go on and on.

5. Drinking (Cheap) Wine a Stone’s Throw Where It’s From

Nothing beats drinking wine a stone's throw from where it's produced, especially when said wine costs about 8 Euros ($8.80) a bottle. (You can buy cheaper wine, but this year, we decided to "splurge"--ha!--since the exchange rate was so good.)

Three wines we enjoyed in our Menton studio: A rosé, a red, and a white, all produced nearby.

Nothing beats drinking wine a stone’s throw from where it’s produced, especially when said wine costs about 8 Euros ($8.80) a bottle. (You can buy cheaper wine, but this year, we decided to “splurge”–ha!–since the exchange rate was so good.)

6. The 50-cl Bottle of Wine (Three-Fourths a Bottle) Served in Restaurants

Speaking of wine, restaurants serve full size bottles of wine, to be sure. But they also offer 50-cl bottles (which is 3/4 of a regular bottle). It's PERFECT for two people, especially when said two people have started with an aperitif. (A bottle, at this point, is too much; a half-bottle is not enough. A 3/4 bottle is brilliant).

The 50-cl bottle, served in restaurants.

Speaking of wine, restaurants serve full size bottles of wine, to be sure. But they also offer 50-cl bottles (which is 3/4 of a regular bottle). It’s perfect for two people, especially when said two people have started with an apéritif. (A bottle, at this point, is too much; a half-bottle is not enough. A 3/4 bottle is brilliant).

7. Service Is Included!

Tax and service are included in restaurant bills. See that second to the last line at the bottom of this bill? It says "Service compris," which means, "service included." There are so many reasons why I like this system--too many to go into here. First and foremost, it means that servers earn a living wage that does not rely on the whims of tips. For the diner it means that the price you see on the menu is the price you pay.

See that second to the last line at the bottom of this bill? It says “Service compris,” which means, “service included.”

Tax and service are included in restaurant bills. There are so many reasons why I like this system–too many to go into here. First and foremost, it means that servers earn a living wage that does not rely on the whims of customers who tip varying amounts. For the diner it means that the price you see on the menu is the price you pay.

8. Affordable Wine Prices!

Look at this price: Two kirs (white wine with crème de cassis in one and liqueur de pêche in the other) cost 7 Euros and change, TAX AND TIP INCLUDED. Last night, here in Amerique Profonde at a casual bar, two of us spent $20 for two glasses of wine (after tax and tip). The above photo was on the French Rivieria. Last night, I was in Des Moines. What is WRONG with this picture!?

Check out the price.

In the above photo, two kirs (white wine with crème de cassis in one and liqueur de pêche in the other) cost 7 Euros and change (about $8), tax and tip included. Most wines cost around 5 euros a glass; the most I ever spent was 8 euros (tax and tip included), but that was a premium Bordeaux splurge. Last night, here in Amerique Profonde at a casual bar, two of us spent $20 for one glass of wine each (after tax and tip). The above photo was on the French Rivieria. Last night, I was in Des Moines, Iowa. Why are wine prices so high here? It certainly can’t be the real estate!

9. Espresso Served in an Espresso Cup

I have no idea why large coffeehouse chains (and even some local spots) in the US serve shots of espresso in cups (often paper) meant to hold larger drinks. It cools down the drink way too fast. Yes--in larger US cities, you can find coffeehouses that serve espresso as it should be served, in a tiny cup. But here in flyover country, it's an exception, not the rule. Gah!

Espresso–in an espresso cup. What a concept!

I have no idea why large coffeehouse chains (and even some local spots) in the US serve shots of espresso in cups (often paper) meant to hold larger drinks. It cools down the drink way too fast. Yes–in larger US cities, you can find coffeehouses that serve espresso as it should be served, in a tiny cup. But here in flyover country, it’s an exception, not the rule.

10. The After-Dinner Stroll

The after-dinner stroll in Menton.

Random photo taken on an after-dinner stroll in Menton.

Sadly, some of the best restaurants where I live in Amerique Profonde are nowhere near anyplace you’d like to stroll around afterwards. Basically, you drive there and drive home. And even though my own home is near a beautiful park, it’s not the kind of park where you see people strolling around. I miss the civic beauty and street-life that makes the after-dinner stroll so fascinating in France.

That said, I’m thrilled to be back. I love my city and community and country. And it’s really nice to live somewhere where you don’t have to worry about what’s going to be closed because of the next strike (gas stations? ATMs?). Still, it’s hard not to long for a few things à table that are now so distant…..

What do you miss most about France? And what do you love most about being back? I’d love to hear your comments here (or on my Facebook page).

A bientôt, mes amis!


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