A Taste of Lille ~ Méert’s Legendary Waffles

No visit to the Northern French city of Lille would be complete without a stop at 27 rue Esquermoise. This address has delighted local gourmands since 1761. Initially, it was a humble chocolaterie and ice cream shop until it was taken over in 1849 by Michael Paulus Gislinus Méert who turned the shop into a local institution with its signature thin, gaufres filled with Madagascar vanilla. Today, the former confectionery is an elegant patisserie, salon de thé and gourmet gourmet restaurant and a must-visit sight if you’re in the area. 

Meert's famous waffles - image courtesy of Meert

Meert’s famous waffles – image courtesy of Meert

I don’t remember the first time I had one of Méert‘s waffles, but I must have been a baby — I’m a second generation Lilloise after all, though we moved to Paris when I was 5 years old and hardly ever think of myself as anything but a Parisienne. Today, you can find Méert in Roubaix, Brussels or Paris (I love the tiny shop near the Picasso Museum in the Marais) and the sweet waffles are set to jet off to America as well soon (to New York… of course…).

Meert's first boutique in Paris is located at 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There's a new one in Saint Germain now too.

Meert’s first boutique in Paris 16 Rue Elzevir in the Marais. There’s a new one in Saint Germain now too.

During my last visit to Lille, we swung by Roubaix, which is a quick metro ride away. We visited la Villa Cavrois  as well as La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, a fantastic museum housed in a former indoor swimming pool, with a notable art déco interior. My dad actually learned to swim in that pool when he was young!  

The former A.Baert's 1932 Art Déco swimming baths offer a stunning backdrop for the Museum of Art and Industry's collections

The former A.Baert’s 1932 Art Déco swimming baths is a stunning backdrop for the Piscine’s collections

Méert runs the restaurant and café there so we were able to get our waffle fix without having to wait in line at the shop in Lille — there’s always a bit of the line these days!

Meert's waffles at the piscine museum

 Trust me though, those waffles are worth waiting in line for…. and while I love their fun new flavours, especially the spéculos one, the classic Madagascar gaufre is still my favourite, and has been since I was a wee little Northern France girl.  

Meert Lille

 

A Taste of Nice: Farmers’ Market Petits Farcis

Last Christmas, I spent a few days in the South of France with my family. We started in Marseille, where my mother was born and where she grew up, then made our way to Gould to spend the holidays with my uncle Philippe who lives there with his family. Afterwards, we made our way to Nice, on the French Riveria.
Le vieux port de NiceNice

France’s fifth largest city gets a pretty bad rep. It’s like the Florida of France, where grandparents retire (my grandmother herself considered moving there for a while) and older Brits winter. It’s no Cannes and it’s no Monaco. But it’s got a lot to offer: stunning Art Deco architecture, great museums (Chagall and Matisse both used to call Nice their home), the promenade des Anglais on the Mediterranean sea and, of course, great food! 

Marche de Nice 
Nice is a dream destination for hungry travelers and we certainly ate our way through all of city’s specialties: gelatto, socca, salade Niçoise, tarte aux blettes, Daube… we ate it all in the short amount of time that we had.

Nice SoccaIMG_2462Gelato nice

Well, almost. The one dish we simply couldn’t get our hands on – because it wasn’t the right season – was farcis niçois, and array of small stuffed (summer) vegetables, typically zucchinis, tomatoes and onions. So when I spotted some miniature patty pan squash at the Bloomingdale farmers’ market the other day, I decided I would just make my own petits farcis at home! I picked up most of the ingredients I needed at vendors throughout the market: bread at Panorama, pork sausage, tomatoes, zucchinis, parsley, patty pan squash and an onion. I grabbed parmesan and garlic at safeway and used olive oil and herbes de provence from my pantry.

Ingredients petits farcis

Here are the steps to make petits farcis:

  • First, scoop out the inside of the veggies. Start by cutting off the top and save it for presentation, using a spoon, remove the flesh of the vegetable so you can fill it with the stuffing. Reserve that flesh though, don’t toss it out. You may need to flatten up the bottom of the vegetables too so that they can stand in the cooking dish and the plates.
  • Next, make the stuffing: dice the onion and sauté in a few teaspoon of olive oil. Add about 1 tablespoon of chopped garlic. Once both the onions and garlic have softened, add the sausage meat and brown for 5 minutes. Add the flesh from the courgette, tomato, squash and any other vegetables that you are using and cook for an additional 2-3 minute before removing from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and herbes de provence then mix in a little bit of chopped parsley (to taste), a quarter of a cup of grated parmesan, and half a cup of breadcrumbs (preferably homemade.)
  • Finally, put it all together: place the hollowed out vegetables in a baking dish (grease it with a little olive oil first) and spoon the sausage stuffing carefully inside them. Drizzle with a little bit more olive oil and bake at 400F for 30-45 minutes, or until brown. Make sure you don’t overcook them, the vegetables should still be holding their shape.
  • Last but not least: serve with the little hats from the vegetables and a glass of your favourite rosé!

Petits farcisPetits farcis

A Taste of Burgundy: Jambon à la Chablisienne

Making Jambon à la Chablisienne is very simple and allows you to bring together two ingredients that are abundant in Burgundy: wine and ham. In this case, the wine in question is Chablis, one of the better chardonnays produced in the region. The original dish as it was created in the first half of the 20th century called for a whole ham cooked on the boned in Chablis with added flavouring and served over spinach or fresh noodles . Today, the recipe has been simplified: thick slices of ham are baked with a sauce made of tomatoes, wine and shallots and served over rice. Here’s how to make it at home…

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. cooked ham, sliced 1⁄4" thick; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tbsp red wine vinegar;  4 sprigs tarragon, plus 1 tbsp chopped for garnish; 2 large shallots, minced; ! small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 sour cream; salt and pepper

1 pound cooked ham, cut into 6-8 1⁄4″ thick sliced ; 1 3/4 cups chicken stock; 1 cup chablis; 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar; 4 sprigs tarragon + 1 tablespoon chopped for garnish; 3 shallots, minced; 1 small can of tomato paste; 1 1/2 cups sour cream; salt and pepper

 

PREPARATION

Start by heating up the oven to 400° and preparing your ingredients. You’ll want to slice the ham (rolling it is optional, I didn’t, but most people do) and chopping the shallots into small dices. Measure all your other ingredients. The 1 cup of chablis is basically one hefty glass. Pour yourself a smaller one to enjoy as you cook!  

Before the oven is fully heated, you can start cooking the shallots and tarragon sprigs in the chablis in a dutch oven or ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once it has started to reduce, you’ll want to add the 2 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and the chicken stock and reduce it all further until there’s only about half a cup left. At that point, you’ll want to blend the sauce in a mixer before returning to the pot and add the tomato paste. Once that has cooked a little (let’s say 3-5 minutes) add the sour cream, salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce thickens.

unnamed-2

Arrange the ham slices in an oven-proof dish (it’s ok if they overlap!) and strain the sauce over them through a fine-mesh sleeve. Shake the dish to make sure all of the ham slices gets coated with the sauce and bake for 30 minutes. Towards the end, you can add gruyere on top of the ham and sauce to make the dish into more of a gratin, but you don’t have to.

Once you remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle with one tablespoon of chopped tarragon and/or parsley and serve over 1 cup of white rice to absorb the sauce, as well as the rest of the chablis bottle you used for cooking! In the case of the recipe, a chablis (not petit, not 1er or grand cru) is best, as long is it about 3 years old. I chose a 2012 Chablis from Domaine Long-Depaquit that had been sent to me by Pure Chablis and it worked beautifully! 

 

 

Flexing my (Belgian) culinary mussels

Perhaps I was inspired by the tasty Classic Mussels that my friend Olga of Mango Tomato ordered as a starter at Brabo when we dropped by last week to try their new spring menu. Perhaps it was my Belgian heritage kicking in. My grandmother, after all, did grow up in the suburbs of Brussels and my father and I were both born in the Northern French city of Lille, a mere 20 kilometers from the Belgian border. Or perhaps it was the $4.99 bag of mussels I stumbled upon by chance at Whole Foods… whatever the reason was, I decided to have some classic moules-frites for dinner the other night.

 

MOULES MARINIERES

Ingredients for 2-3 peoples
1 bag of mussels (approx. 2lbs), rinsed, scrubbed and bearded
2 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Fresh thyme sprigs (4 or 5 is good)
Chopped parsley (2 to 3 tbsp)
1 cup of dry wine (Sancerre works best but Muscadet is very good too or even Pinot Grigio)
Sea salt to taste.

Mussels are pretty much the simplest dish to make. Basically, you place all the ingredients minus the parsley in a large stockpot, cover and cook over high heat for approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Throughout this cooking time, you should shake the pot occasionally to allow all the mussels a chance to soak up the flavours from the herbs and the wine. When the mussels have opened up, remove the pot from heat and discard the unopened shells as well as the thyme sprigs. Sprinkle with parsley, toss gently and divide between your bowls with all of the cooking liquid. Serve with fries and mayonnaise. I personally like Alexia Yukon Gold julienne fries with sea salt or Alexia Oven Fries with olive oil and sea salt, available at Whole Foods for around $2.50. 

Bon appétit!