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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

FROM FARM TO TABLE IN PARIS

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Americans have been influenced by French food and wine since Thomas Jefferson served dinner à la française at Monticello. Today french fries, french onion soup and chocolate mousse can be found on menus in modest cafes as well as gourmet restaurants. The French, in turn, have adopted famous American brands as their own. Bottles of Heinz ketchup, Coca Cola and the tell-tale Starbucks paper cups are highly visible on tables in Paris. On balance, I believe we've gotten the better deal. But occasionally an American food trend that's not promoted by a billion dollar multinational corporation penetrates the food culture of France, and tips the scale in the other direction.

 

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A shining example can be found in a new storefront up the street from our Montmartre apartment. The sign above the door says it all: Au Bout du Champ, literally "at the end of the field". The manager proudly told me the shop was inspired by the American locavore movement that began in California in the 1970's. But that was forty years ago! The incentive to eat locally grown, organic foods that Alice Waters championed at Chez Panisse has long since evolved into networks of farmers' markets and farms that sell shares of their harvest through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships.

 

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France has been moving in parallel at  its own pace. Au Bout du Champ is a member of AMAP whose founder, Robert Vuillon, a farmer in Provence (Toulon) was inspired to sell directly to the public after discovering a farmers' market on a visit to New York City in 2000. Members of AMAP (Agriculture pour la maintien d'une agriculture paysanne) sell their produce directly to the consumer at prices that guarantee them a decent living. Some produce is organic but landowners for whom organic certification is too expensive respect the environment by using as few chemicals as possible.

 

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Grated carrots dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and chives.

 

What I find interesting about French locavore movement is AMAP's use of the word paysanne (peasant) instead of farmer or artisan. 'Politically correct' America would not choose such a socially-charged word.  In medieval Europe, a peasant was an impoverished laborer who worked with his/her hands for a landowner. AMAP's members are asking for the right to make a decent living in a time-honored way.  Respect for the 'rights of man' is a sacred concept in France.  It's also uncannily reminiscent of the free speech movement in Berkeley in 1960's which preceeded the locavore movement of the 70's.

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Spinach salad with mushrooms, grated carrots fresh walnuts and grated Parmesan
Dressing is walnut oil and walnut vinager
 

 True to its AMAP mandate, Au Bout du Champ is filled with food items grown within 100 km (62 miles) of the storefront. The roughly twelve foot square space is packed with wooden crates of fresh vegetables that were picked that morning. Shelves above the tables hold hand-sorted grains, honey, eggs, fruit juices and homemade fruit preserves.

This far north in France the selection is still dominated by root vegetables: potatoes, leeks, carrots, beets, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes. Spring produce includes radishes, green onions, spinach, lettuce, chard, cabbage and cauliflower.  Apples and pears from last year's harvest are the only fruits available this early in the year. Like so much of Montmartre, this shop is totally without pretense There's no way Au Bout Du Champ is going to morph into the next Whole Foods.

 

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 Chard Frittata with spring onions,garlic and vacherin cheese (or cheddar)

Preparing meals with produce from Au Bout Du Champ feels like cooking in the French countryside.  Spinach leaves are large, dark and chewy; carrots are firm and sweet; the golden apples have a mild floral aroma of roses. The truth is, most purveyors at the daily street markets and the large groceries chains throughout Paris are supplied by the vast central market at Rungis on the outskirts of town where 'bio' (organic) produce has only a small presence.  Au Bout Du Champ is at the forefront of the changing food culture of  Paris, and we have only ourselves to thank.

 

 

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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

LAZY DAY BISON SHORT RIBS

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My first encounter with a live American Bison was up-close and personal.   I in my car and a huge bison, weighing easily as much, were both headed for the same parking space in front of a guest lodge in Yellowstone Park.  It was clear from its nonchalant manner that this beast had no respect for anything on four wheels.  I could have beaten this slow moving giant to the space, but of course, I hit the brakes.  That was thirty years ago, and I remember it as if it were yesterday.

This continent's largest land mammal is still at risk in the wild.  We should have learned that after having almost hunting them to extinction in the 19th century.  Their current enemy is local ranchers who each year force a cull of the Yellowstone herd that still is allowed to roam at will.   They fear that vagrant bison will infect their cattle with brucellosis although there's no record of any such transmission. The ranchers imagine that a randy bison will mate with their cattle (offspring, if any, from such a match are sterile).  

The American bison also has a champion.  Two decades ago, CNN founder Ted Turner came to their rescue.  He single-handedly turned bison into a crop.   Bison now graze over lands he owns across 17 states and in Argentina.   In 2002 he and his partners opened the first Ted's Montana Grill. There are now 44 of these restaurants in 16 states serving bison raised on his ranches.    

Ted’s Montana Grill has a slogan: "Eat great, do good".  I would add 'eat healthy, be thrifty'.  Bison's dark red  meat is lean and flavorful from a diet of grass.  It's iron-rich taste reminds me of the beefy, butcher cuts the French love like tri-tip, hanger and flatiron steaks that are regarded as a budget cuts in the States.   

In winter, bison short ribs are also an inexpensive treat: out-sized, generously padded with meat and with surprisingly little fat.   My current preparation is adapted from Bruce Aidell's Great Meat Cookbook.  He calls it Lazy Man's Short Ribs because it has no marinade, fewer ingredients, fewer steps and takes less time to cook than his other recipes.  It’s a slow simmered dish with vegetables, wine and stock, a lot like a French stew.  I'm all for that.

This is a comforting weekend dish to serve in the doldrums of winter.  When I cook other meats and poultry, I don’t think about their origins.  Bison stir my imagination.  As the scent of wine and onions fills the house, I conjure the image of bison standing out on the Montana plains their great humped hide so thick that late winter snow doesn't melt on it.  It’s their link in the food chain that sustains me.

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BISON SHORT RIBS RECIPE LINK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL1

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We decided to forgo the 926 mile trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras again this year.  We did what we always do: create our own special carnival experience up here in the cold, grey Chicago.  It's easier than you might think.   First, get out your beads, strew some pirate doubloons on the dining table with a few fancy masks and put on carnival music. Then go into the kitchen.  Mardi Gras is not just about parades with confetti. It's about the food!

A group of celebrants proved this point on a weekday morning recently in Allie Field's spacious Downers Grove kitchen.  I provided the ingredients for a classic New Orleans meal. There was crabmeat and Creole spice for our starter course, round steak with its 'holy trinity' of vegetables (onion, celery, green pepper) for our Cajun grillades and the stale round of French bread for a rich, lemony bread pudding.  The jar of brandy, sugar and spices was there to flame the Cafe Brulot.  The recipes were all there for a reason.

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The Crabcake recipe came from Chicago's popular Shaw's Crab House where I spent a morning learning how to cook crab with executive chef Ives Roubaud.  The N'Awlins Remoulade that's paired with it was adapted from Susan Spicer's book Crescent City Cooking.  A meal at Susan's restaurant  Bayona is a must when I visit New Orleans.

When I first began collecting recipes for Mardi Gras, I contacted my college classmate and New Orleans native Jane Mathes.  She recommended a spicy braised round steak dish, Grillades, which is served with Grits at a Sunday Sinners Brunch she attends with her husband Earl before Fat Tuesday.  It's relatively easy to assemble and tastes better with each reheating.  It's become a staple.

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The Lemon Bread Pudding was my own invention.  A rich custard pudding is classic fare at the end of a festive meal.  Instead of folding in chocolate or serving the traditional whiskey sauce I prefer a refreshingly tart lemon curd and sour dried cherries combination.  It always ends the meal on a bright note.

Where's the gumbo, you ask?  Well, as a matter of fact, we're going to be preparing Mr Paul's Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo this Saturday at Read It and Eat on North Halsted in Chicago.  Join us as we let the good times roll once again!

Links to the recipes:

Crabcakes with N'Awlins Rémoulade

Grillades and Grits

Lemon Bread Pudding with Dried Cherries

Café Brulot

*A special thanks to Allie's sister, Amy Tripple, who took the photographs of our menu.  Amy is a most talented professional photographer of children and familys.  She was kind enough to take pictures as she cooked.  You can see her work at:

Amy Tripple Photography