The French seem to be well-prepared for the grey, snowy weather that’ been hitting the country since December. I have often found myself watching the traffic problems at Paris airports on the evening news, skating across the icy sidewalks, and shivering under temperatures of around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, I readily accepted invitations to the dinner tables of many welcoming French friends for a variety of warm, heavy dishes, or what I call “French Winter Comfort Food.”
My favorite, without a doubt, is the raclette, which requires a special hot plate and small triangular dishes with handles; a slice of white cheese is placed on the dish, which is placed on the hot plate, which creates a bubbly, melted deliciousness that is then scraped over chopped cooked potatoes. While waiting for the cheese to melt, we munch on slices of cold cuts and small pickles and sip some white wine.
I also love fondue, and an investment in a colorful fondue machine complete with skewers and little bowls that rotate around the center was money well spent. My hosts grabbed some fresh baguette from the bread shop at 6:30pm, chopped it into pieces, mixed and slowly cooked together three cheeses (Emmenthal, Compté, and Beaufort), a pinch of garlic, and some white Alsace wine; dinner was ready by seven, and I was full of delicious cheese-soaked baguette by eight.
Recent Alsacien discoveries include a variety of thick wild mushroom soups served as appetizers; sheep’s stomach stuffed with a meat paste, tiny sliced vegetables, and diced potatoes; and horse (indeed a traditional dish here!).
I also sampled a variety of heavy jambonneau, a knuckle of braised pork served with potato salad at Restaurant Le Vigne (14 Rue de Sébastopol 67000 Strasbourg, France 03 88 22 01 09). The restaurant is a winstub, atraditional Alsacien bistrot. Winstubs were at one time wine bars where artists, businessmen and other creative individuals would come to discuss their projects in a cozy, easygoing atmosphere.