Monday, June 8, 2009

Au Goût Dujour

A few weeks ago, a friend had her family in town, and I was invited to join them for dinner. The only catch was that I had to pick the place. I quickly consulted one of my favorite blogs, even more so now that I live in Paris, David Lebovtiz's Blog. Filled with great recipes, fantastic recommendations and very colorful stories, I check it often, trolling the archives for tips for living in Paris. I found a recommendation for a great value restaurant, actually a cut and paste list David made from other people and their recommendations. I called the restaurant, Au Goût Dujour, to see if they could take a last minute table for four on a Friday night, and the friendly woman said no problem. I met my dinning companions for a pre-dinner treat at Pierre Hermé (had to show them the macarons...) and we made our way over to the 15e for dinner, walking towards the restaurant, we could see the Eiffel Tower not to far away, already glowing.

We arrived at the restaurant, a crisp decor, but still warm and welcoming, and after ordering a bottle of wine, we were presented with a little ramekin of purple olives with olive oil and herbs. We tasted cumin and fennel, unique and delicious. The one and only waitress brought over the ardoise, the chalkboard menu, and propped it up against the window at our table. I translated the dishes as best as I could, filling in the blanks, by asking the waitress. The cuisine is French. Neither the hearty heavy country food, nor the light, leaving you still hungry,over refined gastro fare, but a pleasant melange of the two. We ate traditional dishes, showcases some fine spring produce, but we left not feeling stuffed or weighed down by choucroute for example. I enjoyed a poached egg, over roasted peppers, with a small arugula salad, followed by Saucisse de Morteau, a fresh pork sausage, over lentils de Puy and a dollop of creme fraîche. Everything was exceptional though, from the chilled pea soup with cantal cream, to the sauteed mackarel, the terrine de campagne and the cod over ratatouille. We had to order a few desserts, and the winner by a landslide was the pistachio cream with a strawberry compote, and a sablé (buttery shortbread cookie). That plate was seconds away from being licked, but we remembered our manners.

I enjoyed this place so much, I came back with another group of out of towners for another fantastic meal. To top it all off, this place is really a true deal. Two courses are 18 euros. Yes, they have a few supplements if you order the fillet de beouf, but all in all this place is shockingly reasonable for the quality of food and decor. Perhaps that's why you have to trek all the way there, but you can walk to the Eiffel Tower after your meal, to watch it sparkle at midnight. (Or on the top of any hour after sunset, until 1am).

I keep checking David Lebovitz's blog, and was surprised to find this entry last week. 15 Things I'd Miss about Paris If I Moved Away. Not really a surprise, since it's right up his alley in terms of writing style, but because I inspired the post! I was at his book signing a few weeks ago, and after he opened up the floor to questions, he caught us all off guard by forbidding two questions. I quickly racked my brain, we had to ask him something! I know the crowd enjoyed his reading, and are all huge fans, and we need to show some respect and ask him something. I quickly thought of a question, raised my hand, then asked him "You say you don't know when you'll move away, but if you ever do move away from Paris, what would be somethings you'd miss, expected or unexpected?'' I guess I caught him off guard too, since he said, "that's a really good question", paused for a bit, then said, well he'd of course miss the boulangeries. It's really hard to top having good bread on almost every corner. He also mentioned he'd miss the french sense of humor, and that they really are nice people. I was really glad to see him expound on this list, and get a shout out..even if he didn't say my name.

Au Goût Dujour
12, rue Beaugrenelle
Paris 75015
Metro: Charles Michels
01 45 71 68 36

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An Ode to Mâche

There are times I wish I had paid more attention in High School English, perhaps I would then be able to write an ode to mâche. In the US, you might catch a reference to mâche on a French menu, or from Martha Stewart but here in France it is everywhere - even the discount grocery store. It is eaten throughout the winter, until the more delicate spring greens are available. I am seeing it less and less as the summer approaches. Although I appreciate the respect for seasonality here, I do want to get my fill of mâche before heading back to SF. Mâche grows in tiny clusters, which are preserved during the picking, sometimes you'll even see roots! The tear drop shape is also reminiscent of lamb's ears and it is sometimes called "lambs lettuce" in English. The taste is mild, reminding me of spinach but not as chalky. The crispy stems combined with the tender leaves makes a perfect salad, with only a mustard vinaigrette as an enhancer. I'll bring a container for a picnic with the dressing on the bottom (whole grain mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper) then mâche on top, and just mix it there to prevent the leaves from getting to wilted.

Although thought of as just a salad green, I wanted to see what else it could do. Turns out it wilts nicely, just like spinach, and you can throw it in at the end of any dish. The other month, when cheap favas were abundant at the market, I did a fava bean and mâche risotto. Or even with some scrambeled eggs, instead of spinach. If you can get your hands on some while it's still available, let me know what you do with it!

Monday, May 11, 2009

La Boulangerie - A Birthday Dinner

I had a dear friend in town in April, and lucky for me, she was here for my birthday. She treated me to a delicious dinner at La Boulangerie. Now, it's not a bakery, rather a petit restaurant in a space that was formerly a bakery. We were recommended this place by some friends, and it was as good as they promised. I liked the space, the typical mirrors, chalkboards (ardoise) with wine offerings, even a list of whiskies - I'll have to go back for those again, and a whole assortment of diners. We enjoyed seeing a table with two families sitting at it, their kids enjoying dishes clearly not off a child's menu. Come to think of it, there was no kiddie menu, but those children enjoyed their steamed salmon or seared veal just the same.

Pictured above was one of our entrées, remember that 'entrée' means entrance, that is the first course not the main course that it somehow was assigned to describe in the US. My dining companion ordered the terrine de lapin as pictured, and it was fantastic. I am always a fan of rabbit, and I predict that will be something I miss when I move away. Rabbit is very common here in France, and to me, somewhere between pork and duck in flavor. It isn't quite as gamy as duck to me, but nice and deep in flavor at the same time. The black line in the terrine was a layer of black olives, and the terrine was served atop some caramelized jus, and was a nice twist on the traditional terrine de lapin. I enjoyed beef carpaccio with a parmesan tuile crisp, on a bed of warm olive oil risotto. The carpaccio seemed to melt in my mouth, complimented only by some sea salt and delicious olive oil. I enjoyed the simplicity of the dish, and it illustrated one of my basic principals and pieces of advice; the simpler the dish, and the fewer ingredients you use, the higher quality they need to be. A dish doesn't need to have that many elements to really impress your palate, often the clarity of the elements speaks louder to me than a complex thirty component dish. But maybe that's me.

For our plats principaux, I had onglet de veau (veal hanger steak), served with an herbed potato cake, and an olive infused jus. My friend had beautiful Scottish salmon with white asparagus and salmon cream. Both dishes were really quite superb. Both the veal and the salmon were nicely cooked, and the accompanying sauces had bold flavors which complemented the mild flavor of the main component. As always, I enjoyed the white asparagus, a real spring treat here in Europe, unfortunately also not cultivated very frequently state side.

Finally for dessert, I just had to order the rhubarb compote with fromage frais mousse, and we ordered the citrus cream and cake with raspberry coulis as well. Both were light, intense and bright in flavor, of course due to the tang from the rhubarb or citrus and raspberries. I adored my dessert, I really am a sucker for rhubarb, reminding me of all the goodies my grandmother used to make. It was always a treat to be at the farm during rhubarb season, my cousin would go gather some fresh rhubarb, and my grandma, sisters, with whomever else was around, and I would whip up some rhubarb pie, rhubarb bars, and well, many other combinations of rhubarb and dough. Back to the dessert at hand though, the rhubarb compote was perfect, cooked down rhubarb with only enough sugar to make it palatable, but still wonderfully tart. The fromage frais mousse was so wonderfully creamy, as in tasting of cream, but light and a beautiful balance to the rhubarb.

The meal was a fantastic birthday treat, really all I can ask for, lovely food, with a lovely friend, and in a lovely city.

La Boulangerie

15 rue des Panoyaux
Paris 75020
metro: Ménilmontant
01 43 58 45 45

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Still here!

Well, I am still alive and well in Paris, although a bit behind on blogging. I figured I'd upload a few pictures, since that is quite easy, and start catching up this weekend. We have a three day weekend (on fait le pont), and I'll try to catch up with posts on my birthday here in Paris, my trip to Berlin, and my trip to Nashville. I have some white asparagus in the fridge, so maybe even a post about whatever I make with those!

This is Pierre Herme's Ispahan Croissant. Ispahan is his combination of Rose, Litchi and Raspberry, and I am just in love with it. This was the last one they had one day (I figure the more symetrical ones sold first), so I snatched it up and took it home, again excerising patience I didn't realize I had. You gotta bring it home to take a picture of it! This combination is simply divine, and in every incarnation of it I have adored it. Macaron, croissant, mille feuille... delicieux!

So these were an attempt at the very very popular Chocolate Chip Cookie I used to serve at work, but alas, even with imported brown sugar (thanks sis), they didn't turn out quite right. Luckily the high quality chocolate saved them, but between eyeing the measurements, and baking them in an oven that burns the bottom of almost everything, they came out just on the side of edible. I have some more brown sugar, so I'll have to try again.

The other day, I saw these beautiful eggplant at the grocery store! I didn't even have to go to the market to spot these beauties. I sauteed them, and served them with some tarragon and pasta, it was an unusual combo, but it worked!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Churros in Paris

There is the most adorable man at the Marché Bastille, who makes fresh churros. So fresh, they couldn't be any fresher! We walked by the stand, barely noticing it, but the smell brought us back, as well as seeing some happy customers munching away on a batch. So we turned around and headed back, this will be worth it.

There were a few people ahead of us, always a good sign for anything food related I've found, and waiting gave us time to watch and learn. He had a few churros on the display table, but we quickly realized those were display only, as he wouldn't serve any churros older than 20 seconds. He seemed to recognized some regulars, and started frying up an order. One order at a time. maybe two at a time. A bag of 6 churros for 2 Euros and a bag of 3 for 1 Euro. You can't beat that. Plus these churros were at least a foot long.

By the time we step up to order, he turns to us and tells us that it'll be five minutes since he has to make more batter. Again, the waiting turned out to be a valuable learning experience as we saw how he made it. Churros use a dough very similar to choux paste, the dough used for eclairs, cream puffs, gougeres,etc.. He had a big bowl in which he mixed the flour, butter, water, eggs and some vanilla, the steam rising up and fogging his glasses. He reloaded the press which he mounted above the filled-to-the-brim vat of oil the churros would be fried in. He pressed out a batch for us, and before we knew it, he was rolling them in sugar, and passing them to us. I ordered a Cannellé too, since I am a huge fan of them and they looked very good. (They are the tiny brown cake pictured below, look kind of like a castle tower..).

We started to walk off, but dug in immediately, and those churros were amazing. I wouldn't even attempt to say I am an expert, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find better ones. Crispy, not greasy, and perfectly hot and sugared, they disappeared quickly! I might have to go back this weekend and check it out again. And the Cannellé had the right texture (in my opinion), and the hint of lemon was nice, but I prefer the classic vanilla bean and rum combination.

Marché Bastille
boulevard Richard-Lenoir
between rues Amelot et Saint-Sabin
Thursday 7 - 2:30
Sunday 7 - 3

photos courtesy of my friend Val, on her visit to Paris

Thursday, March 26, 2009

you know you're in france when...

you make mayonnaise for a sandwich and your flatmate doesn't even blink

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

La Cave de l'Os à Moelle

Some people pull band-aids off slowly, and some rip it off in one go. If you are in the latter group, consider this the place to go for an induction in French food. Now I realize that this analogy is horrible considering band-aid removal in either scenario is entirely unpleasant and this restaurant is exactly the opposite. I only wish to convey how many different dishes you get to enjoy in one go! And lordy, they should give you a warning, "don't eat like an American here!" There are just so many dishes you want to try, and a little goes a long way.

I had this place dog eared in my trusty Edible Adventures in Paris book, but it jumped to the top of the list after a classmate recommended it AND I had some friends in town to test it out with. What makes this place special is you pick out your bottle of wine from the wall and pay wine store prices, without the restaurant markup or a corkage fee. Waiting on the table for you is a enormous assortment of starters. A big bowl of rillettes, two terrines, three different shredded salads; carrot, celeriac and beet, a beautiful platter of crudités with some housemade mayonnaise. Now I have only been here two months, but I already know that these dishes do not a meal make. These are clearly the 'entrées' by the original French meaning. I mention this to the Canadian couple next to us, and they look wide eyed at me "What?! There's more food?!" I tell them "Of course! There is the main course too, these are just the starters that they put on the table for us".

I should further explain at this point that this restaurant is called a "table d'hôte" because it is a family style joint. We made a reservation, but we are seated with other people at large tables filled with the entrees. You serve yourself the soup from the adorable stove squished in the corner, followed by the main course, also on the stove, then cheese, then dessert, lots of dessert. Now, by no means does this feel like a cafeteria, if anything it feels like you are in someone's home and they had 20 people over for dinner, squeezed you into a few tables and had you serve yourself. Sound familiar?

The soup was a fantastic cream of mushroom and artichoke, smooth but not heavy, and just wonderful with the basket of bread that we refilled by slicing our own. Following the soup, we spooned some rice cooked with herbs and dried tomatoes (these aren't your chewy sweet sun dried tomatoes, but rather real tomatoes, roasted with some herbs and garlic) and ladled the braised pork with olives on top. So fantastically flavorful but not heavy which was impressive and a bit of a relief considering how much rillettes we ate.

We served ourselves a few slices of cheese, from a selection of goat cheeses, of which we enjoyed 3 of the 4. Having eaten so much cheese the night before, we didn't go crazy with this course. Finally, we had dessert, and although we didn't even have room, we had to try it all. For research of course. There was over fifteen desserts, I kid you not. Four or five types of pound cakes, a cherry clafoutis, fromage blanc with berries, port stewed prunes with walnuts, baked apple crisp, creme caramel, rice pudding, three types of pot de creme; chocolate, coffee and lemon, and the classic îles flotantes, just to name a few. Ironically, the stand out for me was the stewed prunes. Sexy I know, but they were delicious! The pots de creme were a favorite of my dining companions although they weren't velvety enough for me...perhaps they used too much milk in the recipe and not enough cream.We only put away one bottle of wine, and would have definitely cracked open another had we not been kicked out. Well, we weren't kicked out exactly, but the only negative thing I have to say about this place is that there are two seatings. You either eat at 7:30 and have to leave at 9:30 or eat at 9:30 and see what food they have left! We went with the earlier seating, but considering the crowd of people waiting for us to leave, looks like there are plenty of (french) people who have no problem eating at 9:30.

The crisp air was a nice digestif as we walked home, and even after a 5 day eating adventure in Paris, this could be crowned the highlight. Did I mention there was a seemingly bottomless pot of cornichons on the table? I think I found my heaven.
La Cave de l'Os à Moelle
181 rue de Lourmel
Paris, 75015
metro: Lourmel
01 45 57 28 28

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Le Zinc des Cavistes

I now have my "go-to" wine bar! Granted I didn't find it, my old friend led me to it, and I am very grateful to have this card in my hand. Le Zinc des Cavistes is a wine bar that offers a wide selection of wine by the glass, and at completely reasonable prices. I have noticed that ordering wine by the glass is less common than ordering a bottle for the table, even if there are just two of you, or even if it's just lunch. However, at le Zinc, you can sample many different types of wine, as always, organized by region. In the US, we are used to seeing what type of grapes are used for the wine, Merlot, Pinot Noir, etc.. However, in France, the wines are described by what region they are grown in, and that is enough information for most connoisseurs. For example, about 50% of wines from Bordeaux are Merlot. Apparently, even a true connoisseur can even tell you where within the region it comes from...I'm not quite there yet...

This is a popular spot, and it quickly fills up, but I've gotten there before 8pm both times and haven't had a problem getting a table on a weeknight. I have only had the platter of assorted charcuterie, but I think next time I need to order a full meal. Or those profiteroles, they looked pretty good too. The charcuterie plate is one of my favorite things to nibble on with a glass of wine, or even beer, but who am I kidding, this is France and wine it is. Last time I tried Brouilly, a fruity red wine from the Beaujolais district in the Burgundy region, and very good. The second time I started with a Médoc, from Bordeaux, which was quite zippy and medium bodied, and I enjoyed it as well. Next glass was a Pinot Noir (I don't remember which vineyard it is from) and it was lighter and more delicate than the Médoc, and we probably should have had it first. If you know more about wine than me, which is proably likely, you might be laughing at me right now. I have a feeling I'll be going here often, but then again I just got word of another wine bar/restaurant that is a "must-try"...

Le Zinc des Cavistes
5, Rue Faubourg Montmartre
75009 Paris, France

01 47 70 88 64
Metro: Grands Boulevards

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Paris and my first guest

My sister just spent her spring break in Paris with me, and I had my first try at hosting someone here. I think it went pretty well. Now, I had an easier time at it since she had been here before, and we weren't compelled to do the 'touristy' things. Riiiiight. That's why there's a big glowing picture of the Eiffel Tower. Well, the Eiffel Tower is my one guilty pleasure. Although I haven't been to the top since I have been here, I get a little (okay a lot) giddy when I see it all lit up, and especially when it sparkles! Frances and I had a lovely walk along the Seine at sunset, and we were able to see the tower illuminated and then do that sparkling light show. Fantastic. And in my opinion, a must when you are here.

Next cliché to check off the list: une crêpe. We got a tip as to where to find the 'best'. Well, I am sure there are about 50 of these places in Paris, but this one is close to my school, and a great quick lunch before jetting off to class. Frances and I each got our own, and pictured is her "jambon/oeuf/fromage" Ham, egg and cheese of course. Now this vendor, (the small orange awning on Blvd St Germain, between the Haagen Daas and the Juice Bar) makes each crêpe fresh, which I have noticed isn't all that common unfortunately. Often, the crêpe stands have crepe skins already made, and they just reheat them with whatever ingredients you order added à la minute. However, this stand is the real deal, also providing two different batters: A heartier blé noir (buckwheat) batter that makes a thicker crêpe skin perfect for loading on your meat, cheese, egg or all of the above. The lighter white batter is for your sweet crêpes, just a sprinkle of sugar, or the ever so decadent nutella-banana combo. Crepes and Paninis (hot pressed sandwiches) are pretty common to see being eaten on the go. But forget a cup of coffee for while you walk. That's what cafes are for. Being here, you almost forget coffee 'to go' exists.

We were lucky to have Mardi Gras fall during the week Frances was here. Even luckier to have an old friend in town too, visiting some friends who live here. Important to know all this, since these friends enlightened us on THE spot to be for Mardi Gras (in my humble opinion). Favela Chic ('ghetto chic') is a brazilian restaurant/bar/club that went all out for the ultimate night of Carnivale. We had sampling of brazilian food and drink, and for me that was feijoada and a caipirinha. Yum and yum. Then we spent the night dancing it off on the completely crowded, I can't believe they let all these people in, dance floor. The DJs were playing a complete mix of everything, inlcuding american, french and brazilian hits, but nothing was as exciting as when I found myself dancing in front of a drum line. Somehow, they squeezed 10 drummers in to put on a live show for us. Definitely a night to remember.

For the most part, Frances and I didn't pack our days with sight-seeing, rather we just wandered the city, eating and taking a few photographs. Hopefully she got a taste (pun intended) of what it is like to live in France, even though at the time I had only been there a month. Everyday I add something to the list of places I have to try, and find I might just not have enough time to do it all! If you're in town, we can cross a few off the list together.

Friday, February 20, 2009


So most of you who read this blog know that, J'adore les macarons. Seriously, they are my Achilles' heel. There are several shops here in Paris that are famous for the macarons, and in fact they are in almost every patisserie. I had been meaning to go to one shop in particular, Pierre Hermé, and finally put it on the itinerary for after class today. I have to confess that it was exhilarating being in that shop, and the experience seemed ritualistic. I joined the back of the queue, and examined the other pastries as I waited my turn. I didn't have my camera and oh boy, did I miss some good photo ops!! The Canelés were so dark (that's another field trip entirely), the tarts so shiny! Finally it was my turn, and although I had planned on ordering just a few, I found myself asking for a box of seven. Well here goes nothing!

I ordered (listed as pictured, top to bottom):
-Truffe Blanche & Noisette
White Truffle & Hazelnut
-Chocolat Pure Origine Mexique (aka "Mexique")
Single Origin Mexican Chocolate
-Vanilles du Mexique, de Tahiti & de Madagascar (aka "Infiniment Vanille")
Blend of Mexican, Tahitian and Madagascar Vanilla Bean
-Rose (I think you can translate that one)
-Fruit de la Passion & Chocolat au Lait (aka "Mogador")
Passion Fruit and Milk Chocolate
-Thé Jasmin

Problem was, I was with a friend and we were going to get a drink, and I wanted to wait until I got home so I could properly photograph my treats. Even I was impressed by my self restraint, waiting several hours before opening the box, then having to wait a painful twenty minutes more for my camera battery to charge! This I had to document, my first experience eating the famous Pierre Hermé macarons.

The box they came in was very thoughtfully designed. The seven macarons fit inside comfortably, not one was smashed, but close enough together to prevent them from rattling around. The four flaps open up to present the macarons waiting to be enjoyed. And enjoy them I did, very very slowly. I laid them all out on the open box, so they could breathe, if you will...they had been cooped up with that truffle macaron, and this ain't your chocolate truffle macaron. This is a macaron with real white truffle, the fungus that grows under ground that dogs or pigs search for. Needless to say, I HAD to try one, but I was a bit worried the other macarons would have 'essence de truffe'. I felt a bit like a surgeon, carefully maneuvering the macarons, placing them one by one on the plate for a photo, then slicing each one in half to savor. I ate half of each in the order I thought would be best for a tasting, such as you would with cheese.

The Cassis Macaron was surprisingly intense. I love fruit and fruit desserts in general; however, I didn't have high expectations for the cassis, but I will gladly be proven wrong any day by this cookie. There were even bits of real berry in the creme, for an extra punch of flavor, although it was never lacking. Cassis is simply french for blackcurrant, a very common berry in Europe, and similar in flavor to other dark berries; black berries, raspberries, blueberries.

Next was the rose, and I had high hopes for this one because I always love rose scented pastries. Well, Pierre Hermé did not let me down. Not only was there a perfect amount of rose aroma and flavor, but the buttercream! The buttercream was so buttery, and perfectly salted too. What makes a good pastry a great pastry? Salt. Seriously, nothing irks me more than a bland under-salted pastry, whatever it be; cookie, buttercream, ice cream, cake, don't even get me started!! This Rose Macaroon was perfect, and it will be hard to top.

Now, onto Vanilla. "Infiniment Vanille" that is. There are chocolate people and there are vanilla people, and I am neither. Granted as a kid, you couldn't get me near vanilla, I always had chocolate ice cream, but now as an adult, I have taken after my mother and fallen in love with almond and lemon desserts. However, whenever vanilla is done properly, it gets my attention. This macaron had three types of vanilla bean in the cookie and the creme, and it was intense! I mean this is how you do vanilla, not some softly scented cookie, but a bold, bourbony and floraly vanilla cookie. Wow, this could convert some chocolate folks.

I was very excited to try the Passion Fruit and Milk Chocolate Macaron for two reasons. First, I love Passion Fruit, it is always pleasantly acidic and zesty. Second, I don't like Milk Chocolate, or very rarely do I. Well, this macaron proves again that Pierre Herme really knows his flavor combinations and I should be a little more trusting of him. The Milk Chocolate mellows that acidity of the Passion Fruit, without muting it at all. What a pleasantly surprising combination. I could eat several of these. The ganache I imagine is milk chocolate and passion fruit puree, since all you need for a ganache is chocolate and a liquid, the liquid is usually cream, but can be substituted for espresso or perhaps passion fruit puree. I will definitely be trying to make these.

"Mexique" is for chocolate people. This single origin Mexican chocolate macaron was sublime. The cocoa in the cookie gave it a red glow, and the ganache in the middle, of which there was plenty, was dark chocolate at its perfection, chocolate made supple by cream and butter. It is much harder for me to describe this macaron, but I think I did roll my eyes back in my head upon tasting it. Any chocolate lover MUST try this one, and in fact, next time I might have to do a sampling of the five chocolate macarons offered.

Finally, there was the White Truffle & Hazelnut Macaron. Now, if you have stuck with me here, and paid attention, you might be asking, wait that is only #6. And you are right, apparently that Jasmine at the end of the counter that I asked for was a misplaced tray of Truffle Macarons. A pleasant surprise for me, as I ended up with two of them, but maybe not so pleasant for the unsuspecting patron expecting a gentle Jasmin Tea Macaron and finding this is their bag. Wow, the aroma was intense enough that I was concerned the other macarons' flavors would be compromised having shared a box with it; however, their time together was short and the other escaped unharmed. Inside the macaron, was a toasted hazelnut, which was a fantastic compliment to the earthy and musky truffle. No surprise now that this is a great combination, but the balance and execution of this macaron was impressive.

This will definitely not be my only trip to Pierre Hermé, and hopefully I won't go too often. Now that I have tasted an assortment of flavors, next time I will do a more focused tasting, perhaps just chocolate macarons. Oh, and if you were wondering, I did eat all of them. And it was fantastic.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I could get used to this...

So my baguette for dinner tonight was still warm when I picked it up. On my way home from the organic grocery store (which also has me elated...more on that later) I popped into a bakery that had a line out the door, always a good sign. While there were still a few customers in front of me, the clerk, and perhaps a baker too, wheeled out a basket of fresh baguettes from the back. I proceeded to the counter, ordered my baguette and presented the 80 cents for it, impressing the woman that I had my change ready. As soon as she placed it in my hand, I think my step got a bit lighter. The baguette was very much still warm from having just been baked. I might end up eating a baguette a day at this rate.

Many have asked "how's the food?" or "what have you been eating??" Well, the short answer is a lot of bread and cheese. Typical, non? However, I do have a chicken leg and thigh roasting with some potatoes and onions that I'll eat with my baguette (ahem, the half that I didn't eat already) and the cheese my flatmate brought home from her trip to Normandy. For those of you that don't know, Normandy is famous for dairy products and apples. No big surprise that I was presented with an ooey gooey Camembert that had been soaked in Calvados!! Calvados is an apple brandy, and delicious! Soaking the Camembert in Calvados doesn't leave it the prettiest piece of cheese, but perhaps one of the most delicious. The brandy compliments the pungency of the cheese nicely, mellowed of course by that crispy baguette. There is a fruity acidity to the cheese, the way orange juice is zippy on the tongue, but not too distracting from the creamy texture. I almost forgot I had dinner in the oven.

So, here's a picture of what I had last night for dinner, no roast chicken, and I didn't even make that soup, but I was pretty happy. There exists here a store called Picard, and it is basically the frozen section of the grocery store, that's it. All frozen food. Many of you know how much I love freezing food. It really is the next best thing to fresh. "That freezes well" is often said by me, and lo and behold many of you have your freezers full of egg whites, slice and bake cookies, even fried green tomatoes. Picard sells frozen soups, which I hope everyone knows freeze well, and you just heat and serve, season if necessary et voila! The soups come in bags, already frozen in little pieces, like a piece of Bazooka gum, so they thaw and heat up quickly. I am definitely a fan. Here you see dinner composed of that soup, carrot this time, and a easy mesculun salad with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette and cornochons - those little pickles, I could eat a jar of - and a goat cheese 'crottin', red wine and a baguette, the one pictured is from another bakery, currently my favorite boulangerie. Unfortunately it is right around the corner...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Are you ready to rumble?

I don't think I was prepared for the Bocuse d'Or. Now, unfortunately I wasn't competing, but maybe that's for the best. This competition is intense. Intense. 24 Teams, 24 different countries, over two days of competition. Each team prepared and presented a fish dish and a meat dish in just over 5 hours, with the service to the 24 international judges staggered every 10 minutes. As if the action down in the kitchens and on the floor wasn't enough to make your head spin, the noise of almost 1000 fanatic fans, cheering for their country was enough to make soccer fans seem mild.

The group of Japanese fans (pictured) were very impressive. They had signs, matching outfits, an early presence as well as an awareness of when to cheer. They were very loud, but with pleasant cheers. The USA fan section was still mostly empty when I showed up to get a seat. I had stopped by on day 1 of the competition, but decided to roam the expo and go back for Day 2 of the competition, when the US and France would be competing. I saw how the stands filled up, so after checking my jacket at the VIP booth (getting my ticket on line in advance was totally worth that perk!) I made a bee line for the stands. I settled in for the long haul, even brought my own rations of raisins, salted almonds and water, and just started to watch.

The two dynamic hosts, a French man and an American woman, kept us posted and entertained the best they could, as the stands filled up and the chefs prepared their dishes. Eventually, the Norwegians were up, the first of 12 competing that day, to present their fish dish. This is no ordinary dish, but a masterpiece of 12 servings displayed on a giant mirrored platter. This is paraded in front of the judges and the spectators (at one point one tray was almost dropped!!!) and then brought to a separate table where the chef and some hospitality students then helped transfer the delicately assembled works of art onto individual plates which are subsequently given to the judges. By this time, as the judges were tasting the Norwegians fish dish, the next team brought out their platter to be paraded around. It was extremely hectic since the judges are eating the dish of one country while looking at the formal platter of the next country, all the while the fans are competing to bust their ear drums and mine. Turns out I came well prepared with snacks but left my ear plugs at home.

The 10 Spaniards that showed up too late to sit with the rest of their countrymen, squeezed in behind me to provided some unneeded entertainment. I was definitely not amused when the lady to my right spilled a soup sample on me (soup courtesy of the food expo; the competition was unfortunately not giving out samples) nor when the woman behind me repeatedly hit me in the head with her purse. Although all the fans were loud, very loud, the crowd quieted a bit to hear the announcement of each countries dish...except, you guessed it, these 10 Spaniards behind me when Spain was presenting its dish. They were perfectly nice folks though, even providing a towelette for me to wipe the soup off my pants.

Now, there is no shortage of pomp and circumstance in this competition. All the judges were parade out, with a special moment for Paul Bocuse, founder of the competition and famous chef. In this photo, you can see the 12 judges that were to score the fish dish, the other 12 (not shown) scored the meat dish - presented only 30 minutes after the fish dish. The judge to the far right is Thomas Keller, of The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. The setting was so fiercely competitive, I really don't know how the chefs do it. Many of the European chefs are used to competing, as it is more common here, but this is the creme de la creme of culinary competitions, and I don't think that was lost on anyone there.

I left before the results were announced, even before all of the teams had competed actually. The US had presented both dishes, and by the time France presented the fish dish, I had been there 5 hours myself, and it was time to escape. I found out Norway had won the Bocuse d'Or, which probably was a bit of a relief since the entire competition had to use Norwegian seafood for the fish dish ( and Scottish beef for the meat dish), yet completely deserved I am sure.

The experience was memorable to say the least, to see so many supportive fans, so many chefs who had spent countless hours preparing for this day, so much excitement and obsession over food. Good to know I am not the only one out there...

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Je suis arrivée

Wow, I made it. I am here in Paris. Living in Paris. Although this trip has been a long time coming, and with each step checked off the to do list I inched closer and closer to it becoming a reality, it still feels a bit surreal to finally be here. Walking around the city, I have just started to explore the areas near me, and I can't wait to get to know Paris better. Paris is like that really fantastic person you meet, and you know you'll be good friends with evetually, but you are a little intimidated at first since she's so cool, awesome and unique, independent and full of life.

My first few days were spent wandering the Left Bank, Rive Gauche, between where I live near the Eiffel Tower, the St Germain area and near La Sorbonne. I have tried to blend in with the locals, forgetting to take my camera out so I can share what I am seeing with everyone at home. I do have to say that the Eiffel Tower still takes my breath away, and I hope I can still say that after living here for 6 months. I will see it often as it is near my place and I plan on running in the Parc du Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower is located, as often as possible. I am excited and a bit relieved to find other runners here. When I lived in Germany, I would go running although the locals looked at me as if I were running around naked. "Why is she running? No one is chasing her..." The park is actually somewhat full of runners on the weekend, even with this 'cold' weather. (this is the point I might officially be a San Franciscan - here in Paris it's just over freezing, but still quite cold for me!!)

With all of this running, I am going to have to do some serious eating to make up for the calories burned. Good thing there is no shortage of food, good food at that, near me. One of the most striking things here, is how many boulangeries, patisseries, boucheries, fromageries, marchés are on every block and corner. There is even a store devoted to frozen food, quite a novel idea!! I have a complete weakness for bread, leave me on a desert island with a baguette and some nicely salted butter, and you won't hear a complaint from me, but my one sweet indulgence is the parisian macaron. Two light almond meringue cookies, that crackle when bitten into, providing a slight chewy resistance then melting into the buttercream or ganache filling and transporting you to another place, just for a moment. J'adore les macarons. My first here in Paris was from the famed Lenôtre, with one location maybe a bit too close to my house. Macarons are everywhere, even the grocery stores have them in their bakery. This could be bad, but it won't. It'll be good, very good.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's hard to find good lard these days!

When I say my grandmother had been cooking and baking forever, that is no exageration. She kept her 9 children and their children, and their children fed, nurished and loved for as long as she was in the kitchen. She retired from Thanksgiving duty, at this point a 30+ person affair, three years ago with a huge dinner. We pushed several tables together and somehow managed to gather all of us at one long table that stretched from the dining room into the living room. We had the works; turkey, ham, sausage with sauerkraut, potatoes, beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, stuffing (althouh in my grandma's version there is more meat than bread..) and countless other dishes. The plates were pilled high from the buffet service off the 12 seater breakfast table converted to serve all the food, and off to the living room we marched. We were several beers in and with this loud family it is no small miracle that my grandma can quiet us all for the blessing;

In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
Bless us, O Lord! and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive
from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.

Then, we dug in. The volume was turned back up to max, and we ate and laughed, and told stories. Smaller groups broke off as the night the kitchen table, Grandma was kicking the boys' butts in pinochle; a few of us played Life on the Farm ( a boardgame invented by a neighbor; it's like monopoly but instead of property, you deal in cows...yes, cows)
At this point, I think we might have encouraged Eric (the youngest cousin, although certainly an adult now too) to fetch us some molasses cookies from the deep freeze in the basement. Good ol' G-Ma, as we affectionately called her, always had a stash of ready to eat cookies in the freezer. A plateful was brought up, and we greedily ate one while it was still frozen, and then we waited for the others to thaw.

There are few things that hit the spot as well as one of grandma's molasses cookies. Although we would help whip up a batch now and then, these were treats that we induldged in at the farm. When I was presented with the opportunity to bring in recipes of my own at work, back when I was an assistant pastry chef, I immediately thought to share "Grandma's Molasses Cookies". When Grandma was going over the recipe with me, she bemoaned "it's hard to find good lard these days!" My grandma is a fan of lard and not the type you buy in the supermarket, rather the lard freshly rendered by a neighbor down the street. Unfortunately, I don't have access to good lard, so I use butter.

The recipe is simple and perfect, easy enough to knock out a double batch by hand. Last week, I made a batch, showing a few cousins, including a eager two-year old how to whip them up. This time, they'll have to do because my grandma won't be making anymore. After an amazing 94 years, her time came quickly at the end, still cracking jokes in her final days. Our grandma, Isabelle, loved and fed so many and will continue to do so from heaven as her recipes and spirit are passed on to all of us.

Grandma Isabelle's Molasses Cookies

1 cup Butter, unsalted aka 'sweet', room temperature
1 1/2 cups Sugar
1 cup Molasses
1 cup Half and Half (literally half whole milk and half heavy cream if you have to make it)
*soured with 2 Tbsps white vinegar

1 Egg
2 tsps Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Ginger
4 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour

In a large mixing bowl by hand, or using a stand mixer, beat toegether the softened butter and sugar. Mixture should be comibined well, does not need to be light and fluffy, we're not making a cake!

In a separate medium bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, salt and all the spices until everything is well distributed.

Add the egg to the butter sugar mixture and beat until combined. Add in Molasses and soured Half and Half. Mixture will look curdled, don't panic. Just mix as well as you can and then add the flour. Now, once the flour is added, don't over mix, just until it is all distributed nicely. Dough will be very soft and sticky.

Chill the dough so it is easier to work with. You can then either roll it out and cut rounds, 2", or just scoop the dough, ping pong ball size, with a scoop or spoons. Leave cookies a few inches to spread, and bake approximately 12 min at 325° Test the first batch by taking one off the tray after it has come out of the oven, letting it cool on the counter, then see how soft or crunchy it is.

Depending on your level of sweet tooth (and how sweet your molasses is), you can ice these cookies once cooled. Mix together a few Tbsps of Cream with a few cups of Powedered Sugar (Confectioners Sugar), a splash of Vanilla Extract and a pinch of Salt. Adjust consistancy by adding more cream.

The cookies freeze beautifully, that is if you have any left.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year's Resolution...

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything! 2008 just flew by with many great moments and memories, but I am certain 2009 can top it. I'll be moving to Paris in a few weeks for six months to study French, convince bakeries to let me work with them, and explore the food and a new city. In order to keep in touch (and make everyone jealous), I'll be doing a much better job posting to my blog. You'll find new recipes I try out at home or at work, favorite boulangeries, where the best macaron is, markets, and everything in between. Please keep in touch, and I'll take any requests for blog entries. Bonne Année!!