Another Meatless Friday

29 02 2008

Ok, this was actually last night’s dinner, but tonight’s dinner is likely to consist of frozen (meatless) pizza, salad, and beer.  However, we had a quintessentially French meal last night that happened to contain no meat, so here it is. 

Eggs

That’s right, hard boiled eggs!  Yum.

Just kidding.  But these very eggs formed the base of a delicious omelette.  Nick got home pretty late last night, so I wanted to make dinner as simple as possible.   I started with two leeks, chopped, rinsed, and sautéed in butter.

Leeks

While the leeks cooked, I combined the eggs in a bowl with salt, pepper, and a little milk, and lightly beat the mixture with a fork.  As soon as the leeks started to get some color, I poured the eggs over the top.

Cooking the Omelette

If I had a proper oven, we’d be having a frittata for sure.  But no, this is France.  We must have omelettes!  So when the eggs were nearly cooked through, I sprinkled on some grated Emmenthal cheese and did my best to fold the thing in half.  (Which I realize is the American way of making omelettes, but how else are you supposed to deal with a six-egg monstrosity?  The French have the good sense not to make their omelettes so freaking huge.)

Omelette in the Pan…

I turned off the stove and let it finish cooking off the radiant heat while I made a quick vinaigrette and rinsed some salad greens.  The vinaigrette was really beautiful and emulsified due to the rather high proportion of Dijon mustard I used, but I got a little cocky and added the oil a bit too fast and next thing I knew, my perfect vinaigrette was broken.  Nick was particularly disappointed by this turn of events, as he had been marveling at my skill only moments before.  Broken or not, the vinaigrette was ready, the omelette was cooked, and dinner was served.

A typically French meal

It tasted even better than I thought it would, and was just the ticket for a late supper.  The bread came from one of my favorite local bakeries: La Boulangerie de Véronique Mauclerc.  More on her at a later date.





Stir-Fry Success

28 02 2008

After yesterday’s Fauchon-induced sugar high, I thought we could use something light for dinner.  Again perusing the contents of my fridge, I found those beautiful baby bok choy from last Friday’s teriyaki salmon, ginger (same), and the scotch bonnet peppers (desperately in need of some attention).  I decided to do a simple chicken stir-fry, nothing fancy.  After obtaining chicken breasts and a few necessary pantry items, I got to work.

First I cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and put it into a bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil, and peanut oil.  I minced the chili pepper and added half to the chicken.  Next came minced garlic and ginger.  A stir to combine and let marinate while I get everything else ready.

Mmmm…. brinerating

I got the rice going and washed the bok choy, amazed at how fresh it still looked:

Baby Bok Choy

Preparing the bok choy simply involved trimming the ends and chopping it into easily forkable bits, separating the leaves from the stems.  So along with some extra garlic, ginger, and chili pepper left over from the marinade, my vegetable prep was done.

Mise en Place for Stir-Fry

Now that I had all my mise en place, it was time to start cooking.  So I turned on the burner as high as it would go and waited about 10 minutes for it to warm up.  Stupid glorified hot plate.  Anyway, I got the pan hot, added some peanut oil and dumped in the chicken, marinade and all.

Browning Chicken

After it was nicely browned and cooked through, I moved it to a clean bowl, added a little more oil to the pan, and threw in the bok choy stems.  When they started to brown, I moved them to the sides of the pan and put my reserved aromatics in the center.  This is starting to smell pretty good.  Toss it to combine and add the leaves.  Once they start to wilt, return the chicken to the pan, give it another toss or two, and finish with a little soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, sesame oil, and a pinch of sugar.  I served it over brown rice and we felt good about ourselves.

Chicken Stir-Fry





Fauchon, or, I May Have a Problem

27 02 2008

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been to Fauchon a few times this week.  It’s nice to get out and see a different part of the city, and the 8th is a far cry from the 19th.  Fauchon is situated on the gourmet food end of the Place de la Madeleine, the other end mostly being occupied by major fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren.  Ladurée is positioned among these heavy hitters and has a line out the door (I assume mostly tourists).  I for one, when I cannot hold out any longer and must try some of those famous cream puffs, will be shopping at the Ladurée inside the Printemps department store – fewer tourists and more affordable shopping – everyone wins!  But back to Fauchon, situated near Hédiard and La Maison de la Truffe.  They sell all kinds of gourmet products, from jam and coffee to caviar and foie gras, not to mention their extensive wine selection.  But the real draw for me is, of course, the pastry.

Chocolate Cake    Tarte Carré Citron (Square Lemon Tart)

Chocolate-Praliné Cake and Megève

These are some of the full-size desserts gracing the display window.  I love the golden chocolate shards on the chocolate cake – so elegant!  And that lemon tart is so streamlined and modern!  Anyway, one of the things Fauchon is most famous for is the éclair.  I have never seen less than five different types in their retail case, and this week was no different.

Fauchon’s Eclairs

I don’t know how well you can see from this picture, but the second row from the left is labeled “Eclair Smoking.”  There is no explanation as to what goes into an “éclair smoking,” but it sure doesn’t sound appetizing.  And at 8 euro a pop, I may leave that one a mystery for now.

One of my visits happened to coincide with lunchtime, so I thought I’d check out Fauchon’s variety of salads and sandwiches, packaged to eat there or to go.  I chose a lentil and sausage salad to go (if I’m going to have a salad for lunch, it had better be hearty, you know?) and stopped by the newly inaugurated (in 2007) boulangerie department for a baguette.  Naturally, I had to tear into it on the Métro ride home, and discovered some of the best bread I’ve had in Paris, a town where good bread is ubiquitous to the point of being cliché.

Fauchon’s Baguette, torn to show awesome interior texture

Dorée to perfection, with a crisp crust and chewy (in the best way)  open crumb.  Fantastic.  It was hard not to devour the whole thing with butter, but I didn’t want to spoil my lunch.

Lentil Salad    Tiny Roll

Which thoughtfully included a little roll – these French and their bread!  Lentil salad is quickly becoming one of my favorite dishes.  The earthiness and caviar-like texture of the lentils, the richness of the charcuterie (be it lardons, sausage, or some other delicious pork product), the freshness of the onions and parsley (and in this case apples and pears as well), and the creaminess of the vinaigrette combine to form something greater than the sum of its parts.  Restaurants often serve it warm, mixed tableside, which is a real treat.  Fauchon’s lentil salad did not disappoint, and the whole wheat roll was a nice complement with its slight sweetness.  However, I was almost as enamored with the size of the roll as with the flavor.  Check it out:

See? It’s tiny!

Such a perfectly formed little bread, and so tiny!

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for…

Read the rest of this entry »





Winter Duck Dinner

26 02 2008

Having a fridge full of market-fresh produce almost forces you to cook with the seasons.  (Even if said fridge is the size of what we Americans refer to as a “dorm-room fridge.”)  Yesterday I was digging through ours in search of an inspiration for dinner.  I hit on the Brussels sprouts and an idea began to form.  Brussels sprout hash with caramelized onions, some of that 3-rice blend, and… what for protein?  The answer, as it often is these days, was duck.  Maybe I’m enamored with the fact that I can buy duck in forms other than whole and frozen here.  Who cares if I can’t figure out the difference between a magret and a filet de canard?  As far as I can tell, they both mean boneless, skin-on duck breast.  Regardless of the name, I bought one at the supermarket (yes, the regular supermarket) and brought it home.

It was about this time that I remembered my cooking arsenal is not what it used to be.  That is to say, I really only have one pan suitable for cooking larger items.  So I julienned three onions and started them caramelizing in some butter.  When they were nice and dark I moved them to a bowl and put the pan on a cold burner so I could get the rice cooking on the hot one.  (Our stove is basically a set of hot plates.  This not at all uncommon in France.)  This turned out to be extremely beneficial for the duck skin, as I started it in a mostly cold pan and heated it slowly which resulted in almost complete rendering of the fat and nicely crisped skin.

Duck Skin

In addition to the deliciously golden skin, just look at all that extra duck fat for me to cook with!  I removed the duck to a plate, poured off half the fat to use for the pan sauce, and threw in the entire half-kilo of Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced.  By now the pan was smoking hot, so the Brussels sprouts cooked quickly with lots of tasty browned spots.  I seasoned them with salt and pepper and added the caramelized onions back to the pan.  A few tosses to combine, then I moved that to another plate and put it on top of the “oven” to keep warm.

Now for the sauce.  With the pan still screaming hot, I poured in the reserved duck fat and added some minced shallots and fresh thyme.  When the shallots began to brown I poured in some Bordeaux and let it reduce a bit.  Next a few tablespoons of cherry preserves (confiture cerises griottes), a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and monter au beurre.  Plate it up and we have a delicious, seasonally appropriate, one-pan (except for the rice) meal.

Duck Dinner

I served it with the remaining Bordeaux (obviously!) and a dessert from Fauchon… but that’s tomorrow’s post.





To Market, To Market…

25 02 2008

To buy a fat pig.

Home again, home again,

With a rack of his ribs.  (Or something like that.)

Seafood at the market

So we went to the marché again this weekend.  Sunday really seems to be the best day for it, and the earlier you go, the better the pickins.  One of the things I love most about the market is how you can find something new almost every time you go.  For example, I hadn’t seen a boulangerie counter before:

Bread at the market 

This one had some fabulous artisan breads, priced by the kilo.  We bought some pain au levain and went across the way to a cheesemonger’s booth.  We chose a hunk of gouda and a wedge of saint-nectaire to go with our bread.

Moving on to the produce – this is where the marché really shines.  The stuff is top quality and dirt cheap.  We saw these lettuces and had to have one.

De la salade

 We also picked up some Brussels sprouts, leeks, clementines, and strawberries. (I know, I know, strawberries in February?  All I can say is I could smell them from 3 feet away and that tends to be a good sign.)  Having done our homework, we have determined that eggs cost about half as much at the market as they do in the store, which isn’t so much to say that eggs are cheap at the market as that they are ridiculously expensive at the store.  No matter where you get them, though, they are fresher than any I’ve seen in any store in the States, which is nice.

And then we came across this:

Olives at the market

I was pleasantly surprised to see the olive display – another first.  After tasting a few we took home half a kilo of the ones on the right.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder what exactly we would be doing with all of this food we had just bought.  Salad with Brussels sprouts?  And olives?  What about the clementines?  And the eggs?  Leek omelettes?  We need some meat.  So we headed back through the crowd towards the butcher.  It was getting to be about the time when the vendors start packing up to leave, so there was a huge line for the rotisserie chickens (which, by the way, smelled fantastic).  We got in line and when we got to the front, noticed something that looked like a pork tenderloin sitting alone among the chicken scraps.  I asked the butcher what it was.  “Travers du porc,” came the reply.  Ok, can I have half of it?  He flipped it over to reveal that it was, in fact, a rack of pork ribs, much to Nick’s and my delight.

Well, we brought it all home and had a well-earned snack of bread and cheese.  We took a few nibbles of the ribs, just to make sure they would be ok for dinner.  Now, this may horrify any barbeque aficionados out there, but these ribs didn’t have a hint of smoke.  They were simply salted, slow roasted, chicken-fat basted (does that make them Kosher?) ribs.  And boy, were they good.  Quite a departure from what we were used to back home, though.

Dinner was a simple affair.  We were tired from watching Six Nations rugby on Saturday, but luckily the rotisserie had done most of the work for us.  Nick diced up some potatoes we found in the cupboard, tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil, and roasted them.

Roast potato prep

When they were almost done, he put the ribs on top to warm through while I got the salad ready.  Wash and tear the lettuce, drizzle with a simple vinaigrette, and top with olives.  Voilà!  Dinner is served:

Mmmmm… ribs

Dessert was, in a very Alice Waters moment, perfectly sweet clementines.





Freshest Fish in Town

22 02 2008

Today is Friday, and since it’s Lent, that means no meat.  What at first appears to be horribly limiting to the diet turns out to be a great excuse to eat seafood.  On one of my many previous ganders through the Asian markets, I had noticed one that appeared to have live fish, so I went back for a closer look.

Live fish

I apologize for the photo quality – the glass on the tank was a little cloudy, and Asian markets aren’t exactly known for their lighting.  And this big guy wouldn’t sit still for a photo:

Bigger live fish

For the record, the fish in the first tank were about 8 inches long, I guess, and the fish in the second tank had to be at least 18 inches in length.

Despite having the option to bring home a live fish, I ended up choosing a lovely salmon fillet.  The idea of gutting a fish in my tiny kitchen with only a cleaver and a paring knife to get the job done did not appeal – although I bet the cat would have appreciated the trimmings.  Plus, wandering around the Asian market, I developed a hankering for teriyaki and I couldn’t get the picture of a beautifully glazed salmon fillet out of my head.

A knob of ginger, a liter of soy sauce, a bottle of sesame oil, and a kilo of baby bok choy later, I was out the door, ready for some homemade teriyaki goodness.

UPDATED:

Teriyaki Salmon

And here we have the final result.  Pan-seared salmon glazed in homemade teriyaki sauce with sautéed baby bok choy and brown rice.  Healthy and delicious.





Couderc Patisserie

21 02 2008

Pierre Couderc’s pâtisserie is just down the street from our apartment.  In passing, I have admired the delectable window displays and read glowing reviews in local guides.  It was time to give this place a try.Couderc’s Pastry Case

I walked in and asked the woman behind the counter if I could take some photographs.  She called into the back of the shop for Monsieur Couderc himself, who came out front smiling.  I told him his pastries were beautiful and asked if he minded if I took some pictures.  He, of course, agreed, and even offered to pull some pieces out of the case.  (Flattery will get you everywhere.)  After getting the photo I wanted, I bought an orange tart and a “Guanaja.”  The saleswoman explained that Guanaja was a chocolate with 70% cacao, which I already knew, but it’s always a good sign when the customer service are well-informed and take pride in the products they are selling.  She wrapped up my purchases and I was out the door, ready to dig into the sweet treats.

Nifty Box

(And speaking of digging, how cool is this box?)

Arriving home, I opened the box to get a closer look.

Tarte Orange and Guanaja

You can see why I chose the Tarte Orange – it has a bruléed top!  The combination of orange and caramel is one of my favorites, so I had to give this one a whirl.  As for the Guanaja, well, there are surprisingly few patisseries in town that actually boast which chocolates they are using.  The fact that Couderc uses Valrhona chocolate tells me he cares about what he’s doing a little more than the average pâtissier.

But how did they taste?  Let’s start with the Tarte Orange.  The tart shell was a little thick in the corners, but nice and crisp with a buttery shortbread flavor.  The brulée had clearly been sitting for a while, but still managed to retain a bit of its crunch.  And the filling was a luscious, creamy orange custard.  It was a bit on the sweet side, but had good fresh orange flavor.  Half the tart (I saved the other half for Nick) was just about right, portion-wise.  On the other hand, I could easily have gulped down the whole Guanaja dome.  The chocolate fans on either side had neither the waxy texture nor the chemical flavor of cheap decorating chocolate.  I think it was actual Guanaja chocolate!  The dessert itself comprised a smooth chocolate mousse with a nugget of devil’s food cake in the center, sitting atop a light chocolate genoise, all of it glazed in ganache.  This is a dessert designed to show off a quality chocolate and as such, it is a success.  From the intensity of the dark chocolate ganache to the deceptive lightness of the mousse to the textural contrast of the cake, it all says one thing: chocolate.








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