Balbuzard Café

30 09 2009

All summer I had my eyes peeled for Corsican restaurants in Paris.  (July was the originally-planned Corsica month, but then the spur-of-the-moment trip to Rouen happened.  Fortunately, it turns out that Fall is the best time of year for Corsican charcuterie, so I lucked out.)  I spotted one on a bike ride near the Place de la République, did some research in my Pudlo guide, and decided that Balbuzard was the place to go.

Saturday night we finally went.  Nick and I were joined by another couple, and the four of us walked there together after apéros chez nous.  We were greeted immediately upon entering the colorful (red and yellow tiled floor, lime green and magenta velvet wallpaper winding up the stairs) café.  We were seated at a table near the bar with a good view of the rest of the room, including the small Corsican épicerie (jams, honeys, and charcuterie available for purchase) in the corner.  A bottle of Corsican wine was ordered – we went with the one suggested by the waiter to compliment the cured meats – and our meals chosen, and we chatted with our friends during the brief wait for our first courses.

Salade d'avocats avec gamba et noix de st-jacques

I had chosen the avocado salad with prawn and scallops.  The prawn was great, but there wasn’t enough of him.  The avocados were perfectly ripe, and the salad was served with a cold tomato compote and a wedge of fresh cheese.  Only the scallops disappointed.  Like the rest of the salad, they were cold, and I had really been expecting freshly seared, rare-but-warm specimens.  I didn’t notice much of a difference in flavor or texture between the scallop meat and the other part (roe?  liver?  other mysterious organs?), which I thought was odd.

Terrine de sanglier

Nick had the terrine de sanglier, a delicious wild boar pâté.  Corsican wild boar live their days running around in the forest, eating chestnuts, and you can tell when you taste their extremely flavorful, slightly nutty meat.  The terrine was served with an onion jam that really put it over the top.  Table positioning made taking photos of our companions’ plates awkward, but our vegetarian friend ordered the terrine de chèvre (cheese, that is), and ate every bit.

For the main course, I opted for the figatellu.  It’s a classic Corsican sausage made from the liver and heart of wild pigs. 

Figatellu aux lentilles

The flavor is strong, but I really enjoy it.  Served on a bed of warm lentils with an oven-dried tomato and a breath-freshening sprig of parsley, the sausage really hit the spot.  I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, though, when I looked over at Nick’s plate…

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The Cure For Pork Fever

27 09 2009

Back when Swine Flu was first making the news, the French press dubbed it “grippe porcine.”  I chose, mainly for my own amusement, to translate it as “pork fever,” which sounds like something much more fun to come down with.*  So when Nick came home with an entire kilo of chunky ground pork from the Chinese butcher** up the street, I had to figure out what to do with the 800+ grams he didn’t use in his breakfast scramble.

We’ve been talking about breakfast sausages lately, Nick and I, and I realized that that might just be the perfect use for this hand-ground pork. So I Googled “breakfast sausage recipe” and clicked on the first result, a tasty-sounding recipe from Alton Brown.  Scanning the list of ingredients, I was pleased to note that I had everything he called for – fresh sage, thyme, and rosemary (check, and from my windowbox, no less!), fresh nutmeg (I don’t use any other kind), and even some of the more oddball (for France) items like red pepper flakes and brown sugar were covered.  Now, his recipe calls for grinding the pork yourself, which I’m sure would be even more awesome, but I figured the pork I had was the right texture and fat content, so I went with it.  As suggested, I combined the pork and seasonings (plus some minced onion, because I felt like it) and let them sit overnight to get acquainted.  I cross-referenced Brown’s recipe with Michael Ruhlman’s sausage Ratio, and the differences are minimal.

The next morning, I pulled the bowl of seasoned pork mixture (which already smelled fabulous) from the fridge and began shaping patties.

Making breakfast sausage patties
1. Making Sausages 1, 2. Making Sausages 2, 3. Making Sausages 3, 4. Making Sausages 4

See?  You can make sausage at home, too!  No complicated and awkward casings necessary, just a little patience for patty-making.  We fried up four of them that morning, and ate them with fried eggs and breakfast potatoes.  The rest I froze and then threw into a ziplock bag for future breakfasts and bouts of pork fever.

Frying the sausage

* Now, of course, it has much more banal names: H1N1 or grippe A.
** There are no less than twelve butchers on my street. Two are Chinese, three are French, and the rest are Arab. What this means is that even with a glut of butchers, I can buy pork at less than half of them.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Miel de Corse

24 09 2009

One of Corsica’s largest crops is the chestnut.  As such, they feature prominently in dishes both sweet (cakes, candied chestnuts) and savory (various breads, a type of “polenta”), as well as in the local liqueurs.  Much of the chestnut harvest is dried and ground into flour, which has been granted a.o.c. status.  Another Corsican chestnut-based treat with the privileged status is honey.

Organic chestnut honey from Corsica

The stuff is, quite frankly, wonderful.  It has a rich, nutty aroma with floral undertones, all of which carry through on the palate.  I’ve been using it to sweeten my green tea, but I’m trying to come up with a recipe that will feature it more prominently.  (My first meeting with chestnut honey was years ago, when I used it in an orange pâte de fruits – a sort of jelly candy – for the restaurant where I worked.  It was one of my (and the chef’s) favorite flavors of jelly, so I made a lot of them, though now that I think about it, I haven’t laid so much as a taste bud on it since then.  But the reunion is going well, like when you run into an old friend and discover that nothing has changed – you can still talk for hours with no awkward silences.)

I also love the artwork on the jar.  The bee is dwarfed by the gigantic, hairy chestnut, and it looks as though he is going to have to battle it in order to get to the sweet flower.  A battle that is well worth it, in my book.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Two of a Pear

21 09 2009

Last week I teased you a bit with the mention of a tarte Belle-Hélène.  Of course it isn’t much of a tease if you don’t know what a tarte Belle-Hélène is.  Just to get everyone up to speed, Belle-Hélène on a French menu signifies pears and chocolate, be it a simple sundae or a fancy entremet.  A tarte Belle-Hélène is basically a variation on the classic pear-frangipane (almond cream) tart, with thick chocolate ganache spread over the pears on the baked tart.  It is one of those great desserts that manages to be both rustic and elegant at the same time.  So that’s what I wanted to make with my first batch of CSA pears.

Docking the dough

It turned out that we had a last-minute dinner invite that weekend, and, as usual, I volunteered to bring dessert.  (Nobody ever seems to mind being a dessert guinea pig.)  I started with a sweet version of the whole wheat pastry crust I raved about earlier this summer.  I parbaked it while poaching some pears in a mixture of white wine, water, sugar, lemon, and vanilla bean.

This smelled absolutely divine!

Prior to the pear prep, I was wishing I had a melon baller (ironic other name: Parisian scoop) for coring the pear halves.  After a few days searching came up fruitless, I realized that with pears as juicy and ripe as these, I could probably get away with using my teaspoon to core them.  And I was right.  Yay for multitasking kitchen tools!  The peeled and cored pear halves were then gently simmered for about 5 minutes, until they were completely tender.  I carefully removed them to a rack to drain.  (I saved the poaching liquid to use again.)

Poached pears all in a row.

Then I set about making the filling for the tart.  Traditionally, it is made with almond frangipane, but I thought that hazelnuts would be a delicious twist on the classic.  So I made hazelnut cream – a straightforward ratio of equal parts butter, sugar, hazelnut meal, and egg – instead.  I spread it into my baked, cooled tart shell, and sliced up the pears in order to fan them out in an attractive manner over the tart.  Like so: Read the rest of this entry »





One of a Pear

16 09 2009

Ye olde CSA panier has been keeping me flush in pears lately.  After doing it up one weekend with a tarte Belle-Hélène (stay tuned…) I wanted something simple the next.  With the weather starting to cool off, warm spices sounded like just the thing to enhance the luscious, buttery pears.  And the idea of putting them in a coffee cake made me anxious for the weekend.

Pears in the afternoon sun

Trying to decide on a coffee cake recipe, I was flipping through Ratio, wondering whether coffee cake was more like muffins or poundcake, when I caught a glimpse of Beyond Nose to Tail.  Remembering the rhubarb crumble cake I cooked from it last spring, I thought that recipe would be a good jumping-off point.  I changed it quite a bit, from the flour (self-raising?  come on, it’s not that hard to add baking powder and salt to flour) to the sugar (brown sugar and pears make each other happy) to the liquid (wanted to use crème fraîche – maybe I was out of milk, maybe I just wanted something richer, with a hint of tang) and even the scale (only two eggs in the house, plus my loaf pan is on the small side).  But in the end, the cake was delicious.  The texture was spot-on, with just a hint of heady spice to complement the sweet pears.  Breakfast was well worth the wait.

Spiced Pear Coffee Cake

 Spiced Pear Coffee Cake 

This cake is excellent with a cup of coffee, making it equally suited to breakfast and dessert.  It’s great on its own for breakfast or a snack.  For dessert, dress it up a little: lightly toast slices of cake and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.

For the pears:
350g / 12.5 oz. pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1 Tbsp. raw sugar (turbinado or cassonade)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Squeeze of lemon juice (to keep the pears from going brown)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and let marinate while you prepare the cake.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F.

For the streusel:
85g / 3 oz. all-purpose flour
65g / 2¼ oz. unsalted butter, cold, cubed
40g / 1½ oz. brown sugar
20g / ¾ oz. almond meal (or just use that much more flour)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Hefty pinch of fine sea salt

  1. Mix all ingredients in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment until a clumpy dough forms.  Alternatively, you can rub in the butter with your fingers.

For the cake:
105g / 3¾ oz. cake flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. fine sea salt
85g / 3 oz. unsalted butter, softened
45g / 1½ oz. brown sugar
40g / 1½ oz. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
35g / 1¼ oz. crème fraîche or sour cream

  1. Did you remember to preheat the oven?  Also, butter a 23cm / 9” loaf pan and line the bottom and long sides with parchment paper.  (Bonus tip: if you leave some paper hanging over the sides of the pan, it is super easy to pull out the baked cake!)
  2. Sift together the cake flour, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Cream the butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between additions.  The mixture may look a little broken, but don’t worry.  Beat in the vanilla.
  4. Add half of the sifted flour and give it a couple of quick stirs.  Mix in the crème fraîche, then the rest of the flour, stirring just to combine.
  5. Spread half of the cake batter (it will be fairly thick) in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan.  Top with half the pears and half the streusel.  Repeat.
  6. Bake about an hour, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking.  When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, the cake is done.  Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then take it out to finish cooling (you may need to loosen the non-papered ends with a knife).  Serve warm or at room temperature. 
  7. Wrap any leftover cake in foil.  It will keep about two days.

Makes 1 loaf, serving about 6.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fromages de Brebis Corses

14 09 2009

Friday afternoon, I went on a cheese hunt.  It took me deep into the 20th arrondissement, to Place Gambetta.  The area is full of neat regional specialty shops, and the rue des Pyrénées, in particular, is a great place to do some food shopping.  Within two minutes’ walk from the bus stop, I found two excellent fromageries that carried Corsican cheeses.  At the first, François Priet, I picked up a wedge of tomme Corse – a firm cheese with small holes and a gnarly-looking rind.

Tomme Corse

I’m pretty sure that kind of rind is caused by cheese mites.  So I cut it off, and the cheese underneath is outstanding.  It has the distinct tang of sheep’s milk (Corsica being essentially a mountain, sheep and goats are more suited to the terrain than cattle, and all Corsican cheese is made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or a blend of the two) with an earthy, mushroomy, savory richness to back it up.  Thank you, cheese mites!

A little further up the hill, I came to  La Cave aux Fromages.  This tiny, odoriferous shop has an impressive selection of Corsican and other lesser-known French cheeses.  I honed in on the A Filetta, another sheep’s cheese, but completely different from the first.  I was attracted to it by the fern leaf atop the pale orange washed rind, and by the way it looked like it would ooze all over if you let it come up to room temperature.

A Filetta

Upon unwrapping it, Nick exclaimed, “That cheese smells.  Like a cab driver.”  It did have a whiff of B.O. and gasoline, I suppose, but I’ve come to find many otherwise offensive smells don’t bother me when they’re coming from a cheese.  When I tasted it, the first words out of my mouth were, “It tastes like it smells.  But in a good way.”  Definitely strong, definitely one of the more pungent cheeses I’ve had in some time.  Nick was less impressed.  So I probably won’t be running out to buy another half-wheel of A Filetta anytime soon, though I certainly wouldn’t turn it down.  That tomme Corse, on the other hand, may just end up in the regular rotation.

After a few months of vacation, Chez Loulou’s Fête du Fromage event is back!  I’m sending this post her way, so be sure to check out the International cheese roundup over there on the 15th (that’s Tuesday).

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Corn Chowdah

12 09 2009

Corn showed up in the CSA panier a couple of weeks ago.  I was excited and wary.  Excited because yay, corn!  Wary because the few ears of cob corn I’ve had in France have been unpalatably starchy.  So before even tasting it I devised a plan.  Corn chowder.  That way I could extract the flavor from the cobs, while the chopped, cooked kernels would have less of a chance to be offensive when combined in a creamy soup with bacon and potatoes.  (How do you make anything taste good?  Bacon and potatoes.)

Corned cream

Fortunately, when I cut the corn kernels from the cob and tasted one, I was rewarded with the crisp crunch of sweet corn.  Hooray!  No animal feed for us tonight!  I reserved the kernels for later and put the halved cobs in a pot with a little cream (okay, a lot of cream), a bay leaf,  and a few sprigs of thyme harvested from my windowbox garden.  I brought it up to a simmer, then covered it and lowered the heat so the cobs and herbs could really infuse the cream with their flavors.

The start of a delicious chowder

As we all know, a good chowder always starts with bacon.  Potatoes are another must-have.  Keeping it simple, I rendered some lardons while dicing potatoes, then threw the potatoes on top of the bacon and tossed to coat the cubes of potato in bacon fat.  I cooked them like that for a few minutes, then added a little white wine and water to cover.  Salt, pepper, and 10 minutes of simmering later, the potatoes were tender and tasty.  Time to strain the corned cream into the pot and add the reserved corn kernels.  Back up to a simmer for another couple of minutes to heat the corn through, and dinner was good to go.

Summery, yet hearty soup

Simple, classic, and great for those first few chilly nights of the changing season.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Corsican Summer and a Birth Announcement

9 09 2009

In an attempt to prolong the summer – I’ve been getting some great little poires Williams (Bartlett pears) in the CSA panier for the last couple of weeks, and their appearance has made me wistful – this month we will be visiting the cuisine of Corsica.  This Mediterranean island has changed hands many times over the years, belonging at various times to the Romans, Goths, and Berbers, just to name a few, but has belonged to France since the reign of Louis XV in the mid-eighteenth century.  Strangely, Corsica, despite its being situated in the middle of the sea, doesn’t have much of a seafood tradition.  No, the Corsicans embrace the mountain on which they live, and instead of fishing, grow grapevines along the coast.

Corsican red wines are made from a few different grapes: Nielluccio (alias Sangiovese in Italy), Vermentino,  and the unique Sciacarello, which makes wines that are light in color but bold in flavor.  They also produce some very flavorful and refreshing rosés, perfect for the last few of summer’s sultry evenings.

It's all Mediterranean Food

This red prompted Nick to ask, “Why isn’t Corsica part of Italy?”  Mainly because its juicy character was distinctly reminiscent of Chianti (and it could well be the same grape).  So I whipped up a quick pasta sauce featuring tomatoes and zucchini from the panier – they haven’t started sending us winter squash just yet – and we enjoyed a Mediterranean island-inspired dinner.

Speaking of the panier, and seasonal produce and menus, it’s time for the birth announcement!  Croque-Camille has spawned a mini-blog dedicated to the weekly bounty of the CSA, along with ideas about how to use it.  True, I’m located in Paris, but the seasonal availability should be pretty similar across the Northern Hemisphere (those of you in the Southern hemisphere will just have to wait about six months).  So hop on over to Seasonal Market Menus: A Dispatch from Croque-Camille’s Kitchen, and get inspired!  I’m also putting an RSS widget for the new baby blog in my sidebar, so you can keep up to date on both blogs at once.  Enjoy!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.
Sciacarello Grapes on Foodista





A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear

7 09 2009

Back in the States, Nick and I have some friends from New York who turned us on to the slurpy, mouth-burning delicacy that is xiao long bao.  For the uninitiated, xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, are a specialty of Shanghai.  Intricately folded dumpling wrappers enclose a bit of seasoned meat and a gush of rich soup.  They’re supposed to be an appetizer, but the four of us would usually get two or three orders apiece and call it dinner.  Every other blog post I’ve read about soup dumplings claims that they’re something you just have to try at least once in your life.  I’m not going to tell you that, because if a steamed dumpling filled with a mouthful of meaty broth, served with vinegar, ginger, and chili oil doesn’t sound good to you, who am I to try and change your mind?  Just leaves more for me.

So thick, you can stand a spoon in it!

We visited said friends in June in their new hometown, San Francisco.  They had done some research and had a list of soup dumpling places to try, a quest in which Nick and I were more than willing to participate.  The ones we got at a restaurant were only okay, but the ones we bought freshly made to cook at home were outstanding.  More importantly, the whole adventure reminded Nick and I how much we love soup dumplings, and we vowed to redouble our efforts to find a good source in Paris once we returned home.

Pork dumpling filling

Browsing the aisles at my favorite Asian supermarket, Paris Store, I glanced into the frozen dumpling case and what did I see?  Xiao long bao, or “raviolis de Shanghai” (ravioli being the term the French have adopted to describe anything wrapped in dough).  The frosty dumplings in the bag looked like about the right shape, so I bought them, and a bamboo steamer that miraculously fit perfectly over my saucepan.  Sadly, the dumplings were not what we were looking for.  The filling is mostly meat, with just a hint of juiciness as a nod to the soup that’s supposed to be there.  Good, but not the soup dumplings we crave.

The right soup-to-meat ratio

Walking down the rue de Belleville one night, Nick and I spotted a little hole-in-the-wall with a sign that said “Restaurant Raviolis.”  Needless to say, we went there for dinner at the first opportunity.  The menu consists of about a dozen types of soup and a dozen types of dumpling.  We ordered three kinds of dumplings (shrimp, chicken, and pork), and two bowls of soup (duck for me, pork rib for Nick).  The food was delivered quickly, and smelled great.  But none of the dumplings looked like they contained any soup.  We asked the waitress if they made xiao long bao, explaining that we were looking for a dumpling with soup inside, and she said she had never heard of such a thing.  Disappointed, we turned to our soups, which brightened our spirits considerably.  The broth was extremely flavorful, and the rustic-looking noodles had a great texture.  It was then that an older woman came out of the back and began rolling dough on a long table.  We watched, slurping our soup greedily, as she hand rolled and cut a new batch of noodles.  Despite the place’s distinct lack of décor or atmosphere, we will definitely be going back for more of those handmade noodles.

But the soup dumpling jones was getting stronger.

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Rentrée Blues

1 09 2009

Once again, it’s official.  La rentrée is upon us once more, and my days as la cheffe are up.  Having lost the responsibility is worse than never having had it, because now I have a better idea of how I would run things, and I find myself getting annoyed when le chef doesn’t do them that way.  But it’s not just in the kitchen.  All over Paris, people seem a bit down – it’s always hard going back to the routine after whiling away the long summer days on vacation.  Trust me, I know.  My rentrée was at the beginning of July.

Foodwise, the end of summer always heralded blueberries for me, growing up in the Pacific Northwest where berry season comes pretty late.  So when I saw piles of blueberries at the market a couple of weeks ago, I had to buy some.  And following a disaster (well, ok, not disaster, but less-than-satisfactory outcome) involving Ruhlman’s muffin ratio, I wanted to give him a chance to redeem himself.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Hopie tagged mewith this surprisingly addictive game: find seven blue objects in your house (although I see no reason not to expand the field of view) and do a little show-and-tell.  Like Hope, I decided to focus on my kitchen, seeing as this is a food blog, but now that my eye is trained to scan for blue things, I can’t stop!  Everywhere I go, I’m looking for seven blue items!  Hopefully posting this will purge that impulse.

The very first thing that comes to mind when I ask myself, “what’s blue in my kitchen?” is my beloved Emile Henry ceramicware.

I am inordinately pleased that my dishes match.

From soufflé-type desserts, to custards, to portioning out peanuts for snacking, the ramekins certainly get a workout.  As does the oval gratin dish, especially in the colder months, with treats like tartiflette, ham-wrapped endives, stuffed cabbage, and even the occasional gratin benefiting from the large exposed surface to get browned and crisp.  Quiches, tarts, and sometimes casseroles keep the fluted round dish busy.

A peek into the fridge revealed this:

Yay for homemade dressing!  And reusing containers!

Homemade bleu cheese dressing, made with the end of a wedge of bleu d’Auvergne, a pot of yogurt, and some chopped green onions.

You can see from that last photo that I reused/repurposed the crème fraîche container.  Yes, I am a card-carrying tree-hugger, as evidenced by the next couple of blue things:

Why is the GREENpeace brochure blue? 

Time to take out the trash... er, recycling.

A brochure from Greenpeace about harmful fishing practices (honestly, though, I think a brochure about which fish I CAN eat is more useful than one outlining the ones I shouldn’t eat); and my (rather full, but since emptied) recycling bins.

Are we having fun yet?  There is still the matter of that muffin recipe…

Read the rest of this entry »








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