Les Flots – La Rochelle

27 05 2010

What's that guy on the left doing?

Last weekend was the last of the May holidays in France.  (Usually, there are four long weekends in May.  This year, we got the short end of the stick, with two of those holidays falling on Saturdays.  Still, France in May is a sweet place to be.)  Nick and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit La Rochelle, a port city on the western coast of France, just south of Brittany and just north of Bordeaux.  We spent Saturday evening on the nearby Ile de Ré, eating crêpes and mussels and watching the soccer match with some friends.  Alec Lobrano describes the Ile de Ré as a French Nantucket, and while I’ve never been to Nantucket, the comparison seems apt.  Sunday we took a drive into the surrounding countryside, stopping at an archeological site and an abbey before lunching in Cognac.  Afterward, we took an interesting tour of the Otard distillery, housed in the castle where François 1er was born.  Sadly, the cognac tasting at the end of the tour was a bit of a let-down.  Fortunately, we had the anticipation of dinner at Les Flots, back in La Rochelle, to boost our sagging spirits (pun intended).

Oooh, shiny.

Les Flots (meaning: the deep, or the sea) is helmed by Grégory Coutanceau, a chef whose father and brother run La Rochelle’s most highly-regarded seafood restaurants, the eponymously named Coutanceau.  He’s got the restaurant business in his blood, and it shows.  After taking a leisurely apéritif on the lively rue de la Chaîne, Nick and I made our way to the restaurant to meet with two friends for dinner.

beautiful seeded bread

I was immediately impressed by the casual elegance of the dining area, including the outdoor patio, where we were seated.  With the medieval Tour de la Chaîne in the background, I admired the modern silvery-edged chargers and beachy hurricane lanterns on the table.  Even the bread was artfully presented in its basket, and the butter was served at spreading temperature.  (There are few things that irk me more than ice-cold, rock-hard butter in a restaurant, because there’s really no excuse.  If I were a Michelin reviewer, any place that served cold butter would lose a star immediately.)

Savory cake, herbed crème fraîche

In addition to the bread, a small plate with four tiny slices of sun-dried tomato-anchovy bread and a cup of herbed crème fraîche was placed on the table for us to nibble while making our menu and wine list decisions.  Which took a while, because that wine list is a tome.  We decided on the 39 euro Menu du Marché, and I chose a bottle of white Burgundy, which turned out to be astoundingly good for the price – only 32 euros!
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It’s About Time!

20 05 2010

For all my moaning about the lack of cheeseburgers in Paris, I’ve never written a single post about them.  Sure, I’ve gone out for them a few times, but they tend to be either outrageously expensive, downright mediocre, or both.  But the fact is they are not really a difficult menu item to come by in Paris – in fact, just last Sunday the brunch special at the café downstairs from my apartment was a bacon cheeseburger with a coffee and a fresh-squeezed orange juice.  For eighteen euros.  Now, the dollar is getting stronger and everything, but that still seems pretty steep.  That cheeseburger sounded mighty good, though.

burger patties, handmade by Nick

So what happened?  Well, I ventured a little further down the street, to my nearest Turkish butcher/convenience store and the closest open vegetable shop and picked up everything I needed to make some top-notch burgers, as well as some chicken and vegetables for dinner, for less than the cost of one brunch special.

Steaming and sizzling

As delectable as that bacon cheeseburger sounded, bacon (and cheddar, for that matter) is a bit thin on the ground in this neighborhood on Sunday afternoons, what with the French butchers being closed and the Muslim ones not so into swine.  The consolation prize was mushroom-swiss burgers.  (Although, strangely, the Emmenthal was hard to find, too.  If I’d wanted a feta burger, I’d have been all set.  Note to self.)

White on white on white

Nick and I have been known to make burgers from time to time.  He makes the patties, mixing the ground beef with Worcestershire sauce and whatever else strikes his fancy – onions, cumin, herbs – and I make brioche for the buns.  This time, what with the last-minute craving, there was no time to wait for dough to rise.  So we made our burgers on thick slices of “Turkish bread.” It’s a big, soft loaf sold at all the Turkish stores on our street, and is extremely reminiscent of the “French” or “Italian” bread sold at most American supermarkets.  We grated the cheese for maximum meltability, and spooned sautéed mushrooms over the cheese piled on the bread.  then came the burgers themselves, and a quick toast in the oven.

Mushroom-Swiss Burger

Obviously, we served them with plenty of ketchup, and washed them down with Cola Turka.  Yeah, nothing like cooking the American classics in Paris.

On this day in 2009: The Basque Cheeses That Shall Remain Nameless

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Beefy Caponata Baked Penne

15 05 2010

So there I was, standing in front of a 2-for-1 organic Italian pasta display, when my phone rang.  It was Nick, and he, like me, had no idea what he wanted for dinner.  Except that given the unseasonable cold and rain, it had to be warm and hearty.  The words “pasta bake” came out of my mouth, and were enthusiastically received.  I grabbed two boxes of penne, and when I looked up, I was faced with jars of Sicilian caponata.  Hmmm… eggplant, olives, capers, onions, tomato… that sound pretty good.  The jar was halfway to the basket when I decided I’d rather make it myself, fresh.  Many circles through the grocery store later (it’s an adjustment getting used to a new supermarket, too), my basket filled to the brim with pasta, eggplants, canned tomatoes, ground beef, a jar of green olives, a block of mozzarella, a container of ricotta, and a couple bottles of chianti, I made my way home under increasingly gray skies.

Browning

I arrived home and started cooking immediately. What better way to warm up a chilly apartment?  I browned the beef in olive oil, then threw in some chopped onion.  Next came a few cloves of garlic and two small eggplants, diced and lightly salted and drained.  When everything was nice and brown and roast-y smelling, I deglazed the Dutch oven with a splash of the aforementioned chianti, scraped up the tasty fond, and poured in the tomato products and a canful of water.

Meanwhile, I whisked the ricotta, an egg, and some cream with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

"Alfredo"

When the beefy eggplant sauce was nearly done (that is to say, reduced but still a bit watery so as to finish cooking the parcooked pasta in the oven), I roughly chopped some olives and added them to the mix.  Then I quickly boiled a pot of water (yay induction!) and cooked the penne for about five minutes.  (If I didn’t have the stupid induction top, I could definitely have been doing these things simultaneously.  It’s a mixed blessing.)  I drained the still-slightly-crunchy pasta and poured the ricotta concoction into the empty pot.  I stirred in about half of the eggplant sauce, then the pasta and some mozzarella cubes.  This was then divided between two baking dishes (if you’re going to make something like this, it really doesn’t take any more tie to make two, and then you have an emergency dinner just waiting in the freezer) and topped with the remaining red sauce.  More mozzarella cubes and a grating of Parm finished them off.

One for now, one for later

Both got covered in foil, and one went straight into the oven.  The other I left to cool a bit before freezing for a future dinner.  After 30 minutes in the oven, I took off the foil and let the top get toasty.

Browned and delicious

And let me tell you, tucking into the gooey, beefy, steaming hot bowl did wonders for my outlook.  I mean, if cold, gray days mean food like this, who am I to complain?

On this day in 2008: How to Make Vinaigrette

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Pseudo-Ranch

10 05 2010

Or if you’re feeling fancy, call it buttermilk-shallot dressing.  It seems obvious to say, but when you live abroad, you get cravings from time to time for a taste of home.  Case in point: Nick came home last night with a gorgeous piece of paleron (known in English, I think, as top blade steak).  He’d been looking for bavette (skirt steak) because he had a hankering for some carne asada.  But he saw the paleron and it was so beautiful that he had to buy it instead.  I was a little concerned, because I was pretty sure that paleron is more of a braising cut, we were planning on going to the movies, and I didn’t want it to be too late of a night, it being Sunday and all.

Upon inspection, the meat did indeed look like it would grill or sear up nicely, so I put my fears aside and covered it in a rub composed of salt and three kinds of chili powder (guajillo, pasilla, and california, for those who want to know).  I suggested making sandwiches out of the steak once it was cooked, to which Nick was amenable.  (Lest you think that he just brings things home and expects me to cook them, I feel that I should note that while I was preparing dinner, he was building and installing a medicine cabinet, so in the end, we both win.)

We definitely wanted salad with our beefy sandwiches, so I washed and tore some lettuce, thinking that I already had some vinaigrette in the fridge that I could use.  But then it occurred to me that I also had a carton of buttermilk, and wouldn’t ranch dressing be so much more appropriate with our tortas than a French-y vinaigrette?  I mentally went through the ingredients for ranch dressing, and the only thing I was missing was parsley.  I decided it wasn’t totally necessary, and added a little shallot instead, because I like shallots, and because I have a bit of a surplus of them at the moment.

So, dressing, salad, ready.  Cook steak to medium-rare (more practice with the induction stove).  Meanwhile, stir some chipotle sauce into mayonnaise and jalapeno sauce into mustard.  Slice meat, pile on bread slathered with condiments.  Bring extra dressing to the table, you’ll probably need it.  We had it on Sunday, but this would be an ideal weeknight dinner.

Buttermilk-Shallot Dressing

Also known as “pseudo-ranch,” this dressing is a nice change from typical vinaigrettes, and is particularly complimentary to American Southwestern-inspired meals.  To turn it into “real” ranch dressing, omit the shallot and add a Tablespoon or so of chopped fresh parsley.

1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 small shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
A couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce
A dash of Tabasco (optional)
½ cup / 120 ml buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the ingredients in a small bowl.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  This gets better as it sits, so if you can make it an hour ahead of time, so much the better.  Serve over salad greens.

Makes enough for about 4 side salads or two big ones.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Housewarming Harissa Chicken and Rice

6 05 2010

Moving house always shakes up the routine.  Starting a few weeks before the move, Nick and I tried to concentrate on eating up what we had in the fridge and pantry, to reduce the amount of stuff that had to be packed as much as possible.  I stopped getting the CSA share for a few weeks, and moved into a kitchen where there was no oven (there is now), a half-size fridge (getting replaced with a big one on Saturday, normalement), and two (only two!!!) induction burners, which have taken some getting used to.

Of course the days surrounding the move were fueled mostly by quick meals, some (Restaurant Raviolis) better than others (Subway).  The morning after we moved, breakfast consisted of green tea and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  I’m telling you that because I think it’s hilarious, and because I think that anyone who’s ever moved a kitchen will understand.  For lunch that day we went to L’As du Fallafel, and dinner was at one of our new neighborhood’s sixty kajillion Indian places.  We had some very simple dinners the next couple of nights – tomato sauce with mushrooms over pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup – but soon the urge to cook came back.

Easy, fresh, and spicy!

It was fueled in part by this recipe for Spicy Citrus Shrimp I saw on The Kitchen Illiterate.  It sounded so easy, quick, and simple, and I’m always looking for excuses to bust out the harissa.  Plus, blood oranges were the weekly special at one of the fruit-and-vegetable shops down the street.  But moving can leave one feeling poor, and shrimp just sounded too rich for my blood.  So chicken it was.  I made a marinade using harissa, blood orange and lemon juice, garlic (my addition), salt, and olive oil.  I made just enough to coat the chicken, plus a little extra for saucy goodness further down the road.  Got some rice going, and grabbed a quick shower while it cooked (oh, the busy lives of Parisian pastry chefs). 

When I came back, cleaned and ready to sauté, I learned something about my new stove: if I try to put two pans on it at once, a) they don’t both fit comfortably, and b) the stove starts pulsing instead of delivering even heat.  I also learned that despite the fact that the control panel goes to 12 (which, by the way, boils a pot of water in under 3 minutes), the maximum total capacity is 20.  That means that if I have one burner on 12, the other can only go up to 8.  Having learned all this in the space of about 30 seconds, I dumped the chicken, sauce and all, in a screaming hot nonstick pan (brand new, because my old one didn’t play well – or at all – with the induction top) and savored the sweet-spicy aromas that came forth.  I added the rice and some baby spinach, stirred it all up, and scooped it into shallow bowls.  Pine nuts and juicy segments of blood orange became garnish.  Nick and I sat down to dinner, accompanied by a glass of something robust and red from the Languedoc, and for the first time since moving, really felt like we were home.

On this day in 2008: An Oasis for Tea

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





12 Hours in My Paris

3 05 2010

I’ve gotten requests to do this “12 hours in…” meme that made its way around the interwebs a while ago, but mostly just felt confounded by the enormity of the task when faced with only 12 hours in Paris.  If I wasn’t frantically packing, I’d probably end up with my nose buried in various guidebooks, trying to figure out the perfect day, only to find that once I had it planned, my 12 hours were up.  But my recent move (for those interested, the fridge gets delivered on Saturday, and maybe one of these days our bathroom will have a medicine cabinet and a door, all of which will go a long way towards making the new place feel like home) prompted me to give the 12 hours thing a second thought. 

Granted, we really only moved about half a mile away, but it feels very different over here in the heart of the 10th arrondissement.  Both neighborhoods have diverse immigrant populations, but while the old one was predominantly North African and Chinese, the new one has Turks and Indians.  The old street had a dozen butchers and at least twice that number of crappy clothing stores.  The new one is a veritable market street, with vegetable stands, a fromagerie/wine shop, and a handful of butchers and kebab shops taking the place of most of the cheap clothes.  Which is just fine with me.  But I still want to take you on a farewell tour of my old neighborhood, which centers on the Goncourt métro station and stretches its arms up into Belleville, down along the Canal St. Martin, and over a bit into the lively Oberkampf district.

So here we go… 10 am: Escargot pastries (basically croissant dough rolled up around various fillings and sliced to show off the spiral shape), chaussons aux pommes, and pain au chocolat-banane for breakfast at Du Pain et Des Idées.  Ideally, it’s sunny out, so I’ll eat at a bench along the canal, and then find a Velib’ to ride up the canal to the Bassin de la Villette.

Just try walking past here without succumbing to the mouthwatering aroma of roasting chickens.

12 noon: Make my way back home, stopping for a roast chicken from Boucherie Tizi Ouzou (the best), Boucherie d’Agadir (the friendliest), or Boucherie Djurdjura (if I’m in the mood to pay a little more for a poulet fermier).

1:30 pm: After devouring chicken (and potatoes, and hopefully some salad or fruit) chez moi, take a walk up to the Parc de Belleville to enjoy the flowers, people-watch, and take in the wonderful view of the city.

Parc de Bellville, in full bloom

3:30 pm: Wander further up the hill to the village-y Jourdain neighborhood.  Admire the St. Jean Baptiste church, the pastries in the window at the Pâtisserie de l’Eglise, and the smells emanating from the Boulangerie au 140 and the Fromagerie Beillevaire.

St. Jean Baptiste de Belleville

5 pm: Head back downhill, stopping for a drink (or two) on the terrasse of Aux Folies.  Look at the graffiti around the corner on rue Dénoyez.  And of course, more people-watching.

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