30 04 2008

Something about their boxes is just so appealing.

Well, I finally made it to Ladurée.  Open since 1862, Ladurée was Sofia Coppola’s choice for the sweet treats served in her film, Marie Antoinette.  The place is usually packed with tourists, but yesterday being rather gray and rainy, I thought I’d give it another shot.  There was still a line, of course, but at least it was all contained within the foyer of the small shop/tearoom on Rue Royale.  I decided to stick with the basics, and ordered a St. Honoré, a chocolate réligieuse, and a millefeuille praliné.

For photos and descriptions of how great (or not great) they were, read on…

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Fish Stock Use #2: Trout with Polenta

29 04 2008

We woke up on Sunday to a gloriously sunny morning, perfect for hunting and gathering at the market.  When we got down there, Nick spotted some trout and decided that was what he wanted for dinner.  We learned the French word for “gutted” or “cleaned”in reference to a fish: vidé, as in “emptied.”  Good to know.  But how to prepare it?  Sometimes I find it hard to make decisions like these at the market, with so much going on around me.  All the smells and sights and sounds cause me to go into sensory overload, and my brain kind of shuts down.  The only cure is to find a wine booth that gives out samples. 

Eventually, after wandering the aisles and perusing the wares, we came up with a goat cheese and piquillo pepper stuffed trout, served with fish stock polenta and tomato salad.  We thought the piquillo peppers would be easy to find at one of the Spanish/Portuguese specialty booths, but we were wrong.  At the first one, the conversation went something like this: (translations my own)

Me: (pointing to a bin of roasted peppers) Ces sont quel type de poivron? (What kind of peppers are these?)

Girl at counter: Buh… rouge.  (What are you color blind?  Red!)

Me: Ummm… je cherche les poivrons “piquillo.” Je ne connais pas le mot en français, je connais le mot espagnol. (I’m looking for piquillo peppers, I don’t know the French word, just the Spanish one.)

Guy at counter: Doyouspeakenglish?  English?

Me: Oui, mais… I’m looking for piquillo peppers.

Guy at counter: Hablas español? (Do you speak Spanish?)

Me: No.

And it went on like that.  Red is not a variety, people!  Anyway, we did end up finding some beautiful fresh peppers at one of the produce stands.  They smelled great, so we bought those to roast at home.  What were they called?  “Poivrons Rouges Espagnols.”  “Red Spanish Peppers.”   Arrrrgh!

Fresh roasted piquillo peppers

The tomatoes were no problem, as almost every stand had gorgeous coeur de boeuf  (beef heart) tomatoes.  Goat cheese was, of course, plentiful, but by the time we got around to looking for it, many of the booths had begun to close down.  We were turned down at one fromagier, where the woman told us the goat cheese was already put away.  End of story.  But we persevered, and found a nice little ball of fresh goat cheese at the Auvergnat cheese stand.

Coeurs de Boeuf

After all that, actually cooking the meal was a piece of cake.  I started with the tomato salad.  This is one of the easiest, tastiest things you can do with a tomato.  The better the tomato, the better the salad.  Just dice up some tomatoes, add sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a minced shallot, and some chopped fresh parsley.  Drizzle with good olive oil, toss, and serve at room temperature.

Easy, delicious tomato salad

On to the fish…

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Fish Stock Use #1: Seafood Risotto

28 04 2008

Almost as soon as I asked the question, “what should I do with leftover fish stock?” I had an answer for myself.  Shrimp risotto!  With some of those fresh spring mushrooms from the market, and maybe some peas… this is sounding good already!

Since I already had the stock, and arborio rice, I just needed to pick up my fresh ingredients at the market.  I got leeks and parsley with no problem.  I was tempted by the fresh morel mushrooms, but chose the more economical (yet still exquisitely tasty) girolles.  Then I hit the fishmonger.  Only cooked shrimp.  Ok, I’ll just go to the next one.  Only cooked shrimp.  Next?  Same.  Well, I’m headed to Montmartre later, and I know of a market street there, I’ll check the fishmonger up there.  Guess what?  Only cooked shrimp.  Fine, I’ll get langoustines instead.  Life is hard sometimes.

My delicious shrimp stand-ins

I boiled them alive, like the mini-lobsters they are, in some fish stock.  Now I had langoustine-fortified stock for the risotto (skip this step if you’re afraid of flavor).

Contrary to popular belief, risotto is not difficult to make, nor does it require hours of hovering over the stove, stirring constantly.  There are five basic steps in risotto making.  I learned them in Italian, so that is how I will share them with you.

All my risotto secrets revealed, after the jump.

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25 04 2008

It’s chow-dah! Say it right!

Earlier in the week, before the sun came out, it seemed the right kind of weather for some New England clam chowder.  Just to underscore the point, Mother Nature decided to dump rain on me while I was at the market shopping for the ingredients.  But I was not to be deterred.  I managed to procure the necessities, including a salmon carcass with which to make fish stock.

I know, you’re not supposed to use salmon for fish stock.  Well, I had originally intended to just buy a few fish scraps for the cat, but the fishmonger(ess) informed me that she only sold scraps in 3 euro lots.  I didn’t want nearly that much, so when she offered up the salmon carcass, I took it.  The cat wasn’t nearly as excited about her gift as I had hoped*, so I was left wondering what to do with the majority of this salmon carcass.  (Don’t worry, I cut the salmon into pieces before trying to give it to the cat – what I gave her, she kept, and the rest stayed clean.)  Then it dawned on me that I could use it to make stock for the clam chowder instead of using my precious chicken stock.  Personally, I think the fish stock made with salmon came out just fine.  I had to skim a little more than usual, but no more than your average chicken stock.

Stock at the ready, I began the preparations for the chowder.  All good chowders start with bacon, at least in my house.  So I cut a few slices of smoked bacon into small pieces and set them in a saucepan over low heat to render.  I put in a little butter to help it get going, because, as one of my chef-instructors used to say, “a little bit of butter helps the bacon fat go down.”

Rendering bacon

While the bacon cooked, I steamed the clams in a little fish stock.

Steamed clams

I reserved the resulting clam juice-enriched liquid to use in the chowder.  When the bacon was getting nice and crisp, I added a diced onion to the pot and scraped the bottom to pick up the fond.

Bacon and onions - the basis of a great chowder

Once the onions were beginning to soften, I added a minced garlic clove and a pinch of flour.  I stirred these around until the garlic was aromatic and the flour evenly coated everything.  Next I whisked in the fish stock (to ensure there would be no lumps of flour in the final dish) and added some diced potatoes.  I put in some fresh thyme and a bay leaf and brought the whole mess up to a simmer.

Only missing one thing...

When the potatoes were tender, about 15 minutes later, I added the clam meat and stirred in some cream.  I fished out the bay leaf, adjusted the seasoning, and served the chowder with bread and a Riesling from Alsace.  (Bacon and potatoes being staples of the Alsatian diet, plus the bottle said the wine went well with seafood.  Sounds like a good match to me.)

Clam chowder supper

If you look closely at the spoon, you can see Nick taking this photo, as well as the awesome exposed beams in the ceiling.  At any rate, it was a hearty and satisfying meal.  Now, does anyone have any suggestions as to what I should do with all this leftover fish stock?

*She did, however, love the couple bites of clam Nick gave her.

Gérard Mulot

24 04 2008

Last weekend, as we were making our way home from a trip to the Carnavalet Museum (we just had to find out how the revolution turned out for Louis XVI) we stumbled upon Gérard Mulot’s shop just off the Place des Vosges.  I had heard about Mulot from a number of reliable sources, so when Nick suggested we go in and try it, I wasn’t about to say no.

Mulot\'s case - left

Mulot\'s case - right

Luckily, there was a line inside, which gave me time to peruse the offerings at my leisure.  I immediately noticed that the chocolate éclair was made with chocolate pâte à choux.  Brilliant!  Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?  Obviously, we had to get one of those.  But what else to choose?  At first I was attracted by the individual St. Honoré (top photo, left), then tempted by the promise of chocolate and raspberry in the Sortilège (bottom photo, second from right), then drawn in by the Saint Gilles (bottom photo, third from right).  I told Nick I was going to ask what was in it, and if it was caramel, that’s what we were getting.  Well, it was, and we did.

We stepped outside and opened the box to get a closer look at our purchases.

Saint Gilles and Chocolate Eclair from Gérard Mulot

We gazed at the storefront as we devoured the éclair.

Pâtisserie Gérard Mulot

Yeah, we got all the way across the street before tearing into it.  It was a good éclair, with real chocolate glaze on top and plenty of creamy chocolate filling.  I’m not sure if the chocolate pâte à choux actually made that much of a flavor difference, but eating an entirely chocolate éclair just feels so decadent!

We managed to wait until after dinner to try the Saint Gilles.  The chocolate garnish looked cool, but was unnecessary in terms of flavor.  The dessert was composed of a cone of caramel mousse which surrounded a filling of spiced peaches on a pecan toffee base.  The toffee had a nice crunch to it, and the peaches added a welcome flavor contrast to the creamy caramel mousse.

I like the way Mulot has taken some liberties with traditional pastries while retaining their integrity and palatability.  (By which I mean, there wasn’t anything that was weird for the sake of being weird.)  It all made sense, but none of it was boring.  I’m going to have to go back and see what he’s done with the St. Honoré.


23 04 2008

…And, we’re back!

The Stohrer Storefront

Stohrer is the oldest continually operating pastry shop in Paris.  It was started by Nicolas Stohrer, a Polish pastry chef who came to France with Marie Leszczynska (don’t ask me how to pronounce that), the daughter of King Stanislas of Poland, when she married King Louis XV of France in 1725.  In 1730, Stohrer opened up his own shop in the very location where it stands today.  He is credited with inventing the Rum Baba.

Window display at Stohrer

One look at the magnificent croquembouche in the window tells you that this is still a pastry shop fit for a king.  It has been under the leadership of François Duthu and Pierre Liénard since 1986, and they are clearly upholding the standard set by the shop’s founder.

Stohrer case - left

Stohrer case - right

Just look at all that beautiful pastry!  In addition, behind me there was an array of savory dishes: pâté en croûte, salads, quiches, and so on.  It was hard enough to choose, so I focused on the sweet side of the shop to help narrow my options.  I decided on a chocolate éclair, chocolate mousse cup, and an orange tart.  When I got up to the register to pay, I noticed a freezer case full of house-made ice cream, but resisted the temptation this time.  (It helped that I had forgotten my shopping bag that day and my hands were getting full.)  I managed to get it all home and even wait until after dinner to taste…

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Technical Difficulties

22 04 2008

So I’ve been trying to put up a post about the Stohrer pâtisserie for the last two days, and can’t get any pictures uploaded.  I think it’s a problem with the hosting site.  They recently changed their posting editor and seem to be having a host of problems.  In the meantime, I put up a new page (which I’ve been meaning to do for a while now) with a list of the kitchen utensils I think are important to own.  And some that are nice to have.

In happier news, I found a huge Asian supermarket today, after I had almost given up on finding Thai red curry paste.  It’s called Paris Store, and they have everything from giant sacks of rice to dragonfruit to Thai curry paste (red, green, AND yellow).

Yesterday I found an Asian restaurant supply store (it’s like I have some kind of internal compass) where I got 500 grams of China Gunpowder green tea for 2.29!  They also have humungous stockpots, carafes, houndstooth pants, and sake serving sets, just to name a few.

Hope to be back tomorrow with pictures of beautiful pastries!

Polenta, Two Ways

18 04 2008

I recently discovered a number of shops nearby which sell beans, grains, and so on in bulk from large sacks.  Apart from the quaintness of it all, you can get some really cheap staples as well as some cool, harder-to-find items.  I had been harboring a latent polenta hankering for a while, and when I walked into the first of these shops (which also happened to have the smallest selection, it turns out) I was struck by the variety of different sizes available for each grain.  Not only is the polenta at the grocery store expensive, it’s downright powdery.  I prefer a coarser grind, both for flavor and texture.   So I was delighted to find a range of different cornmeal grinds.  I bought two bags, one very coarse, one medium.

The dish I had in mind was an Italian-style braised chicken with spring vegetables, namely fennel.  I got some cheap chicken leg quarters from a butcher and brought them home to cook.

Browning the chicken

The first step in any good braise is to get the meat nice and brown to build up the fond.  Once my chicken legs were deeply bronzed on both sides, I moved them to a plate to cool so I could remove the skin.  (Chicken skin makes for some tasty fond, but you don’t want all that extra grease in your final dish.)  I added sliced onion and fennel to the still hot pan and used the moisture released to scrape up the browned bits.

Sweating the vegetables

I also added salt, pepper, fresh thyme, and dried oregano to the pot.  While the vegetables softened, I went about the slippery task of removing the skin from the chicken leg quarters.  Once they had been denuded I returned them to the pot, along with a can of diced tomatoes, some red wine, and water to just about cover everything.

Braising the chicken

There were probably a couple cloves of garlic and a bay leaf thrown in somewhere along the way.  I partially covered the pot and turned the heat to low to let it simmer while I cleaned up the mess I had made so far and got the polenta going.  The beauty of braising chicken is that it takes about half as long as pork or beef, so you can have a really flavorful stew in about an hour and a half.

For the polenta I followed the recipe I’ve been using since culinary school.  Cream, stock, salt, white pepper, polenta.  I chose the medium polenta because I was hungry and figured it would cook faster.

Perfect polenta, every time.

While the polenta was simmering, I removed the chicken from the pot and pulled the meat off the bones.  This didn’t take much effort, as the chicken was nice and tender by this point.  I also reduced a little balsamic vinegar on the stove and stirred that into the stew with the chicken pieces.

This is really just a variation on a recipe I often make in the winter, with Swiss chard added at the end and no fennel.  It came out every bit as good as I had hoped, and was the perfect meal for a rainy evening.

Braised Chicken and Fennel with Soft Polenta

But I still had plenty of polenta…

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Les Fernandises

17 04 2008

Last Friday I had the pleasure of dining in a charming little bistro, Les Fernandises.  From the moment we walked in the door, the place felt inviting and homey, and the entire staff were welcoming and friendly.  The food was delicious and inexpensive – only 19.50 for a three-course dinner!  The only fault this place has (if it can be considered a fault) is that the light was dim, and got dimmer as the night went on.  Which is my way of apologizing in advance for the quality of the pictures.


The meal began with an amuse-gueule of croutons(French for crostini) and roasted garlic spread.  The salt was unnecessary.  If you like roasted garlic, and I do, this was a winner.  Simple and enjoyable.

Wild Mushroom Crème Brûlée   Terrines Maison

Next came the appetizers.  There were three of us dining, but two of us got the mushroom crème brûlée (top photo).  There was no question that I was ordering it as soon as I saw it on the menu.  I love mushrooms, I love crème brûlée, how could I not love this?  And I did love it.  The top was crisp and freshly caramelized, as any good crème brûlée should be.  The custard was savory and smooth, and had a satisfyingly high ratio of sautéed wild mushrooms baked into it.  Delicious.

The terrines maison, or house-made terrines (bottom photo), were also impressive.  Three different terrines – one fresh and herbal, one studded with hazelnuts, and one straight-up pâté de campagne–  each distinct and well-prepared, were served on a single plate, garnished with cornichons and tomatoes.

For the main course, we each chose something different.  I had the thon à la basquaise:

Thon à la Basquaise

A seared hunk of tuna over a bed of rice with a tomato and pepper sauce.  The tuna was a little more cooked than I would have liked, but otherwise the dish was good.

Chorizo Pasta

Nick opted for the chorizo pasta.  Simple – chorizo and tomatoes with pasta in a creamy sauce – but well executed and quite tasty.  He cleaned his plate.


Our friend went with the duck confit with duck-fat potatoes.  Again, simple but delectable.  I mean, who doesn’t like a good duck-fat roasted potato?

By the time dessert rolled around, the place was too dark for any photography to succeed, but the vibe was convivial and fun.  We got two desserts for the three of us to share, the nicely done tiramisu and the surprisingly good pineapple skewers.  The tiramisu was just right: light sponge cake with creamy (but not overly so) mascarpone filling.  For the skewers, big, juicy chunks of pineapple were grilled (or broiled) to perfection, allowing the sweetness of the fresh pineapple to punctuate its deeply caramelized exterior.  A great finish to this delightful Southwestern (French Southwestern, that is) meal.

A note to anyone who ends up dining here: at the end of the meal, they will offer you a tiny glass of sweet liqueur (I think it’s chestnut) as a digestif.  They may leave the bottle on the table.  They may encourage you to drink it all.  Don’t.

Au Levain du Marais

16 04 2008

I went to check out a market in my new neighborhood yesterday.  I had 10 euros to spend and my list was not too long, so browsing around after I had gotten what I needed I stumbled upon a fromagier  who had little (4-5 inches in diameter) rounds of lait cru Camembert.  They were 2.80 and I had about 3 euros left over, so I figured it was a sign.

Returning home with my market bounty, I realized that I didn’t have any bread in the house.  I’ve been meaning to check out Au Levain du Marais, a boulangerie just around the corner from my apartment.  (Well, one of their locations is – I think they have 3 or 4 in total.)  I didn’t have any more cash, and naturally my bank doesn’t have any ATMs within a half a mile, but I figured if I spent enough I could use my bank card.  So under the guise of research (hey, I’ve got to find somewhere I want to work in the event that Pierre Hermé has enough help) I bought a baguette tradition, two croissants for breakfast this morning, a coffee éclair, and a millefeuille.  Of course it turns out they don’t take cards, so I grudgingly spent the coins I had been hoarding for the laundromat.

I don’t regret it.  As it has become a habit, I tore off the quignon and took a bite.  Nice crusty exterior, with a chewy, big-holed crumb.  I couldn’t wait to try it with the camembert.

Good bread, great cheese, what more can you ask for?

The cheese was amazing.  Rich and almost bacony in flavor, with a sweet, oniony tang.  If quiche lorraine was a cheese, this would be it.  Fantastic.  I will never buy pasteurized Camembert again, if I can help it.

The éclair, which I neglected to photograph, was unremarkable.  The choux was good, but the glaze was the overly sweet fondant one finds on WAY too many pastries in this town, and the custard filling tasted too eggy and felt overcooked.

We may have overindulged on our pre-dinner bread and cheese (who could blame us?) so we ended up saving the millefeuille for breakfast as well.  I heated up the croissants in the oven (travesty, I know, but I was trying to buy enough to merit using the bank card…) and let the millefeuille sit out to take the chill off.  When the croissants were heated through, Nick and I ate them with our coffee and tea, respectively.  Halfway through, I had to stop and take a picture.  Despite being a day old, this is one of the better croissants I’ve had in Paris.

Croissant innards

It was buttery, but there was something more.  The pastry was very flaky, but not at all tough.  It tasted like there may have been levain in the croissant dough, which could explain the overall tenderness of the final product.  (I’m not entirely sure about that – there’s so much I don’t know about yeast and how it works.)  At any rate, a delicious croissant.

Millefeuille, aka Napoleon

The millefeuille, perhaps better known in the States as a Napoleon, had nicely caramelized puff pastry layered with vanilla cream.  I wondered how they got it to keep its shape so well (back home, I always had trouble with the cream oozing out when I tried to cut the Napoleons) but one bite answered the question: it’s got to be mousseline.  Or whatever they call it here when pastry cream is blended with buttercream.  Glad I let it sit out a while before eating it.  It was good – creamy and buttery with just the right amount of sweetness.  I noted with pleasure the lack of fondant glaze over the top.  I definitely prefer it when the simple flavors of the puff pastry and pastry cream are allowed to shine.  So why, then, are they using fondant on the éclairs?  I’ll just skip those from now on.  And I can’t wait to try some fresh croissants one of these mornings.

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