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!

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