Archive | October, 2011

The Smashing(ly Good) Pumpkins

31 Oct

Despite the (candy) corny title (and evidently opening sentence of this post), I do like The Smashing Pumpkins, and apologize for any discomfort my distasteful title may have given the band or their fans – not that anyone in those two categories are reading this post. I also like pumpkins and apologize to anyone or thing in that category that might have taken offense as well. But most of all I like Halloween and that’s why I couldn’t resist this overly festive title. Furthermore, I couldn’t help but make a pumpkin/Halloween themed post that may or may not feature the music of the previously named popular 90’s band at some point in this blog entry. But I guess you’ll just have to keep reading to find out how…

Halloween is one of my favourite holidays. Whether you get a kick out of the crazy costumes and parties, or are more a fan of the spooky occult-themed activities, it’s a great time of the year for fun with friends and family.

One wonderfully eerie, but pleasantly informative Halloween activity well known in Victoria is the annual Ross Bay Cemetery ghost tour that takes you through the historic graveyard while hearing tales of those that once were, and those that still are as they haunt lower Vancouver Island.

Another fun activity to do a few days before Halloween is to grab a pair of your favourite wellies and visit the local pumpkin patch. Here you can enjoy the crisp fall air and open spaces while you choose your jack-o-lantern-to-be, as opposed to hard-to-reach boxes that are soggily stacked high with picked-over rejects at the grocery store.

Image taken by Annie O'Brien

But no matter where you choose your bounty, one of the best parts of Halloween is the actual act of carving that pumpkin. Whether it’s whimsical and goofy, or scary and creepy, you can get a lot more out of your jack-o-lantern than just a festive glowing orb on your doorstep if you keep the innards for yet another Halloween activity, this time located in the kitchen! This year I decided to make three different types of roasted pumpkin seeds, as well as a creamy pumpkin soup inspired by a recipe a friend of mine passed along to me.

To make the first treat, I removed the seeds from the rest of the innards, rinsed and dried them, and then put them in three separate bowls for seasoning. For the first batch I added a simple mix of olive oil, salt and pepper. For the second, Williams Sonoma Chili-Lime rub, and for the third, a sweeter mix of melted butter, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and a teeny splash of vanilla extract.

I baked them all on parchment-paper covered cookie sheets at 350 for about 30 minutes. Make sure you’re watching and turning the seeds throughout, as some toppings cause them to bake a bit faster (for this batch I found the sweet ones were the quicker cookers). These little vitamin-packed treats also make lovely autumnal gifts, although recipients should be warned of their addictive nature.

The soup is a rather loose recipe, with little guidance and practically non-existent quantities. Really the exercise here is to taste constantly and go with your intuition. I began by softening the pumpkin innards in a slow-cooker for about 4-5 hours. If you’re not using the bulk of the meat for your jack-o-lantern, another method is to roast the insides like you would with squash, until it’s soft and somewhat caramelized.

Once the pulp was malleable, I ladled it into a food processor and mixed it on high until it formed a smoother but still moist paste. I then added some applesauce, and a splash of coconut milk, and mixed it again until the ingredients were well combined. To flavour the soup I added a combination of curry, chilli and garlic powder, as well as a couple tablespoons of maple syrup, a splash of vegetable stock, wine and balsamic vinegar, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and of course generous amounts of salt and pepper to taste. Really the whole recipe is “to taste,” so make sure you have plenty of people in the room to sample as you go if you don’t trust your own palate.

I know it seems like I emptied all my cupboards to supply the numerous ingredients of this recipe, but you can add or leave-out as you see fit. Because I was kind of winging the recipe as I went, I experimented with flavours and textures to create this light but interesting soup. An added bonus is that it’s completely vegan, and thus easily enjoyed by almost all audiences.

After my crazy concoction was complete, I reheated the soup and served it with a garnish of the chilli-lime pumpkin seeds and a sprig of fresh rosemary. So even though all hallow’s eve has almost come to an end for 2011, you now have an ample 365 days to plan for next year’s festivities with a few added suggestions to help. In the meantime, here are a some rather unexpected Halloween themed songs (including your much anticipated Smashing Pumpkins promise) to inspire you as you do all your carving and cooking. But I warn you…some might be a tad “frightening” to the more conservative crowds. Happy Halloween!

Image taken by Stan Shortt

Smashing Pumpkins – Rat In a Cage

Snoop Dogg – Murder Was The Case

The Cranberries – Zombie

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (Aka. The theme song to The Exorcist)

Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People

Anything by Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones

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Comfort Food

27 Oct

Since I’ve been home, I haven’t let my newfound culinary skills go to waste. I’ve spent almost every day in the kitchen whisking, rolling, stirring, and boiling, to recreate some of the delicious things I learned in Paris, as well as trying out new recipes that just look too good to pass up. The most important thing I’ve realized since cooking back in Canada is that “I can”. And so can you! Yes, concrete skills and know-how help, but in the end a lot of what cooking comes down to is just getting over the fear of the unknown. How many times do you make the same pasta for dinner because it’s “quick and easy,” and how many times have you brought the same chocolate chip cookies to a potluck dinner because it’s your “signature recipe”? Well the truth is your pasta dish is no more “quick and easy” than some of the seemingly finicky meals I made in France, and we all know the secret that your cookie recipe is really just Pillsbury, but if you tried making a simple apple tart you’d realize that it’s really not that difficult and in actuality, infinitely more satisfying.

To highlight my point I’ll share with you a meal I made a couple weeks ago for my family. My dad’s on a rather particular diet right now, and trying to accommodate this I asked him what he’d like me to make him for dinner. “Roast chicken,” he replied. Roast chicken?? I’ve never made roast chicken before! Isn’t it fancy and time consuming and impossible and scary and something I could never do?! Well no, it’s not. It’s actually extremely easy and simple, you just need to find a recipe that suits your skill-set, time frame, and amount of effort you’re willing to put into it. After sniffing around some cookbooks and online magazines, I stumbled across a user-friendly Jamie Oliver recipe that requires only 10 minutes of prep and about 1.5 hours of cooking time. But remember that when a chicken is roasting in the oven, you can really just forget about it and focus on the rest of your meal as long as you baste and turn it throughout.

So off I went in true Jamie Oliver style, roughly chopping vegetables, forcefully shoving herbs and a poked-up lemon in the chicken’s bum, throwing it all in a roasting pan, and Voila! I was halfway through my fears of making roast chicken for dinner. The only part that really threw me off was when I had to rub down the raw bird with olive oil, salt and pepper, and was reluctantly reminded that I was in fact touching the skin of a dead animal carcass. How appetizing…

But about an hour and a half later, I had a juicy golden brown bird, along with some garlic and chive mashed potatoes, and the salade verte et haricots verts with the shallot French dressing that we learned to make in our first day of classes. I’ve made mashed potatoes countless times before, and I customized the salad by adding some walnuts. While goats cheese also goes nicely with this mélange, one of the restrictions of my dad’s diet is that he can’t have dairy, so I left that aspect out ,and used the dairy-free non-GMO spread of Earth Balance as well as almond milk to moisten up the potatoes.

Although I had wanted to make douillon aux pommes et cannelle from the post Crazy About Courgettes for dessert, my father doesn’t eat wheat as part of his dietary sensitivities, so I baked the apples, puff-pastry free, but with the same sweet filling of apple jelly, cinnamon, and brown sugar.

Instead of whipped cream, I mixed up a non-dairy almond-based whipped topping with some raspberry coulis, and served that along with the leftover coulis for an added side flavour to accompany our baked apples.

From the outside, you might think I had to overcome quite a few obstacles: no dairy, no wheat, and an unknown feature dish. But in actuality the dinner was rather simple and quite stress-free! The trick is incorporating your tried-and-true favorites with creative twists, innovative additions, and easy-to-follow new recipes, and you’ll have yourself one fabulous and extremely simple little meal.

So when people ask me what the most useful thing I learned at cooking school was, my answer isn’t choux pastry or an assortment of sauces. No, it’s that we’re all capable of culinary greatness, we just have to try new things, be OK with making mistakes, and get comfortable in the kitchen through frequent practice. Because when it really comes down to it, I’m sure you’re actually quite sick of your pasta, and tired of lying about your chocolate chip cookies, and would probably love to try something new.

Coming Home with a Sad Heart and a Full Stomach

24 Oct

The end of this amazing trip was nothing short of depressing. Not only was I leaving my gorgeous apartment in my perfect neighbourhood, in one of the most amazing cities I have ever travelled to, but I was also returning home to the reality of my unavoidable weight-gain and inevitable money-loss. The only thing that kept me from bawling my eyes out during the flight back to Victoria was the absolutely unbelievable travel experience supplied by Lufthansa. While I may have shown a level of astonishment over the food that was offered on my Air Canada flight to London in the post En Route – Not so Plain Plane Food, nothing compares to the impeccable service I received on this German airline.

Firstly, the lounge in Frankfurt was stocked full of gourmet snacks and beverages all of which are concocted by knowledgeable bartenders and chefs and brought to you by eager waiters. No self-serve station here where you spend 10 minutes trying to figure out how the water dispenser works. No, at the Lufthansa lounge you’re supplied with anything you can imagine without having to move an inch off your plush leather chair. At this lounge they offer a full buffet of truffle-infused and caviar-encrusted gourmet delights in their 5-star restaurant style eating area, or you can simply stay put and nosh on innovative snacks displayed elegantly in tall vases.

But the lounge was really a warm-up to the multi-course meal I was about to experience on the flight. Beautifully designed menus were waiting for me on my seat as if the staff were well aware that this was a much anticipated part of the Lufthansa flying experience. Not only did the pamphlets artfully describe what I was about to enjoy, but they also offered some information on the “star chef” that provided all this wonderful on-board sustenance. Our featured chef, Anna Matscher, infused traditional German basics with colourful Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine to create our eclectic assortment of options.

A tower of appetizers, including grilled scallops on tomato and apple confit, fried knuckle of veal Carpaccio with marinated chanterelles, and a plate of south Tyrolean grey cheese with pears, walnuts and pomegranate seeds, were brought to me with warm bread and customized butter.

I sipped on an amazing 2006 “Special Blend Reserva” Patagonien wine from the Bodega Fin del Miundo winery in Argentina, while enjoying a seasonal mixed-green salad with herb mushrooms, pumpkin juliennes and sun-dried tomatoes.

My main course was a filet of sea bass with Mediterranean vegetables served in parchment paper, although I could have also had braised veal cheek on radicchio and mashed celery, or the traditional dish of Südtiroler Kaspressknödel, cheese dumplings south Tyrolean style, on coleslaw and browned butter.

For dessert, I chose the chestnut mousse tartlet with marinated plums, followed by an assortment of artisanal chocolates combined with such flavours as mango, salted caramel and passion fruit.

And that was just lunch! Dinner was another collection of appetizers, this time including a king prawn wrap with cilantro mayonnaise, tortilla chips accompanied by ricotta and pomegranate seed sprinkled guacamole, mango and tomato salsa, and a turkey and red bell pepper cake served with a creamy pine nut sauce.

For my main course I was offered Achiote corn-fed Poulard wrapped in a bamboo leaf, served with a citrus salad and fried polenta, as well as grilled pork tenderloin in a light manchego cheese sauce with spinach and mashed chilli potatoes. But never being able to resist something wrapped in a leaf, I went for the first option.

For dessert I enjoyed a chocolate and chilli tart, accompanied by a variety of surprisingly fresh fruits (isn’t airplane fruit usually doused in all sorts of preservatives that taste like hospitals smell??), and entertained myself with a bevy of TV shows and movies, as well as the contents of my “gift basket” which included a snazzy long-sleeved Lufthansa polo, some La Mer skin products and a strange but weirdly satisfying German toothpaste with “scrubbing pearls” to scuff away the tartar build-up caused by the hoards of food you just consumed. How innovative!

I usually hate flying. The line-ups, the looming anticipation of getting sick, sitting for hours on end as your feet collect with so much fluid that you feel like you’re walking on water balloons etc…Really I couldn’t think of any worse form of torture, until I travelled Lufthansa and experienced flawless hospitality, supreme comfort, and jaw-dropping cuisine. Really the saddest part about returning home to Canada that day was the fact that my flight had to end.

Dinner for One

21 Oct

While eating out in Paris is a true delight, it can get a tad expensive, fattening, and altogether exhausting if you’re not fluent in French and spend the first 30 minutes of your restaurant experience squinting at the chalk-board menu trying to figure out what the hell “cervelle de veau croustillante” is, until you bravely and somewhat dejectedly order it only realizing upon arrival that you have “crispy veal brains” sitting in front of you…yum!

So why not try and make yourself a meal while visiting Paris? You’ll no doubt be inspired as you wander through the glorious markets that seem to conveniently pop up in every arrondissement no matter where you’re staying.

Because I was cooking for about 7 hours a day at school, and my kitchen was about the size of a small closet, I kept my home-made dinners-for-one rather simple, while still utilizing the fresh seasonable produce that the markets had to offer.Dinner #1: Country lamb meatballs served with sautéed zucchini coins and chanterelle mushrooms. Accompanied by Salade Verte et Haricots Verts.

In part one of the post A Table for Two, where I shared with you my favorite lunch spots in Paris, I mentioned a market call Le Marché des Enfants Rouge. Not only did this market offer me an amazing lunch experience, but after I filled up on tasty tagine and that innovative little personal cake, I decided to do a grocery shop as well. Always thinking about my next meal, I grabbed some fresh fruits and veggies, countryside lamb meatballs, ancient grain bread, and cumin gouda.

To tide me over as I eagerly awaited an appropriate dinner time, I made up a small plate of cumin gouda, thinly sliced apple, honey, and a small nutty raisin loaf to snack on.

Once dinnertime finally rolled around, I thinly sliced up some zucchini, and sautéed some chanterelles in a butter sauce with a simple salt and pepper seasoning.

I blanched some young green beans and proceeded to make the Salade Verte et Haricots Verts first mentioned in the post Butter, Cream and Chocolate – The Holy Trinity. Although I somewhat cheated by buying the lamb balls already made, I couldn’t resist the merchants brilliant flavouring combination, not to mention they were extremely easy to prepare as all I had to do was sauté them with a small amount of olive oil.

A relatively healthy and simple meal to make, Le Marché des Enfants Rouge provided me with both a scrumptious lunch and a satisfying dinner. Merci Enfants Rouge!

Dinner #2: Beef filet served with a duo of vegetable sautées.

Extremely happy with my previous meal of chanterelles and green bean sides, I decided to once again grab these ingredients, this time at Marché Grenelle, located close to my apartment at La Motte-Picquet-Grenelle metro. This vast market not only offers an assortment of fresh fruits and veggies, but also spices, seafood, meats, cheeses, breads, foods stands, and clothing vendors.

Although the choices were overwhelmingly abundant, I had a tunnel vision for food and stuck to buying some thinly sliced beef cutlets, Kenyan peas, cilantro and some cèpe mushrooms to accompany my already purchased chanterelles and beans.

I had leftover shallots from my French vinaigrette and sautéed them with lightly blanched green beans, butter, salt and pepper.

I sautéed the mushroom mix with butter, the Kenyan peas, and some chopped cilantro, and then seasoned it to taste with salt and pepper.  I flavoured the beef with an assortment of savory herbs and spices and seared it on each side before serving it with my duo of veggie mixes.

I enjoyed my dinner with a glass of rosé, and proceeded to watch an episode of my North American favourite, Law and Order SVU. Merci Marishka Hargitay et Ice-T!

Dinner #3: Chicken breast cooked in a garlic cream sauce, served on a bed of sautéed green beans, white mushrooms, and walnuts.

Continuing with the green bean theme (they’re extremely cheap and delicious at this time of year), I made another bean and shallot sauté, this time adding white mushrooms along with olive oil, walnuts and seasoning. I pan fried a chicken breast in a simple cream and garlic sauce before thinly slicing the poultry and placing it on my green bean concoction.

Camembert and slices of whole-wheat baguette rounded out this speedy meal, all the while poor little me not knowing that the next day would be the infamous cheese tasting lesson as discussed in Quelle Fromage! Désolé gallbladder.

Dinner #4: Charcuterie Platters

But that wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last time I enjoyed bread and cheese as a homemade snack while in Paris. And how could it be?! I mean it really is the staple of a French diet, as well as insanely delicious and readily available.

I hadn’t even been living in my apartment for one whole day before my friend and I were already scouring the local bakeries, delis and markets to make up our much-anticipated Parisian platter. Brie cheese and a flax seed baguette accompanied avocados, tomatoes, figs, and Genoa salami, as we enjoyed this simple snack with a glass of Burgundy.

Symbolically symmetrical, I finished off the last night in my apartment with a somewhat similar spread of Camembert, Saint Paulin, walnuts, apples, seedy baguette, and dry prociutto. This time I shared my feast with two other friends and a couple flutes of champagne before saying farewell to my home for the past 6 weeks. Merci Paris! Tu me manques…

A Table for Two: Part 2 – Dinner

18 Oct

In part 1 of A Table for Two, I mentioned a few suggestions about where to grab lunch in Paris. But if you’re really looking for a true Parisian dining experience, save yourself for dinner. For at dinner you can take your time, drink a bottle of wine, sit, relax and chat without worries of getting to the Louvre before it closes.

First thing to know is that the French eat late. It’s rare to see a brasserie get busy before 8pm, with some not even opening their doors until that time. Even if you’re looking for a delicious gourmet meal with a nice bottle of wine at 11pm, most restaurants in Paris will be able to provide that for you, even if it’s a Tuesday night. This is quite refreshing coming from sleepy old Vitoria BC, where almost everything shuts down at 10pm at the latest, and usually your only option to pacify your late-night grumbling tummy is with greasy pizza or the consistently questionable Pita Pit.

So, here are some of my favourite dinner spots in Paris…

La Mascotte:

*52 Rue des Abbesses, 75018 Paris. 01 46 06 28 15

*la-mascotte-montmartre.com

Amongst many other things, the hillside district of Montmartre is known for its hip residents, cool café’s, and trendy bohemian hotspots.  This is why La Mascotte, with its traditional menu and old aesthetic, is a lovely surprise. They’re known for their fresh seafood, but locals also pack the restaurant to taste more warming options of stews and roasts. While making our way to dinner from a trip to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, my friend and I were caught in a torrential downpour. As we ran to the restaurant, newspaper-umbrellas over our heads, the front opening of La Mascotte was as if a divine beacon of light on the busy Rus d’Abbesse.

Montmartre

Inside Sacré-Cœur Basilica

View of Paris from Sacré-Cœur

Probably feeling slightly chilled and a little sorry for herself, my friend went for the more comfort-food side of things with a bean and beef stew. I decided to see how good their seafood really was, and chose a slightly more finicky dish of prawns, salmon and a hearty ratatouille.

Satisfied and now dry, we left the restaurant only to find the skies had cleared and the sparkling Montmartre scene living up to its nightlife hype.

Tapas Nocturnes:

*98 Rue Martyrs, 75018 Paris. 01 42 62 43 94

*tapasnocturnes.com

Although a walk around Sacré-Cœur and dinner at La Mascotte was a great first introduction to Montmarte, I had to go back for more. On my second visit to this fascinating jewel of Paris, I had a slightly less traditional French meal, and a slightly more outrageous French tourist experience.

Dinner was at Tapas Nocturnes where my friend and I enjoyed an amazing assortment of Spanish tasting-plates including marinated anchovies, cod croquettes, eggplant cooked with basil and tomato, potatoes in bravas sauce, a mixed green salad with shaved asiago cheese, and a vegetarian frittata.

For dessert, we shared a gorgeous Petits Meolleux Chauds au Chocolat served with icecream, whipped cream and raspberry coulis.

Our post dinner activity was none other than the infamous Moulin Rouge burlesque show – exactly what I was hoping it would be, and a definite must if you’re ever in Paris.

Le Troquet:

*21, Rue Francois Bonvin, 75015 Paris. 01 45 66 89 00

But sometimes you don’t have to take a 30-minute metro ride to the other side of town to have a perfect dining experience. No, sometimes you’re lucky enough to have an acclaimed French bistro just down your block, and my neighborhood gem was the highly regarded Le Troquet. Like Café Constant in part one of this post, here you can do a fixed menu, where only 30 Euros will get you a starter, a main and a dessert. Or if you’re feeling a tad more daring and a lot hungrier, try their 5-course taster menu for only 42 Euros. My friend and I weren’t feeling like we could take on 5 courses, so we opted for the slightly more subdued, but still extremely satisfying three-course meal option.

For our starters we chose a salmon tartare served on thinly sliced radish, and a poached egg dish placed on a juicy bed of a teeny little chanterelle mushroom mix. For our mains, we both chose fish, one of which was pan-fried sea bream served on top of a creamy zucchini purée. I ordered an absolutely amazing sea bass dish accompanied by a wonderful mashed cauliflower side, but unfortunately I was too busy scarfing it down to take a picture. Guess you’ll just have to go there and order it (or something like it as they change their menu constantly) to see for yourself.

For dessert we enjoyed a sampling of a stiff goats cheese served with homemade cherry jam, and a stunning poached pear dish placed artistically in a pool of rich chocolate and slightly melted icecream.

The decor was delightfully cozy, the staff were unbelievably friendly, and my only regret is that I didn’t go back there numerous times before I left to sample everything on their enticing menu.

L’Epigramme:

*9 Rue de l’Éperon, 75006 Paris. 01 44 41 00 09

Although this next restaurant wasn’t two doors down from me, it was still pretty close in the nearby neighborhood of St Germain de Près, and was also hidden away on some unassuming and poorly lit side street. If it weren’t for the amazing review in my travel book and my unwavering determination to find our destination, we would have never stumbled upon this little hole-in-the-wall, for that was truly what it was. If you look down Rue de l’Éperon you will see nothing. Walk a little further and you’ll start to hear the hum of dinner conversation and a glow coming from a few small steamed up windows. We arrived somewhat saddened to see that every table was full, but thankfully the friendly staff were more than willing to accommodate us, and set up a little place for two right by the kitchen.

Also a prix fixe menu, my friend and I went for the 3-course option and enjoyed a beautifully prepared escargot starter served in a flavourful cream sauce, as well as fois gras accompanied by a sweet and sour apricot chutney.

For our mains, we enjoyed two fish dishes yet again, one being a perfectly seasoned cod served with creatively prepared potato fritters, as well as sea bass placed upon grilled asparagus and accompanied by a light and frothy citrus cream sauce.

Dessert was banana-coconut crème brûlé, and yet another poached pear dish, this time served with a crunchy toffee tutu, sitting in a pool of nutty caramel sauce.

Before enjoying this magnificent and modestly-priced meal, my friend and I had a very cultured evening at the Musée D’Orsay and a celebrity sighting of fashion king Karl Lagerfeld, so we were feeling rather pleased with ourselves as we licked our plates clean and finished off our last drops of rosé.

L’Ecailler Du Bistrot:

*22 Rue Paul Bert, 75011 Paris. 01 43 72 76 77

If you’re looking for a real Parisian seafood experience, check out this well acclaimed restaurant in the hip 11ème arrondissement, but it’s probably a good idea to bring someone along with you who actually knows what they’re doing. If it weren’t for my gastronomically experienced Parisian friend Julia, I don’t think I would have been able to eat a single thing on the ridiculous platter for “three,” although I’m pretty sure it’s better suited for an army of ravenous men. That being said, I don’t think I would have ever even ordered a platter like this on my own accord, but my Parisian friend insisted, and off we went for this labour intensive feast.

The dessert was somewhat of a reward for all of our hard work, as we effortlessly enjoyed a cream and raspberry filled macaron, and some poached figs served with icecream.

The food was unbelievably fresh, but I couldn’t help notice the prepared dishes arriving at the adjacent tables that seemed to take much less exertion to enjoy. So if you’re planning on going and want an authentic Parisian seafood experience, get the platter. But if dozens of strange utensils and the idea of not-quite-dead-yet oysters that wriggle when you squirt lemon on them terrify you, go for one of their beautifully prepared single-serving plates instead.

Frenchie:

*5 rue du Nil, 75002 Paris. 01 40 39 96 19

*frenchie-restaurant.com

Aaahh Frenchie… Not only did it take my friend and I over an hour of running around the winding streets of Paris to find you, but once we did, you weren’t open. I mean it was only a Saturday night, when every other restaurant in Paris was packed and bustling. Ooohhh and Frenchie, you rubbed salt on our wounds when we came to you a second time and the waitress told us they only take reservations at least two months in advance. Good thing we were hungry and persistent, and decided to stick around in case someone didn’t show up for their long awaited rezo, because once 7:30 rolled around, we were given a delightful corner table right beside a group of obnoxious American trust-fund babies who had too many bottles of wine, and were not afraid to scream at the top of their lungs how privileged and pretentious they were in this insanely intimate little bistro. Truly it was right out of a scene from American Psycho, minus the whole bloody chainsaw bit. But aside from the strange opening times, impossible-to-find location and gag-inducing neighbouring table, our dining experience truly lived up to its much hyped reputation.

The brainchild of esteemed chefs Jamie Oliver and Gregory Marchand, Frenchie is both underground and mainstream with its immaculate adherence to the ways of traditional French bistro dining, and tables full of food journalists and critics from around the world. The front-of-house staff were wonderfully friendly, and I can only assume the back-of-house employees are all culinary genius’s to pull off each dish with such innovation and panache. A small prix fixe menu, our minds were already made up for us, as there were only two options per course. To start, we had sweetbread nuggets with girolle mushrooms and celery, as well as a smoked trout dish with pickled onion vinaigrette. For our mains we each sampled bites from line caught silver hake served with tomatoes and Béarn beans in broth, as well as a tender lamb dish with puréed cauliflower and summer truffle.

Dessert was equally impressive with a lemon tart accompanied by a passion fruit salty caramel butter, as well as coconut Japanese pearls mixed with strawberries and avocado.

To accompany all these amazing plates, we nibbled on some freshly made country bread, and  sampled both an amazing white and red wine, each at the brilliant recommendation of our server.

So if you are planning on going to Frenchie (which I would highly recommend – it was one of my best culinary experiences to date for an impossibly low price), make reservations well in advance and bring earplugs in case you too get stuck next to vocally liberal and casually cussing snobs from New York.

A Table for Two

17 Oct

If you wanted to eat out every single night of your life at a different and delicious restaurant, I think it would be possible in Paris. It’s hard to walk even a block without passing by a bistro or brasserie that has a mouth-watering menu of seasonal works-of-art perched upon an unassuming little stand outside. But if you are curious to test out my claim, I have a feeling your pocketbooks and figures would significantly suffer, because as you’ve seen from my other posts, French food is neither the lightest of fairs, nor is it cheap. So you’ll just have to take my word for it and save up your calories and money for a few choice restaurants if you’re ever in the area. Here are a some of my favorites if you’re in need of a little inspiration…

[Part 1: Lunch]

Café Constant:

*139 rue Saint-Dominique, 75007 Paris. 01 47 53 73 34

*http://www.cafeconstant.com

Owned by esteemed chef Christian Constant, this traditional French bistro is popular with locals looking for delectable and down-to-earth food. Conveniently located right by the Eiffel Tower in the 7ème arrondissement, this is a perfect stop on your way to photo-op heaven.

My suggestion? Grab lunch here, saunter down to the infamous tower, take a couple snapshots and then go for a ride on one of the boat tours down the River Seine. I would recommend getting a day-pass for the Batobus, which allows you to hop-on and hop-off at various sightseeing hotpots of your choosing.

But whether or not you decide to do my little itinerary, I would still highly recommend going to this bistro for reasonably priced and extremely scrumptious French cuisine. Here, you can do a fixed menu (prix fixe) of either a starter + main, a main + dessert, or all three (this is a common trend in French restaurants and is a great deal for amazingly fresh and innovative chef favorites). And if you don’t like what they’re offering that day, you can simply do the à la carte option. I went with the main + dessert and enjoyed a succulent veal dish prepared in a rich butter and shallot sauce with scalloped potatoes, and an amazing fig tart to finish things off.

My friend decided to go à la carte, and ordered a beautifully prepared starter of oyster and salmon tartare served on a mound of rock salts, as well as grilled sea bass with pesto sauce accompanied by a mélange of seasonable vegetables as her main.

To top off our near perfect dining experience, we were amicably bid adieu by the owner himself, who was perched up beside the bar as we left the café with big smiles and full bellies.

La Terrasse du 7ème:

*2 Place de l’École Militaire, 75007 Paris. 01 45 55 00 02

Another great and reasonably priced place to get a bite to eat in the 7ème arrondissement is La Terrasse du 7ème, located in Place de l’École-Militaire. At this lively corner café you can grab a coffee and a pastry or better yet, opt for one of their delicious and light lunch options. For an arguably clichéd French food experience, my friend and I chose a sampler plate containing rabbit terrine, salmon tartare, marinated green beans and boccocini salad (yes I know that’s Italian, but everything else is very French, I promise).

To accompany this, we ordered escargot flavoured with butter and pesto. A quick bite during one of our lunch breaks at school on a day when we didn’t have a morning meal, this place would also be a perfect stop during a visit to the notorious tower.

Marché des Enfants Rouges:

*39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris. 01 40 11 20 40

If you’re not in the mood for a sit-down traditional lunch, or you’re getting a little sick of the butter-smothered French cuisine, make your way to the Marché des Enfants Rouges in Paris’ hip Le Marais district. This is Paris’ oldest covered market and is host to an international array of lunchtime options including Japanese, Italian and Moroccan cuisine.

At this market you’ll also find an assortment of fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods, wines, cheeses and specialty food items that come from all over France.

But be forewarned, this market is popular and busy, and most of the amazing places to grab a bite to eat come with a hefty wait-time.  I personally waited for over 20 minutes to obtain my Moroccan feast, but I assure you, it was definitely worth it!

In all honesty the choices were overwhelming, and I wanted to hop over the glass divider and shove my face in every dish in front of me. But then they would have kicked me out of the market, and even worse, I’d have a very dirty face. So after much debate (maybe it was a good thing the line was so long), I settled on an aromatic lamb tagine with apricots, dates and an assortment of vegetables, served on a cushion of couscous and washed it down with sips of sweet Moroccan tea.

For dessert I wandered over to an adorable little stand tucked away in the corner called La Petite Fabrique. Although they were offering some amazing looking savory mini-muffins served in innovative wooden cones, my sweet tooth was harassing me so I went for one of their custom-made pintsized cakes, a homemade lemon flavoured marshmallow, and some organic rooibos tea.

Le Jardin du Luxembourg:

*6ème arrondissement, between St. Germain des Près and Montparnasse

The Jardin du Luxembourg is in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most romantic spots to take a stroll in Paris. Gorgeous leafy trees line walkways sprinkled with passionate couples making out on park benches, all to the soundtrack of laughing children playing ball and whipping around the carousel.

You could truly spend an entire day in this lovely stretch of royal grounds, but of course not without a little bite to eat. Good thing there are a few food stands placed conveniently throughout, containing warm options like crêpes and apple cider. For a satisfying snack, my friend and I chose savory crêpes filled with fried eggs, grated emmental cheese, and ham. But make sure you grab lots of extra napkins, because these oversized envelopes are rather messy to eat.

So those were a few lunch suggestions. Coming up next, my top choices for Parisian dinner spots in part 2 of A Table for Two

The Last Supper

16 Oct

Most days at La Cuisine de Marie-Blanche we would make a full meal in the morning, enjoy it for lunch, and then either focus on French basics in the afternoon or we would partake in our Art de Vivre classes. However, having already completed our final exam the day before (passing of course with flying colours), and not really having much more to learn in terms of pastries or place settings, we were instructed that we would make two full meals to finish off our course. TWO! Our mouths were salivating, but our already stretched-out stomachs were quivering.

 The morning meal:

  1. Saumon farci en croûte
  2. Beurre blanc
  3. Gâteau au chocolat
  4. Crème foutée au café

The afternoon meal:

  1. Veau Orloff
  2. Sauce blanche au fromage
  3. Tarte aux pommes à la cannelle

Although the saumon farci en croûte (aka. salmon in puff pastry) was somewhat reminiscent of the infamous koulibiac that keeps coming up in posts (refer to A Snowfall in Russia), the flavours were quite different, with a lighter feel and a bit more colour variation.

We began by checking our salmon for bones, and while keeping the skin on, seasoned and baked it skin-side up with a small amount of water and oil to avoid sticking. After it was slightly cooked from only 10 minutes of oven warmth, we set it aside and started on our other fillings. We combined a small white fish (really any kind will do) with sardines in the food processor along with one egg, a chopped shallot, a bit of cream, and salt/pepper, and then added some freshly boiled spinach leaves. Once it was well mixed into a thick paste, we gently stirred in pine nuts and added some more salt and pepper. Like the pâté de sardines in the post Minimal Chewing Required, or the terrine de foies de volaille in the post Peel Me a Grape, you can taste the raw mix by placing a small spoonful in boiling water until it cooks. This method allows you to test if it’s seasoned correctly.

We greased a baking pan, placed a sheet of puff pastry on top, and proceeded to layer the centre with cooked pureed spinach, the fishy mix, and our salmon, which was skinless at this point. We topped that stack off with yet another layer of spinach and “stuffing”, folded up our pastry, trimmed the edges, decorated it with our beloved forest pattern, glazed everything with an egg, and baked it in the oven until the crust was golden brown.

To accompany this delectable and rather aesthetically layered dish, we made a simple beurre blanche by sautéing finely chopped shallots with wine and vinegar. Once it was reduced, we added cream, butter, salt and pepper to taste, and strained it all to remove the shallots. If you’re into a more rustic look, skip the last step and leave the delicious shallots in.

For dessert we enjoyed a beautiful flourless chocolate cake, which came as a pleasant surprise considering that at this point I was looking for any excuse to eat fewer complex carbohydrates. Granted there’s still plenty of butter in this recipe, but the concept of no added sugar as well, was somewhat reassuring as we used pre-sweetened dark chocolate. That means it’s healthy right??? Sure…

After melting the chocolate and then slowly mixing in the butter, we added egg yolks and saved the whites for yet another wonderful meringuey melange. To be quite honest with you, I would have been slightly disappointed if we didn’t have one last go at hand-beaten egg whites on our last day. So there I went, beating away, somewhat forgetting that I would have to hand-whip our upcoming cream-based topping as well.

Once the whites were fluffy, we folded them in with the chocolate mix, poured everything is a greased shallow dish, and placed it in the oven to bake.

As mentioned, we made a whipped cream topping with a delicious coffee infusion. Whipping cream isn’t rocket science, but remember that when you’re adding flavouring of sorts, you must always fold it in as opposed to continuing with a beating motion. If you don’t do this, the consistency will turn into a chunky watery mess that no one will enjoy.

So that was meal #1. But oh, we’re not done yet. After a short break we were back in the kitchen working away at round two.

The first thing to do when making the traditional eastern European dish of Orloff is to roast the veal in the oven with onions, thyme and a bay leaf until it’s half-way cooked. At this point you remove the veal roast and set it aside to cool as you work on your duxelles (as previously described yet again in A Snowfall in Russia. Although the koulibiac was a bit of a headache to make, this is turning out to be a rather useful post…) and sauce blanche.

To make a sauce blanche, melt 4 tbs butter, add 1 tbs flour and ½  a cup of cream. Then add a pinch of nutmeg, a small handful of grated emmental, salt and pepper to taste, and a small amount of milk if need be, although the sauce should be quite thick.

Once the veal was cooled and the duxelles and sauce blanche were ready, we sliced the meat, placed it on an ovenproof baking dish, and spread a generous helping of duxelles in between each layer. We then topped it off with some thinly sliced ham, covered it with our sauce blanche, sprinkled everything with emmental and baked the mountain of goodness until it was a cohesively cooked bundle.

Our last and final dessert was yet another delicious apple tart recipe, this time wonderfully seasoned with cinnamon.

The apples in this recipe are skinned and cut into small chunks, which are then fried with butter, cinnamon and sugar in a deep-dish pan. While we were softening and flavouring the apples, we baked a puff pastry crust moulded to a baking circle in the oven. Note that in order for the puff pastry to remain flat, you must perforate the bottom with a fork and cover it in tinfoil to weigh the whole thing down.

While that was cooking, we made up a mix of eggs and cream, and once the crust was slightly baked and the apples soft, we removed the foil and added a thin layer of this eggy-creamy mix to the bottom. We then followed with the apples, and topped it all off with the remaining mix. After the tart had been baking for about 15 minutes, we removed it, sprinkled it with confectioner’s sugar, and put it back in the oven to bake for another 5 minutes. When ready, we removed our sweet treat from the mould, and enjoyed each bight with thick cream and warm conversation.

So after all that our “last supper” was really more like a last lunch AND a last supper, as we gorged our faces yet again with more food than I could have ever previously conceived possible. Of course the day was also filled with family-portrait-esque photos, lots of hugs and goodbyes and of course our little graduation ceremony where we received our diplomas.

An amazing month of cuisine, culture and growth – I could not have picked a more perfect school in a more perfect city to accomplish my goals. Merci à toutes les personnes a La Cuisine de Marie-Blanche!