Uncategorized

Marché des Lices

“Des étrilles, s’il vous plait. Bien vivantes!”

DSC_0213

Les étrilles

The woman in front of me in line orders a variety of crab whose body is no bigger than the circumference of a coffee mug. The hairy, freckled crustaceans are clamoring around in a green basket atop the ice, next to the lobsters who roam lethargically around one end of the stand.

DSC_0216

Marché des Lices

The weekly open-air market in Rennes is a sight to behold, with it’s painfully tender kouign amann pastries (you can never eat just one,) and it’s locally farmed cheeses that don’t have nationally recognizable names, just subtitles on their price signs that read “Ça déchire grave !” (it’s seriously awesome!) Many of the vegetable stands are run by elderly locals, or young apple farmers trying to make a go of it. There are crepe trucks – many crepe trucks – and I stand on the sidelines observing which one has the longest lines to figure out which one is the best.

DSC_0214

Kouign Amann

Extensive Google searching has not revealed to me which market, exactly, is the largest market in France. This is difficult to search for in French because when you look for statistics about the “largest food market” you find all sorts of economic figures about general food sales. In any case, the Marché des Lices can’t be far off from the biggest.

DSC_0210

Breton radishes

There is a kind of overwhelming, food-induced joy that comes over me sometimes: the first time I tried French demi-sel butter, with it’s large sea salt crystals; the first time my taste buds had the pleasure of meeting a Mogador macaron by Pierre Hermé (milk chocolate flavored with passion fruit;) and the first fresh salicorne (samphire) stalk I was able to pick out of the ground myself, along the salt marshes in Guérande, and crunch on.

DSC_0217

Leek to go

When I was an American teenager employed at a gourmet grocery store in New England, I dreamed of French open-air food markets as glorious as the Marché des Lices. There is not one, but two covered market buildings: one filled with butcher counters, and the other filled with bakers, jam-makers, cheese-mongers, and other sellers. The outdoor space lying around the market has different sections: the fishmongers and oyster sellers on one side, fruit and veg crammed around everywhere else. Flowers are up the hill a bit, towards the Place Saint Michel.

The most difficult thing about shopping at this market is that I’m only buying food for a meal or two, before I have to hop back in the train to Paris the next day. It’s not exactly practical to carry home clams or crabs or whole fish filets. On this last visit, I decided to go with clams – sautéed with cider and topped with crunchy salicornes.

Cider-braised clams with salicornes

DSC_0219

Cider braised clams with salicornes

Sauté one finely sliced leek in a generous amount of butter, being careful not to let it brown. Once it is softened, about 8 minutes, add enough clams for a hearty starter for two, and about a cup of brut bubbly cider. Cover the pan, shaking gently every minute or two, until the clams have opened.

Serve topped with lightly steamed salicornes, a heaping of fresh parsley, and a cup of cold cider.

A few addresses in Rennes:

Crêperie Saint Georges, 11 Rue du Chapitre
We were almost put off by the gaudy décor in the entryway – don’t be! The crêpes are inventive and different, and most importantly, delicious.

DSC_0209

Chocolate and espelette pepper crêpe at the Crêperie St Georges

 

Le Haricot Rouge, 10 Rue Baudrairie
THE place to go for a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate on a weekend afternoon. Noteworthy for the various different flavors of hot chocolate, and board games at your disposal.

Bella Ciao, 16, rue Saint Georges
A small local designer boutique with jewelry, handbags, clothing, and home décor.

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Bergamot-Lavender Meringue Pie

Bergamot. What is it? A flavoring, a tea, a perfume. Many people aren’t quite sure. You will love it if you:

  • Creak your neck to get a good whiff of the first magnolia blossoms at the end of winter.
  • Welcome gleefully any oriental pastry flavored with orange blossom water.
  • Love jasmine, and lemons, and lavender flavored soaps.
  • Drink Earl Grey tea (that implacable citrus flavoring is indeed bergamot.)

What is it, really? It’s a small, oblong-shaped lemon. It has a funny little nose on one end – the end where it was connected to the tree- and a flatter, rounder surface on the other end.

Bergamots galore

Bergamots galore

It is usually more golden in color than a regular lemon. Golden like the color of the sunshine in a Saturday morning cartoon. Golden like the top of a corn bread fresh from the oven.

Bergamots close-up

Bergamots close-up

The true magic of the bergamot is its zest. It has a powerful, perfumed flavor that is unlike anything else (I’ve tasted). The zest can be used to decorate, and delight, anything from a steam-cooked piece of white fish, to an endive salad, to a cup of yogurt with honey. The juice is a bit harder to put into practice, but I find it best in bergamot curd (along with more zest), which I’ve been making by the jarful and dousing onto brioche like there’s no tomorrow (check Riverford Farms for a great, easy, recipe.) David Lebovitz also dissects what bergamots actually are, as the names can vary from country to country.

This pie has been a dream of mine all winter long as I’ve devoured different ways to incorporate bergamot into desserts. In order to concoct it, I used some basic lemon-meringue-pie-principles gleaned from BBC Good Food, Martha Stewart, and Epicurious. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Bergamot-Lavender Meringue Pie

Bergamot-Lavender Meringue Pie

Bergamot-Lavender Meringue Pie Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Cuisine et Confessions

What did your Mom teach you about cooking when you were a kid?

To make the perfect omelet, you need four things: eggs, peppers, onions, and love.

C&C

This circus show doesn’t begin the same way as most others. As we filed into the theater in a suburb six kilometers south of Paris, something was cooking. The auditorium smelled of roasting red peppers… or maybe it was poulet basquaise, or lasagna. Some of the performers were having a picnic on stage, others were juggling, and others were roaming the audience. “Bonsoir,” one of the acrobats greeted us as she shuffled by, clearly looking for a certain kind of spectator to bring up on to the stage. She was white, with blond pigtails, and displayed the kind of acrobatic body with curves but not an ounce of fat. In tight daisy dukes and a blue top, she strutted around and later found her victim – a gentle-looking man in his 50s or 60s, loose-fitting khaki slacks and a long sleeve plaid shirt. He joined her on stage to peel the carrots, and seemed to have a good time chatting throughout.

One of the men took to the microphone and began telling us a passionate story, all in Spanish. At first we could pick up bits and pieces – a banana cake… they were going to make… and a spicy recipe from Thailand? Then his speech accelerated. I kept reaching for my elementary Spanish, the one that helps me eat at restaurants and ask for my clothing size when I’m in Madrid or Barcelona for the weekend, but there was none of that. He was rolling through a tale of great importance and there was no slowing him down. Finally one of the other performers came and whispered something in his ear. He looked back at the audience, incredulously, and asked “Alguien habla español? Alguien habla español?” That much I understood, but he continued, repeating the question with the same sense of urgency with which he had told us his story. Baffled, he paced around the stage, and finally crashed on the couch, defeated.

Once the show had officially started, the performers weaved stories of family life, cooking, and eating with acrobatic mastery and cooking utensils. The Spanish man danced and flipped whipping the air with two large metal whisks, the trim athletic blond showed off her acrobatics atop the wooden cooking block center stage. Another woman, small, brunette, and Russian, did a trapeze performance flipping around in the air with a very long chain of dishtowels.

They blended their circus skills with confessions around cooking. An Argentinean of Italian descent told of pasta, his grandfather, and then flipped up and around a pole, sliding headfirst down so quickly that the child behind us gasped. The Russian told us of borscht. A Quebecoise listed all her favorite desserts: apple tart, cherry tart, strawberry pie, chocolate cake, lemon cake, clafoutis, you get the idea…

Two young Black American men did back flips through hollow squares as a voiceover played, revealing that only time spent alone with Mom as kid was in the kitchen, while the half brothers were out visiting their father.

The show blends together the performance art of cuisine, with the performance art of circus, and results in a kind of enchanting interactive multi-sensory stimulation. I may just be saying that because I’m very passionate about cooking – but my fellow audience members seemed delighted all the same, enjoying the banana cake at the end of the show.

Cuisine et Confessions – performed by Les Sept Doigts de la Main

Théatre Jean Arp, Clamart, France

January 29, 2016

Standard
Uncategorized

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

A friend of mine told me she’d met a woman who’d asked her to do a reading in a bathtub.

“What do you mean? Like, with water in it? Naked? Or with clothes on?”

“She’s going to host a literary salon in her home and she wants to cover her bathroom in red velvet. She wants me to read from the bathtub, with LOTS OF BUBBLES. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll have anything on underneath.”

“Ok, wow, count me in. But she’s going to have food, right? Does she have anyone preparing food? What about beverages?”

I’d bugged Shannon two or three times to know who was preparing the food for this thing, and let her know that if the author in question needed help preparing the food I’d be happy to lend a hand. Finally, about a week before the first event, I got a phone call from Anne.

“I would love your help preparing the food!”

The food for first salon was fairly low-key, planned only a few days in advance: beet tartare served in endive leaves, polenta topped with roasted peppers and chorizo, deviled eggs, etc.

The Kingdom of Flowers

The Kingdom of Flowers

The second salon I helped to cater would be deemed the Kingdom of Flowers, with big ideas to tantalize guests with flower-inspired treats. Orange blossoms? Lavender? Roses? Acacia flowers? And what to pair with it – chocolate? Almonds? Meringue? Vanilla? Lemon? My mind wandered…

Lavender Meringues

Lavender Meringues

After lots of thinking, lots of testing, lots of feeding of cupcakes to colleagues and friends, I came up with the menu:

  • Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting
  • Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant
  • Lavender Meringues
  • Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake
Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Persian Love Cupcakes with Rose Frosting

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

Orange Blossom Olive Oil Cake

I bring you my favorite recipe amongst the bunch, which has become my go-to chocolate dessert (and it’s gluten free!)

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Fondant

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Victor’s Gourmet, Schloss Berg

“What does the sign say?”

“Well, basically, that they don’t want you to take pictures.”

Oh, I sighed. I felt disappointment, but somehow, relief. I feel like I can’t effectively explain a phenomenal meal to other people without photos. If I wasn’t allowed to take photos, then there was nothing to be done. My friends would have to rely on my word, alone.

But then the dishes started to come. First, the teasers: little bits of fish tartare, mousses, house-made crackers with chorizo cream cheese, brochettes, divine delectable little nibbles whose contents I didn’t all note down but whose precision and deliciousness made my head begin to spin. How am I going to be able to remember all of this? I thought. My dining partners didn’t seem to be bothered: this was the latest in a long list of Michelin-starred eating they had experienced. For me, it was one of the first.

When the plate of salmon gravlax with herbed emulsion was set before me, I decided I could no longer obey. “Excuse me, is it all right if I take a photo?”

“Sure, just no flash please.”

In retrospect, I can tell you that photos don’t do it proper justice. Only memory does, and even then, it’s not the specific memory of every single thing that was on this marvelous plate:

Wild Salmon from Faroe Islands

Wild Salmon from Faroe Islands (Japanese pickels, sea water, miso)

For me, the memory that serves this meal justice must be similar to that of the most excruciatingly beautiful opera to the classical music fan, the most impressively skilled ballet performance to the dance fanatic. The meal was not a meal. Fine cuisine is a performance art, not only laid out before us, but produced all around us when we are in it’s laboratory. In the words of Guy Savoy, “Cooking is the art of transforming products loaded with history into instantaneous joy.” (“La cuisine est l’art de transformer instantanément en joie des produits chargés d’histoire.”)

I am willing to argue that it is the highest form of performance art. Not only is the spectator nourished, but in the best adaptation of this art form, each of the senses are delighted.

The plates with their ribbed matte-finish rims that were a pleasure to touch. The sounds of the champagne popping, the lightly set music playing, the stark footsteps of the expert waiters serving. The colors in the dining room: dark brown, tainted wood, black, burgundy, cream. The flowers. The scents. The drinking glasses: smooth for the diners who request still water, ribbed for the diners who request sparkling.

I’m getting to the point where I feel at a loss for words, so, I hope that I can let the pictures speak for themselves:

Green Asparagus 'Mon. Robert Blanc' (sumac, yuzu, Japanese hollondaise)

Green Asparagus ‘Mon. Robert Blanc’ (sumac, yuzu, Japanese hollondaise)

Blue Lobster (asparagus, pea, glazed pork belly)

Blue Lobster (asparagus, pea, glazed pork belly)

Lamb from "Hofgut Polting" (salted lemon, coriander, small artichokes)

Lamb from “Hofgut Polting” (salted lemon, coriander, small artichokes)

'Bau.Stein' (pistachio, red flavors, yogurt)

‘Bau.Stein’ (pistachio, red flavors, yogurt)

Thank you to Christian Bau and his staff for this incredible show. Thank you to my dining partners for showing me the ropes!

Visited in May 2015; menu “Paris-Tokyo”

Victor’s Gourmet Restaurant at Schloss Berg
Schloßstraße 27 -29, 66706 Perl, Germany
http://www.victors-gourmet.de/

Standard
Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Courgettes

DSC_0138

Courgettes, waiting to be stuffed

Two courgettes walk into a bar.

One of them is standing upright, bowtie properly affixed; white oxford shirt tucked into his pleated khaki pants. The other looks like he had a rough night. Slooping slightly to the side, his hair is slick and syrupy. He’s got some kind of lanyard tied around his waist like a belt. His shoes are grimy, the leather well-worn, the soles falling off. His smell is a bit more pungent than the first courgette. Maybe a hint of musk?

“Man, what’d you get up to?” says the first courgette to the second.

In a refined Received Pronounciation accent, he raises his jaw line, straightens his posture, and says to the first courgette: “I spent the evening in a marvelous warm bath with a lovely cocktail of organic vegetable broth, sweet pomegranate molasses, plenty of dried mint, and heaps of freshly ground allspice.”

The first courgette begins to feel a bit intimated. Despite his sleek exterior, he knows deep down in his soul that he can’t hold a candle to this eloquent mess.

“Oh yeah, dried mint, I’ve got some of that too!”

“What a sweet elixir with crushed garlic cloves, and fresh cilantro finely chopped blended with the rice that fills my insides…”

The second courgette undoes his soiled white bowtie and sits on a stool. Raising his voice, he calls down the bar “Waitress, could I please have some Greek yogurt drizzled with blend of mint leaves and olive oil?”

“Uhh, and a sprinkling of parsley for me please!”

**********

I realized last week that there were recipes for stuffed courgettes in both Plenty and Plenty More, by Yotam Ottolenghi (for whom I have already proclaimed my fangirldom.) I’m unsure of why it took me so long to try either of them, but I decided to make them both back to back, a few days apart.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty (The First Courgette)

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (The First Courgette)

Despite my narration above, I should insist that both recipes have merit. The first one is an excellent weeknight main dish, prepared in under an hour (simmer time: 40 minutes.) It is flavorful and healthy and not that complicated.

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi's Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

Stuffed Courgettes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (The Second Courgette), just before cooking

The second one, however, takes the whole idea of a “bastardized version of a Turkish original” (as Ottolenghi so proclaims in Plenty) to a whole new level. More ground allspice, more dried mint, plus a tomato, cumin, some garlic, tons of chopped cilantro, and perhaps my most favorite ingredient in any sauce – pomegranate molasses. With a simmer time of at least 1 hour and a half, this is more suited to a weekend afternoon cooking project in advance of a dinner party. (He suggests you serve them the next day, cold or at room temp.)

DSC_0155

Stuffed Courgette from Plenty More – the Second Courgette, ready to be served

For the recipes: I’ll leave you to find the first here, on The Guardian.

For the second one, well, you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of the book.

One particularity to these recipes is that you’re not instructed to use the scooped-out courgette flesh in the stuffing. In order to do something with the flesh of the nine courgettes I stuffed last weekend, I made a simple cold vegetable soup.

First: sauté a chopped onion in some neutral-tasting vegetable oil. Once soft, add the courgette insides (and one more fully chopped courgette, if you have one – because the addition of some courgette skin will give the soup a nice color.) After about 3-5 minutes, cover the veg with broth (vegetable or chicken) and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and add one large skinned, seeded, chopped cucumber, and one or two avocados, cubed. Mix with a hand blender, allow to cool, and adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, lemon or lime juice, as you wish.) Makes for a delicious cold summer soup, even picnic-worthy if you have a clean empty juice jar lying around. (Made about six servings.)

Standard
Uncategorized

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

An ode to the apricot, part deux : sweet version.

IMG_3233

Another day, another apricot inspiration. Similarly to the day when I was in the metro daydreaming about pomegranate molasses and chipotle pepper, one day a few weeks ago I was in my office, in between emails and phone calls, and that little background brain of mine was thinking about the big bag of apricots in the crisper drawer.

In the summer time, I love upside-down cakes. Gooey, sticky, fruity upside-down cakes with buttermilk or yogurt batter flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Raspberry upside-down cakes, peach upside-down cakes, why not an apricot upside-down cake?

Better yet, what about cupcakes? And what better way to decorate an upside-down apricot cake than with rosemary. But the rosemary would need something to rest upon – frosting, of course.

IMG_3241

And there you have it: a handful of summertime bliss.

The batter for this recipe is adapted from a cake I have been making over and over this summer: Candied Fennel-Topped Lemon Cake from Epicurious (try that one, too!) The base for the mascarpone frosting comes from none other than Martha Stewart.

Apricot-Rosemary Upside-Down Cupcakes

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

The Urban Gardner: two libraries in Paris

My interest in gardening derives directly from my interest in food. As a sunburnt child in my grandparents’ garden in Connecticut, I would run barefoot across the dry summer grass to the garden, picking green beans off the stem and popping them directly in my mouth. Asparagus were the hardest to grow, according to Grandma, and cucumbers and zucchini were abundant and would burst to be the size of my young forearm towards the end of the season.

Here in the city, I have a small space off my kitchen window that overlooks the courtyard at the ground floor level. I have a nice herb garden and a few fruit bushes – strawberries in a window box, raspberries in two pots (thanks to friends who gave me raspberry babies two summers ago – merci Sam et Chris !)

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

This Urban Garden, Paris 11

I recently discovered that there are two libraries in Paris dedicated to plants and gardening. While the resources at these libraries are 100% en français, I thought this could be interesting for other Parisiens looking to spend an afternoon browsing and reading about the subject, or for those who have small children and are looking for new kid-friendly sites to discover.

Maison de la Nature

Located in the Parc Floral, a special garden within the park of the Château de Vincennes. The Parc proposes numerous activities throughout the year – from open-air concerts in the summer, to gourmet food fairs and other exhibits in the fall and spring.

The library collection spans from books about the environment, to different plant types, climates, types of soil, forestry, etc. etc. There are numerous children’s games and books, as well.

Books can be consulted on-site or borrowed to take home. A separate subscription is necessary from that of the regular Paris Libraries.

Note that the Parc Floral is only free to visitors in summertime during the week; on weekends there is an entrance fee. The library occasionally organizes special free events on weekends, and if you’ve signed up in advance you can enter for free.

More information in English can be found here: http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71343/Parc-Floral-de-Paris-Jardin-botanique-de-la-Ville-de-Paris

Website in French: http://equipement.paris.fr/maison-paris-nature-17576

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Maison.Paris.nature

My sweet garden: growing mint

My sweet garden: growing mint

Bibliothèque de la Maison et du Jardinage

This library is inside the Parc de Bercy in the heart of Paris’ 12th arrondissement, free to visitors year-round. There is a tiny courtyard outside the building with various potted plants, and a small greenhouse only accessible by reservation.

Inside, the ground floor is dedicated to children’s activities, with interactive games and exhibits.

Upstairs, the small library contains an arsenal of books about all different kinds of plants, gardening techniques, and periodicals. Books may not be borrowed – but consultation on-site does not require any subscription.

Website: http://equipement.paris.fr/bibliotheque-de-la-maison-du-jardinage-6619

In the meanwhile, back at my apartment, I’ve tried my hand at staking the raspberries. Anyone tips or suggestions on raspberry growing are welcomed!

Supporting raspberries

Supporting raspberries

Standard
Uncategorized

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

An ode to the apricot, part one: savory version

Sometimes inspiration suddenly strikes in the most unlikely of places, for no known reason. Sitting in the metro line 9, riding home from work, I thumbed through the last few chapters of The God Of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, but some back portion of my brain was concentrating on dinner.

My brain silently scanned the pantry as I read on about the escapades of Rahel and Estha in Kerala. Pomegranate molasses, yes… Chipotle perhaps? And isn’t there some mint? Dum dum…

Once home, I emptied the pantry for all the likely culprits who could help enhance my dinner. The vinegars, the oils – the nuts, seeds, dried fruits. The herbs already perched along the countertop watched and waited with anticipation as I threw bits and bobs into the blender.

The meal that evening (already-cooked couscous with turmeric cauliflower,) got lathered in this special sauce with a few additions (chicken drumsticks, roasted apricots, and basil,) and Eurkea! An idea for an excellent starter was born.

I give you this, to relish now while the apricots are abundant and ripe in the Northern hemisphere. If you don’t have a chipotle-peppers-in-adobo-supplier wherever you are, I’m sorry. Try Amazon.

Roasted Apricot Caprese with Pomegranate-Chipotle Sauce

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Tsoureki, and overcoming loss

With most of my family firmly planted on the other side of an ocean, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how I would feel, what I would do, the day a dear loved one would pass. During the first few years abroad, I panicked every time the thought came to mind: what will I do? I can’t afford to fly home. My heart would seize up and waves of guilt and helplessness would sow their seeds.

Years past. I got older and became more financially secure. I relaxed knowing that if the day were to come and I felt the need to hop immediately on a plane to Boston or New York, it would not be completely impossible. My preemptive grief waned. I worried less.

More recently, my perspective has changed. Maybe it’s all that yoga, maybe it’s India, maybe it’s the dabbling in meditation: but I no longer felt like I would need to book the next flight out if “something bad happened.” Finances aside, I felt that if someone I loved had come to the end of a long happy life, I would be able to mourn their passing without jumping in an airship and scurrying back to my native land.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Last winter, when I shared my Grandmother’s family bread recipe, a dear friend in Greece shared a couple more with me. One, she said, looks very similar to my bread but is usually made at Easter. I kept it aside and thought, if I had the time, I would bake the bread in come spring.

At the end of March, my Grandmother’s health took a steep turn. She had a stroke and, less than a week later, left us peacefully. I learned that despite years of imagining this scenario, I still couldn’t avoid the roller coaster of emotions I would feel now that the day had come. I still couldn’t help but take a look at last-minute plane ticket prices, couldn’t not contemplate, at the least, sprinting home to be there for her last breaths.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Grandpa and Dad reassured me, insisted there was nothing I could do from near or afar except think good thoughts for her and wish for the best. So, on the day of her funeral, April 3rd, I stayed put in my kitchen, and I did something that she would have enjoyed doing with me. I made a new bread recipe, and perhaps, created a new tradition.

Tsoureki is seasoned with ground cherry pits (mahlab), and a special kind of tree sap called mastic. It’s sweet flavor sings the arrival of spring, and hints at summer yet to come.

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

Tsoureki, Greek Easter bread

For the tsoureki recipe, check out My Greek Dish.

Standard