Monday, March 31, 2008

Return of the Cheddar

Upon arriving in London last weekend, we went straight to Kensington High Street to visit the most beautiful Whole Foods I've ever seen.

Only living in Paris would render the airy, chalk-board sights of this store so gorgeous to me. I picked up some rose petal masala, a make your own muesli, chocolate with lavender, fennel toothpaste and a pound of flax seed (linseed as they call it there).

As we walked to the till, we passed a display of hot chili crackers - on the side it said, serve with aged cheddar so I grabbed the first one I saw and headed upstairs to eat a tostada with beans, cilantro, 'soured cream,' and fresh jalapenos.

We brought the cheddar to our dear hosts who added the Keen's Cheddar they had purchased - half of an incredible cheese plate that we ate this all weekend. The Keen's Cheddar is complex and strong and on those chili crackers? Perfection.

Saturday we went to the Borough Market. I filled my basked with danson jam and burnt sugar raw sugar caramel fudge and some dulce de leche from Spain and as we left, I eyed a cheese sandwich stand. Above you see the grilled cheese, greasy and wrapped, cut with some salad of onions and cucumbers and something else, that I ate on the way out.

If only they'd had macaroni and cheese at Whole Foods, it would've been the perfect cheese weekend.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bienvenue Printemps

We Pisces know that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb but surely in Paris there could be a better way to welcome spring than with hail and near-snow?

A dinner party. Some French friends, some American, and food that brings hope of sunny days.

What I miss is the glory of flipping through food magazines and newspaper sections for inspiration. What do I do instead? Click on Epicurious links which I don't enjoy as much, but which led me to some fantastic recipes.

We started with what's pictured here: Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange Black Pepper Marmalade - the tart sweet spiciness of the marmalade was the perfect way to wake us up to the potential of spring, albeit with wintry citrus. The recipe was written by Amelia Saltsman, whose recipes I am always moved by when she's interviewed on the Good Food Market Report (she wrote a cookbook about this market).

Also inspired by Good Food, was Russ Parson's suggestion for making a Spring Potato Chowder - new potatoes (12 euros a kilo!), green garlic (the best I could do was green onions), and topped with a bit of vinegar, olive oil and pecorino - one guest said, "I know this might not be a compliment to you, but it tastes like bacon!"

To work on my goal of roasting whole fish, I succeeded in ordering a 4kilo bar de ligne (line-caught sea bass) for a recipe for Roasted Fish with Coriander and Vinegar Sauce. Liam and I worked together to stuff it with roasted almonds, lemon slices and coriander and then laid it out on a bed of bay leaves and set to roast for the good part of an hour. Topped with the vinegar sauce, it was pretty remarkable - tangy without being too, well, vinegar-y, and with all this great roasted crunch from the stuffing.

Bienvenue Printemps! I shouted with the dessert, welcoming spring with strawberries. whipped cream and boulangerie-made meringues - an idea that I got from the New York Times - so, perhaps, I'm still doing my 'flipping through the pages' anyway...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bebe Food

Last weekend Liam's family visited. It was a fun-filled three days of parks, drizzle, visits to Notre Dame complete with the "Who is God?" question, more drizzle, a tea party, and some nachos.

At one of our between-the-park-and-a-nap stops, we sat outside at Marche des Enfants Rouges, one of my favorite markets in the 3rd, to eat our lunch. Liam took off to get cous cous for everyone while I held it down with a middle eastern plate and 2 young ladies aged 5 and 3 eating dolma and hummus off of my fork.

Liam's sister pulled out the food for her youngest, a 9-month old that I lovingly refer to as Sweet Potato, and what was he having? Cous cous!

Later, a 5 year old and I played a game in the grocery store called, "If I were a baby, I would eat ..." which I created on the spot solely to memorize the fantastic array of foods for the bebe at the store.

The game went like this ...

If I were a baby, I would eat ....
duck and peas for lunch
ratatouille for dinner
creme caramel for dessert
more duck for lunch the next day ... and so on.

Canard avec petit pois for lunch? Who could say no?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Last week, Sara visited us, and we were able to show off our now-nearly-honed Tour Guide skills. Early morning walks to Ile St Louis for a cafe creme with a view of Notre Dame, pictures on various ponts, and petit sacs of macarons at Pierre Herme to be consumed at Luxemborg Gardens. Following the sunny walk and garden tour, we decided to avoid a touristy haunt and thus, we ended up lunching at Bread and Roses - a British place that I had passed many times on my way to French class in the fall, but had heard wasn't that good. It proved us quite wrong.

I had the "Ploughman's Lunch" that you can see above. A fat old slice of cheddar with a beautifully soft piece of Irish soda bread and some water crackers. A little bit of 'pickle' it was called in French, but was more like chutney and some salade on the side. I decided that despite my aversion to cold lunches, this was the perfect dejeuner for me.

Lunch has been a weird experience for me now that I spend most of my time at home in the day.

I went through a short-lived "I can cook lunch every day!" phase. What followed was the "Bittman was right, baking an egg is the way to go!" ramekin phase. Finally, there's been the "Alice Waters says you don't even need to cook to eat well a perfect loaf of bread can be a great lunch!" phase.

Today, I had a pain aux cereales from the fabulous Veronique Mauclerc with some 48 month aged Gouda and a few lucques olives with some hot peppers. Yummy, but I will admit publicly - sometimes I think it would be nice to have Annie's mac and cheese and a Smart Dog for a "I was a child in 1982 who ate Kraft mac and cheese and hot dogs but now I'm grown and eat organic/vegetarian lunch."

That is a favorite dejeuner phase too.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why I Should Stick to Buying Cheese

Setting: 5aSec, Rue Rivoli (dry cleaner's)
Time: 2:30pm
Major Players: A 'French-speaking' Fromagette and a kind cashier

[conversation translated into English for your reading pleasure]

C: Bonjour Madame!
F: Bonjour Madame!
C: Would you like to take a free card today to have a discount?
F: No thank you!
C: No, it's free, you just take a card for a discount.
F: No thank you Madame, it's good!
C: laughs
F: smiles 'knowingly' believing that she has not been scammed into some kind of 'membership card' to pay for a discount. C continues to laugh.
C: ringing up purchase. 8.60 please!
F: looking over at the cards and seeing that they're actually a free discount now that she has time to translate: March 1- 15 - Game Days! Free Discount up to 40%!. Hands cashier money.
C: I guess you had the correct change! another giggle
F: feeling stupid but not having enough French to say 'oops, can I grab one now?'. Yes!
C: They will be ready tomorrow!
F: I am in agreement! Thank you! Good bye!
C: smiling. perplexed? Good bye!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Grocery Store Maven Goes to Monoprix

Monoprix is like Trader Joe's meets Safeway. It has a small 'ethnic aisles' like the Shaw's of my college days, including one for Italian food. In another, you'll find coconut milk, tortillas, and peanut butter on the same two shelves.

For Chinese New Year, a seasonal aisle was chock-full of Vietnamese rice paper rolls and nori and nothing discernably 'Chinese.'

Monoprix, being a French grocery, has an extraordinary yogurt aisle, butter collection and four grades of cheese: regular packaged, a gourmet package, a just-cut-from-across-the-way fromager package, and a fromager. These are in four different locations in the store.

Like Trader Joe's, Monoprix doesn't seem to have the same inventory each week. They also seem to add new sections frequently - this past week I saw an all-bio (organic) vegetable section with some of the saddest plastic-encased vegetables I've seen. The same refrigeration weirdness that has tofu underneath zucchini at Safeway has cranberries by prepared salads and a fancy citron yogurt that I like hidden next to pre-made sandwiches here in Paris.

This week I explored an aisle I'd never paid much attention to. I imagine it's the Cocktail Aisle (or apero for aperitif). I turned from picking up honey for my Cream of Wheat and saw the display small packages with yummy treats that seemed perfect for a PMS week. My favorites: cheese puffs in a small package so they don't get stale and Pringles-like paprika chips.

We don't have any plans with friends for an apero over here any time soon, but I figured it'd be good to be ready - and by ready, I mean to have sampled them before I put them out there for guests.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


With all apologies to Monsieur Passard, L'Arpege is decorated like a dentist's office (credit to his website for this photo). Warm and not too stuffy, but unlike the lovely squash you see here, we saw paintings and Mr. Passard's book translated into Japanese.

We sat at the table you see here and I'm regretful that I did not bring my camera - the dining room included a teenager wearing jeans, several large 35mm cameras and a couple that couldn't get enough of the sommelier (another picture taken) - and I was worried about what we wore and what we carried!

But I digress from the meal.

Liam and I both had the menu. Pas de viande! the waitress informed us, but she had just explained that one of the first courses included a foam of lardon, so perhaps this was 'without meat' the French way?

There was foam on everything, and this made me happy.

I fell first for a foamy oeuf flavored with sherry vinegar and maple syrup and tasted as amazing as it sounds terrible. A dish that followed that seemed to be buttery foam on potatoes was like the essence of dauphin - but this may be the fume of a good hunk of ham.

A slice of celeriac was covered in crispy chestnuts and black truffle - Liam did not like it - I thought it was a bit too salty. A final plate of roasted root vegetables - everything from slices of rutabaga to salsify to several colors of carrots all covered in, yes, saffron foam. There was an earlier beet dish which was one of the least sweet beets I have ever had.

Our main course was by far the best - a slice of abalone covered in another white foam, accompanied by onions caramelized in vanilla bean and an onion gratin that came to the table a few seconds later. I was nearly full at this point, but wiped every bit of foam off of that plate.

And while I was surely smitten with Liam for bringing me here for my 32nd birthday, I made a several-glasses-of-wine-later suggestion that if I am ever to leave him, it might be for the incredible wheel of salers that arrived on an oak bench with a 4 year aged comte, served only in L'Arpege (no where else in the city), and, I quote (this was in English so I know what I'm saying here) "raised as you would raise a child."

Needless to say, it was some of the best cheese I have ever had.

Dessert: a honeyed souffle with a 'heart of chocolate' was so light and deliciously honeyed without being too sweet and a plate of petits fours that ranged from fun (celeriac and beet macarons!) to classic (chocolate puff pastry).

Despite rain that started off the morning, there was sun streaming into our faces while we ate - some of the best ambiance you can hope for during a late-winter Paris lunch.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Serendipity of Turmeric (and other rhizome tea tales)

It was a week of culinary serendipity.

One day I'm reading Madhur Jaffrey's top 100 of Saveur piece on fresh turmeric, a few days later I'm at Paris' Passage Brady in front of a bin of the stuff.

One day I'm reading a blog about making ice cream with condensed milk and cursing the universe that I can't find it here. Several days later, Veronica tells me that she adds it to horchata and I need to scope out the part of the grocery store I'm not as familiar with - the unrefrigerated milk section.

And so, one serendipitous week and a few days later, I am the queen of rhizome teas.
After taking Katie and Veronica on a spice run to make homemade chai, I remembered Ginger Tea and with the canned milks find, fled home for a quick blended brew. It's deep with ginger and smoky with black tea and that earthy undertone of sweetened condensed milk and one of the best teas I know.

Today, I returned to my less familiar rhizome and peeled a knob to make sure it was the orange yellow finger-stainer that I thought it was. A faint Dr. Weil-said-that-Okinawans-live-to-be-100-because-they-drink-it-daily memory and several Internet searches later, I boiled it with a few cups of water and one cardamon pod. One cup later, I'm a fan.