Monday, February 26, 2007

No Need Bread

Well. I had to.

That's my excuse anyways.

Yes, it's passe, yes it's been done over and over and ad nauseum again and agin. Blogged about, talked about, and updated. We've heard about the positive impact on the purchase of Le Creuset pots, the negative impact on the theft of handles and how this bread has changed the way people bake, make and eat bread. I'm boring myself now.

I now have time on my hands and made it. It was awful.

I was sincerely hoping that this would be IT. The one thing I could actually bake that wouldn't turn out absolutely horrible. I was wrong. Very wrong.

My first mistake? Not consulting my astrologist, sorry, I mean my expert friends. I thought, there is no bleeping way I could mess this up.

Second mistake? Not doing the research in the links above and finding the multitude of revisions and amendments.

So let me start. I mixed the dough, stuck it next to the radiator with beautiful results. You see those bubbles dotting the surface? Gorgeous, right? Also, the plastic wrap turned out to have completely expanded into a dome shape.

I then let it rest a bit longer than I intended, about 24 hours. However, as I frantically did a search, I found that that length of rise is still ok.

So I continued with the next step but it was so so so SO sticky that it leaked all over the place, spreading out bigger than a pizza so I added "enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers". Which turned out to be a LOT. I had to keep scooping it up to ensure it didn't spill over the sides of the table. So I think I over handled it.

I finally stuck it in the oven, scraping what I could after the second rise. I left it a little longer because the top looked barely browned but when I took it out, the flour I had coated it in, was stuck the bottom of my Staub cocotte and burned, smelling up my tiny apartment.

It looked gorgeous but tasted....awful. Gummy insides and too hard a crust, the boy came back late from a company event to find the entire kitchen covered with dust, reeking of burnt flour and yeast and me curled up in bed in tears at my failure, once again, to bake something worth eating.

That is not to say I won't try again... the lovely Susan sent me a new recipe to try. Surely I can't fail, can I?

F-odd: Zombie appetite

Last week, I met up with Umami for lunch around Rue Mouffetard before her French class.

We went to a much lauded restaurant, Christophe, which had been written about in multiple guides to much praise.

We went with the two course set menu in which I had:

Accras de Peche, which turned out to be three fried balls made out of fish paste, the fish being sea bass and one other which I forget.

This was served with kind of chutney of olive leaves and a balsamic vinegar reduction. Both of us felt that the balls themselves were quite plain and would have been tasteless and mushy if not for the chutney. To their credit though, they were not greasy or over fried.

As for my main, I had the Cervelle de Veau. I hesitated for a tiny second, unsure what it was but suspecting they were brains.

And they were, served on a bed of risotto.

As soon as I was certain, I enthusiastically ordered it. Obscure, never before tried food is something I love trying (bar insects... I cannot abide them).

However, when it came out, I fully admit I was a bit taken aback. After all, they look....just like brains. I am not sure what I expected but I guess I didn't expect a slab o'brain.

It was pan fried perfectly, with a nice, slightly burnt crunchy crust giving way to the creamy insides, whose texture reminded me more of "ju huet", coagulated pig's blood, and tofu.

It was interesting, if not exactly too tasty.

The risotto served with the brains was interesting in that it mimicked the color and perceived texture of brains with its knobbly-ness and white opaque color. Overall, I'm glad I tried it but it was not tasty enough to bear a repeat.

Unfortunately both Umami and I were quite let down by our meal. It's price was right but it's tastiness definitely did not merit a repeat interest.

The boy, however, was completely horrified by my meal. I was somewhat surprised, given his general enthusiasm and willingness to try new foods. It turns out that he's disturbed by the thought of eating brains because "that's what zombies eat". Riiiiiiiiiiiight. The boy has an odd fascination/fear relationship with Zombies, which explains his utter joy when I presented him with his Valentine's present.

8 Rue Descartes
Tel: 01 43 26 72 49
Metro: Maubert - Mutualite

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cast iron!?!

As you all well know, I know jack about cooking.

Even less about cooking implements.

The other day, while meeting with the lovely sweet Umami, who took me to the most famous cookware shop in Paris, Dehillerin.

I went in with no intention of buying anything, having been put on a strict budget due to my sabbatical here. However, I couldn't resist the cast iron pan selling for an extremely reasonable 13 Euros.

The extremely camp and overly enthusiastic man who served us, warned us to coat the pan in a layer of oil and heat for about 10 minutes before using to "seal" the iron.

Which I did.

Then I fried up some bacon in order to use something with oil in it. I also obediently followed his instructions to put a tablespoon of salt and swirl around with a paper towel before wiping it off as opposed to washing it.

It looked awful. All blotchy and scratched but I ignored it, thinking it was right. Unfortunately, I cooked a stir fry in it which made it all sticky so I couldn't help but rinse it out, right?


It rusted straight away!

I immediately went online to find this: Cast Iron Jack McGrew's Ultimate Method For Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware.

Well, I thought, the man has Cast Iron in his name so surely he should be an expert, right?

So, I applied a bit of elbow grease and scrubbed and scrubbed until the rust was more or less gone. After which, I seasoned it lovingly with my fingers in olive oil and turned it upside down to air dried it for 5 days before putting it into the oven at gas mark 9 for 1 hour.

This is what it looks like now. All mottled in some bits. I remembered from the warning that it should turn black. Mine was black alright but only in certain spots. I decided to heed Cast Iron Jack's advice to do it again.

This time, I oiled and left for another 2 days and then once again, put it into the oven at gas mark 9 for 1 hour.

It still came out mottled but darker than previous attempts. As it was quite dark, almost black, I thought it worked.

However, the real test came when it was time to fry an egg. I heated the pan, put in a tablespoon of oil, swirling it around the pan, then cracked my egg in to fry. Well I still must have done something wrong because it still stuck. However, no matter, a scraping and a bit of paper tower with oil got most of the bits off. Now I just have to use it more often and fingers crossed, it has seasoned.
If anyone has any advice on this, would love to hear it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

From Oursins to Oursons

For weeks, nay months, I have boasted boastfully about my upcoming trip to the Sea Urchin Festival. Becoming much the envy of my food-loving friends and thinking that this would be a trip of a lifetime.
I had puffed out my chest and smiled pridefully. Emailing to share my excitement with those who share my waist expanding hobby of eating.

The boy, indulgent enough, had planned a trip down to see his wonderfully patient parents near Aix en Provence. They had been kind enough to not only take us to the market in Aix on Saturday, endure our wonderment and excitement for the HUGE Carrefour, eat the Chinese food we prepared for them on Lunar New Year's Eve but also drive us 40 minutes to Carry Le Rouet for the Oursinade.

Upon arrival, we immediately stumbled upon a stall selling plenty of the spiny needled creatures with their gold, creamy insides for the price of 9 euros a dozen! When I became overly excited, the boy's parents tried to calm me down and get me to move on by telling me of the dozens and dozens of stalls there would be by the waterfront, promising to buy me a huge platter, a couple of bottles of wine and hunker down to sea creature filled meal.

Upon hearing this, I hurriedly rushed to walk over to the seafront pausing only to check out the restaurants and admire the seafood platters they had on display.

When I got to the seafront I encountered only this. Beautiful to be sure, rolling clouds, crashing waves and behind me was a row of seaside restaurants. I turned around to face the boy's parents, to see them looking around them with a state of bewilderment. Onto the tourism office we marched, demanding to know where our expected stalls of sea food delights were. Meanwhile bus loads of tourists kept driving into the tiny village.

As it turns out, we had become victims of what is a very French turn of events. At 10am that very morning (we had arrived at 11am), the organizers had decided to cancel the Oursinade and perhaps, only perhaps, we were to note, that it *might* be on the following weekend but that it would not be decided until Thursday at the earliest. The reason given was bad weather. It was cold I grant you, with strong winds and intermittent rain but we were talking about sea urchins here! Surely people would be willing to put on another jacket or two?

Much dejected, we walked around to find one or two enterprising fellows with their buckets of sea urchins for sale before heading back to the original shop where I ordered a dozen of everything and a bottle of wine (I only ordered a dozen as the boy's parents did wish to partake in cold sea food that morning) before driving back another 40 minutes home where we had a huge feast o' seafood including these muddy shell like escargot creatures, fresh sweet mussels, tasty clams, briny oysters, sea urchin which were creamy with a shockingly sweet aftertaste, all washed down with a surprisingly good Oursinade wine.

So, as disappointed as I was, when we got home, with the fire roaring, platters of fresh, sweet seafood including the much beloved sea urchin, I felt not so much the absence of the L'Oursinade as I did like an ourson, all fuzzy and warm inside.

Of course this was much helped by the roasting of marshmallows we ate following our feast of the sea...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Louis XIV? Non, c'est Louis Philippe

The boy, I trust, was a real handful as a teenager. Always one to do exactly the opposite of what he was told, he, for the first time in 4+ years, decided to take me out to dinner on Valentine's day.

Perhaps it had to do with being in the most romantic city in the world, or perhaps it was because we didn't feel like Hallmark hit us viciously and repeatedly over the head as the holiday approached that he felt it was time to do something.

I, of course know better. It had to do with the old men at the bar. Throwing back espressos and carafes of red throughout the day, they were the most typical French men I have ever seen. The boy immediately wanted to go over, shake their hands and buy a round. But I was hungry and it doesn't do to keep me hungry.

So, we traipsed upstairs to a more quiet location, which, to the boy's horror was decorated for the holidays with heart shaped sprinkles all over the table. Seeing his face pale, I quickly distracted him with the menu, which was charmingly homemade on pink carton cut out in the shape of a heart.

I began with the "Queues d'ecrevisses au foie gras au vinaigre de Xeres", which was a lovely shrimp tail salad with foie gras slivers on tossed salad. Yes, I am still allergic to shrimp but I risked having a bite before turning it over to the boy, who had ordered "Oeufs brouilles aux cepes", which was like a breakfast comfort food, mashed egg with cepes.

For my main, I had the "Magret de canard aux cerises et aux pommes fruits", taking the opportunity to combine fruit with savory meats, something the boy detests. It was delicious. Sweet and very tangy with plump pitted cherries and pink duck breast. The poached and browned apples were a nice accompaniment.

The boy had the "Duo de poissons homardine", which was a nice, perfectly cooked piece of salmon which proved to have the most tender texture despite my initial suspicious that it appeared dry, as well as a white fish may have been Rouget? It was served with wild rice and a lobster sauce. The boy was well satisfied.

For dessert, the "Marquise au Chocolate" didn't work out according to the very charming waiter, but we were served pear frangipane tart with vanilla ice cream stuffed profiterole with hot chocolate sauce. It was exquisite. Although to my never ending shame, I couldn't finish it. The boy insisted I take a photo of what I couldn't' finish after expressing great shock at my shame. But, after all, this is MY blog so no pic for you!

As we left the waiter handed me a rose, I smiled and immediately cut my finger on a thorn. Happy Valentine's indeed.

The meal cost a reasonable 30 Euros not including drinks and tip.

Cafe Louis Philippe
66, Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville
75004, Paris
Tel : 01 42 72 29 42

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Have just returned from Seattle and unfortunately due to wedding errands (not mine) was not able to sample some of their finer foodstuffs.

However, before I departed, I was able to pick up a packet of an oddly named but apparently popular snack.

Pirate's booty.

Nope, as much as the boy thinks that I'm referring to his behind, it is in actual fact a puffed rice and corn snack flavored with aged white cheddar. And you know how fond I am of cheese flavored snacks.

But I had to pick it up for the name alone. And the Quagmire-looking pirate. And the cheesy (pardon the pun) pirate-y sayings. The bubbles toting the healthiness of the snack was not the selling point.

So the verdict?

Good but not great. Addictive and somewhat healthier than the E-numbered, Tara Reid's faux tan colored Cheetos that I still love.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Three C's: Couscous, Crepe and Confit!

That about sums up my weekend.

Saturday we first went to Le Marché des Enfants Rouges on Rue Bretagne, where we saw some charming international stalls serving food, one of which was run by very efficient Japanese headscarved women serving Japanese delicacies, either warm or cold, an Italian stall, very popular for its coffees and the North African stall where we were enticed by the stacked conical fragrant tagines offered up to a modest line of customers. Considering the cold weather, the North African stall was doing brisk business, selling round plates of couscous to the shivering customers who hurriedly shoveled the tasty tagines into their mouths before it cooled down too much.

I had the couscous with lamb tagine which contained generous bone-in lamb shanks cooked with onions, green olives and prunes alongside with a type of root vegetable stew. The prunes did not taste cooked with the lamb but lent a sweet touch when eaten with the lamb tagine. It was delicious but next time I aim to try the chicken with preserved lemons and green olives... unless of course, I get distracted by the Japanese stall....

After much walking around, seeing Places des Vosges and dreamily thinking about living in one of the gorgeous buildings around the area, we retired home for a cup of tea and a small treat from one of the local bakeries. The boy had a dry, tired brownie, which serves him right, really, for ordering a brownie from a French bakery! I had a beautiful thin, thin apple tart which was deliciously light and tasty.

For dinner, we went down to the Latin Quarter where we were overwhelmed with choices for cheap dinners, many of which appeared very touristy and busy. Although very much tempted to go for fondue, we plumped for crepes at La Crêperie de Cluny which I remembered from The Girl Who Ate Everything's blog. I was, shockingly, not too hungry and plumped for 8 Euro deal which included a main crepe and a dessert crepe with a bolee of cider. My main crepe was forgettable but my dessert crepe of marron creme was chestnut creme as I've never had it before. Tooth achingly sweet it was more like mash sweetened chestnut served in a warm blanket of crepe....mmmmmmnnn

On Sunday, it was free museum day! We went to the Musée d'Orsay where we headed straight for the Impressionist paintings before going down to see the sculptures and the Art Nouveau furniture by artists such as Gaudi.

Seeing such hardwork by the artists made us hungry so we traipsed across town to Montmartre, where, while not exactly capturing the mood of Amelie, we decided to stop in Un Zebre A Montmartre, which was friendly and full, which we took to be a good sign.

I decided on the Confit de Canard a Gervois (this was written on a blackboard which had rubbed up against many a sleeve so apologies if Gervois is incorrect), which was a perfectly cooked leg o' duck with a sauce of mixed mushrooms. If I had one complaint it was that the skin was not crackly and delicious but was instead quite soft and floppy. I traded the chips to the boy for some of his potatoes dauphinoise.

Everything was forgiven once the dessert came. A pear tart with hot chocolate sauce, it was a beautiful plate full of dark chocolate sauce, sprinkled with nuts, powdered sugar, cocoa and real whipped cream. It was sinful and absolutely delicious. The boy was only allowed a little bit of whipped cream while I did the plate justice.

Damn I love weekends.

La Crêperie de Cluny
20 Rue de la Harpe, 75005
Tel : 01 43 26 08 38
1, rue de la Légion d'Honneur
Tel: 01 40 49 48 14
38 Rue Lepic, 75018
Tel: 01 42 23 97 80