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Archive for the ‘Deliciousness’ Category

I was ecstatic last week when Josephine decided that she would indeed have another spoonful of the black beans that I offered her. I was wary at first. I have been trying to get her to eat beans for a while (probably since she was 9 or 10 months old) with no luck. She had a particularly strong reaction to lentils, you may remember. So, when she reached for more black beans, I was shocked. It must be the mango, I thought. (I usually make the beans with mango chunks, spiced healthily with ginger, garlic, cumin and lime juice, a recipe from a Moosewood cookbook that I first learned to make in Boston with my friend Rebecca).

Then, a few days later, I thought, what the heck, and I offered her some lentil soup. She ate that up too! Could be we in the clear for legumes? I wonder what changed her mind.

In other news, Josephine’s vocabulary continues to grow. We can now add to the list: ball, all done, Papa, Gigi (with some liberal interpretation here), and down. Maybe I would add cat.  Last Sunday, I asked her if she was hungry and then I said “Oink, oink,” in an attempt to be funny. This kind of stuck for the next few times when I asked her if she was hungry, she continued to oink.  Concrete proof, I suppose, that I must be careful of what I say for it may readily be picked up and repeated.

I’m going to end this post with a photo from a glorious meal of spaghetti and meatballs, one of Jo’s favorite meals.

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While my parents, brother and sister were here visiting, we all stayed in a spacious and grand Parisian apartment in the 5th arrondissement on the rue Claude Bernard.  We were just steps from rue Mouffetard which was kind of nice, especially since having so many warm bodies on hand, Tadhg or I could sneak out in the evening once Josephine went to sleep.  (It was at the gelato place Amorino on Mouffetard that we tried the nutella flavor for the first time; smitten at first lick, we spent last weekend organizing our Saturday around a visit to Amorino…. They don’t call it “l’inimitable” for nothing.)

We had an amazing dinner at a place called Chez Lena and Mimile on a rainy Friday night.  Due to the precipitation, we weren’t up to trekking too far for a good meal and we sort of happened on Lena and Mimile, which is nestled on a little crest overlooking a square, tucked away on the rue Tournefort.  We were seated immediately by an extremely solicitous host/manager character who had a peculiar way of intoning everything through his nose.  Despite this tic, he was completely focused in all other ways on making sure that we were going to have the best dining experience possible and he led us to great wine, great menu decisions and, indeed, a great time.

I would say that this meal conjured up for me all of the best things about French cooking.  And by this I mean LA SAUCE. Every dish that we ordered was a hymn to sauce; the sauce didn’t just come with a dish, or complement a dish, it essentially defined the dish and tied all of the other elements together.  Most crucially, the sauce was not a tired, thick mass of dubious whitish appearance which made everything soggy.  Rather, the sauce uplifted each dish and allowed the ingredients to achieve their full potential.

Let me provide some examples.  I ordered a version of pasta primavera but it was infinitely jazzed up by a mango pesto sauce.  The mango flavor was subtle and rich, not sweet and obnoxious, melding perfectly with the other pesto elements.  I have ruminated deeply on how to recreate this sauce at home many times since.  Dad had an amazing dish of sautéed squid which was drizzled with a dynamite basil butter sauce.  The rich buttery green sauce melted into the taut squid and melded all of it in your mouth.  My sister had scallops which were celebrated in a simple but sinful buttery foam (her dish also received a nod for the most aesthetically pleasing plate as the scallops came served on the half shell, anchored in piles of white, coarse Kosher salt).  My brother’s steak au poivre took this French classic and did it proud, touching off sparks between the peppery crunch and the creamy smoothness.  The ultra fine, razor thin waffle fries that accompanied his dish found their way into the sauce even though they could have been devoured easily on their own merits.  Tadhg’s filet of bass was good, but his mushroom risotto was divine.  Mom had an excellent roast lamb, jazzed up with a smattering of roasted veggies, including some beets.  (I feel like the inclusion of beets always takes a dish up a notch or two).

I just realized that I didn’t even begin with the entrées, or appetizers.  Suffice to say that Tadhg’s all-encompassing love of foie gras was not disappointed by a felicitous pairing of foie gras on toast points with an accompanying drizzle of red currant sauce. There was also an ingenious take on melted cheese in the form of gooey camembert piled with soft, steamed apple, all wrapped in some sort  of phyllo dough and drizzled with a balsamic reduction.  I could go on but I should get to the desserts.

Still high on my salted caramel discovery, I ordered caramel ice cream which was advertised as caramel à la fleur du sel and I was in seventh heaven.  Jackie indulged in a très rich chocolate mousse.  Tadhg’s dessert was by far the fanciest and it even came christened with its own exotic moniker  — “Le Désiré” — and it involved lemon cream, an almond cookie and some fraises des bois, a highly coveted specie of strawberry found here in Paris.

We were all delightfully satisfied with our dining experience and were pulling on our coats to go back out into the rain when a waitress came over and asked if we would allow the bartender to share a digestif with us. Mais bien sûr ! Shots of hazelnut liqueur were had by all and to all a good night.

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Our formula for a wonderful Easter: Chocolate egg first thing in the morning, scrambled eggs for breakfast with a fresh baguette and some Irish rashers and sausage, chocolate Lindt bunny loses his ear, mass at Notre Dame, lunch at Brasserie Balzar (delicious lamb, cooked two different ways, and then chocolate mousse, chocolate profiteroles and moelleux au chocolat), nap for Josephine, more chocolate, stroll in Montsouris, more chocolate…

Happy Easter everyone!

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While Tadhg’s sister, Síle, and her husband, Jim, were here, we tried our best to get out and treat them to some fine Parisian grub. Jim is a grand amateur of stinky cheese and cured meats so he was particularly interested in this mission. One night, Tadhg, Jim, and I set out to try Le Bistrot Paul Bert, which kept popping up on our radar as a place not to be missed.  Being Monday, we were disappointed to find it was closed, but serendipitously we happened upon Le Chardenoux, which is right down the street, at the corner of rue Paul Bert and rue Jean Valles.  The restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1908, is a lovely example of Parisian bistrot dining at its zenith.  The ceilings harbor peaceful, lyrical paintings of a partially cloudy sky; these odes to blues and greys are then framed in gorgeous white molding.  The warm lights in the restaurant highlighted these airy vistas and gave the whole place a light buoyancy.  Jim summed up this feeling, noting that he doesn’t usually like when restaurants are so well-lit at night, but it seemed appropriate here.  The original tin bar was requisitioned for use by the German army during the Occupation, so the one you see today dates from after the war but you would never know.

Even though it was a Monday night, Le Chardenoux was full of neighborhood people who were enjoying their meals, including one couple with a dog curled up at their feet.  We didn’t know anything about the place, but we were already starting to get a good feeling about the meal at hand.  We began with two entrées: a sumptuously thick chestnut velouté and foie gras ravioles (Tadhg is a grand amateur of foie gras and rarely misses a chance to order it…) It was still a little wintry out and the decadent chestnut soup was perfect, lending itself admirably to being smeared on thick slabs of brown bread that tasted a little bit like sourdough.  Onto round two.  I ordered “la belle entrecôte” (the beautiful rib steak), which was very good under its smothering of béarnaise sauce, although I found the cut to be a bit fatty.  It came with its own adorable tiny cast iron casserole of whipped potatoes.  Tadhg got the steak tartare with frites.  This was essentially a huge mound of raw beef, mixed with a delicious, spicy, savory compound of cornichons, peppers, dressing and all sorts of other things I couldn’t begin to guess at.  Everyone enjoyed taking a taste, although I think this is the best way to go when it comes to steak tartare — the serving here was so huge, and so daunting, given its rawness, that Tadhg found it hard to make his way through it.  We all agreed that it would have been perfect if a third of it had been offered as an appetizer.  The frites were definitely good.  Jim ordered the hachis Parmentier with duck.  I would describe this dish, often seen on Parisian menus, as French comfort food; it’s the French version of  shepherd’s pie with a meaty layer of ground meat on the bottom of the casserole dish, with several thick strata of potatoes and cheese on top.  He was not disappointed.

Somehow we found room for dessert, which we found completely, sinfully amazing.  The éclair au beurre caramel salé (eclair with salty, buttery caramel) could not have been better.  The French really know how to mix their sweet and salty and this caramel éclair blew my mind with every bite.  We also ordered some profiteroles which came with their own regal silver pot of melted chocolate and an extra long fork for dipping (although someone was not deterred from sticking her spoon into the silver pot of chocolate once the profiteroles were exhausted).  By the time the waiter came with the bill, I was in a full-on dessert-induced coma. And yet, when someone came by with a cast iron tin of Madeleines, fresh out of the oven, we found a bit more room. All in all, Le Chardenoux was a completely wonderful surprise.

(FYI: After looking for the restaurant online to show some pictures, I gleaned that the chef of Le Chardenoux, Cyril Lignac, is actually quasi-famous and was on a French reality show called “Oui chef.” Who knew?)

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From our little Valentine to you…with a side of a deliciously pink framboise macaroon pastry…xoxo

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We were lucky to have Td’s Aunt Barbara come to visit last week and our first visitor prompted us to get out and try some of the local cuisine. We live just a few minutes’ walk from the quartier de la Butte aux Cailles, which we’ve been told is a very nice little pocket of restaurants and bars and its out-of-the-way location has managed to keep the prices reasonable. We went to a total of three restaurants during her visit: one night Td and Babs went out, the second night Ng and Babs went to dinner after checking out the Pompidou and then the third night Barbara kindly babysat for la Petite so Maman and Papa could have their first Parisian night on the town.

Td and Barbara went to a place whose name we can’t be sure of. It was the address of a restaurant called Papagallo and there appeared to be a remnant of a sign there for said Papagallo but the more recent looking décor seemed to indicate that the place was named “Chez les filles.” Anyway, both Td and Barbara found it be a very serviceable meal, and especially so given its very nice price — 13 euros for the dinner menu which was entrée + plat + dessert. Td ordered fried sardines — a first for his adventuresome palate! — and he ate them, heads and all. The verdict, perhaps colored by said sardine consumption: Just so-so.

Barbara and I meandered up and down la rue de la Butte, peeking in windows before we settled on La Butte Aveyronne, a cheerful looking place with the red-and-white checkered tablecloths that seem so français. This was our first experience with la cuisine aveyronnaise and so we were quite taken aback when we saw the maitre d’ serve up the first plate of saucisse à l’aligot. As I later found, aligot, a delicious mélange of potato, cheese and crème fraiche, is a well-known plate from this region of France and it’s been credited as being the forefather to fondue. It’s a pretty amazing sight: the maitre d’ or waiter brings out a copper pot filled with a white, fluffy-looking substance. He stands the pot on its own special table in full view of the restaurant and then he begins to “faire filer l’aligot”, which means he starts whipping a wooden spoon high into the air to create long ribbons of the starchy mixture. [See photo below.] He then takes a plate laden with sausage and wraps the aligot all over the top of the plate, sealing in the sausage under a creamy blanket. Obviously, I ordered the aligot and it was everything it promised to be and totally, overwhelmingly filling. I almost didn’t have room to sample Barbara’s steak doused in a Roquefort sauce and her deliciously crispy pommes de terre. For dessert, Barbara’s interest was piqued by the Dôme de glace, which took her back with its prune-flavored ice cream and pile of whipped cream and drizzle of burnt caramel sauce. And yes, for those of you like Td who find it hard to believe that prunes can be dessert-worthy, it was excellent.

On our night out, we went to Chez Gladines, which was positively bumpin’ on a Friday night. We heard they served some Basque specialties and given our magical memories of Biarritz, we thought it would be an appropriate place to mark our first date as parents in Paris. After waiting a bit for a table, we were crammed into the restaurant, whose ambiance was completely unpretentious, but perhaps not where you would go if you were seeking romance. To start, we had some escargot smothered in Roquefort butter sauce and a charcuterie plate. This probably would have been enough for our meal, but we had already committed to main courses. Td went for a steak with a green peppercorn sauce and I tried a Basque dish, Pimientos del piquillo à la morue. This turned out to be little red pimento peppers stuffed with a very salty cod mixture, studded with little snippets of fresh chive and then sautéed in a tomato and garlic sauce. Quite good although it was really salty and required much gulping of wine and water. The desserts weren’t worth writing about – a very bland rice pudding and gateau basque (I couldn’t really tell what was basque about it…the waiter said something about frangipane so I ordered it but it didn’t even have that nice almond taste). And apparently, we ordered poorly for everyone around us kept getting the same thing – some mammoth dish called something veau à la montagnard (roughly translates to “veal in the mountain man style”) which was a large piece of veal smothered in a slosh of gravy and mushrooms and potatoes.   Td even began to feel somewhat emasculated as  it seemed like every single man in the restaurant was being served up this hearty dish and he was making do with a wimpy little steak and potatoes.   As the woman next to us said, “C’est inquiétant”, meaning “It’s frightening.” Yes, indeed it was. But we now feel somewhat confident that we could recommend at least two places in our near environs and I’m dying to take Td back to try the aligot.

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In January, the French celebrate the end of the holiday season with a special and très delicieuse dessert called la Galette des Rois.  Traditionally, this Kings’ Cake is supposed to be eaten on the day of the Epiphany to fete the tardy arrival of the three kings.  However, it seems like the cake is eaten all month, and it’s a great pretext to get together with friends or simply to indulge in a confection that resembles a giant round croissant, with flaky buttery crust, and a filling called frangipane, or almond paste.  We’ve partaken of the galette three times since our arrival on January 11, which probably would qualify as a very modest consumption rate.

Each galette comes with a fève, some sort of little figurine in porcelain or plastic, which is hidden inside the cake, and a paper folded-up crown (reminiscent of the ones you would get at Burger King) is slid into the bag or box of your galette, kind of like a cake accessory.  The youngest person in the household is supposed to sit under the table while the galette is being served. Then everyone eats their slice, looking for the fève. Whoever finds the bean gets to choose his king or queen, who then gets to don the paper crown.  In our household, Tadhg has found the fève every time, though fortunately, he has allowed me to be the queen.  Funnily, the fèves themselves vary wildly in theme: our first one was a miniature Spiderman action figure while our last one was a neon green angel.

We got our first galette from a run-of-the-mill boulangerie near our house and we shared it our first night in Paris. It was exactly what the galette should be, but nothing exceptional. We only had two slices of it so we ate the remaining two slices the next morning for breakfast, which was very appropriate, given its croissant-like attributes.

The second galette was enjoyed on our way home from the Prefecture de Police when we decided to celebrate our failure to obtain the carte du séjour.  This one was petite and billed as an ‘individuelle’ although it was shared amicably between the two of us. (I should note that this is indeed a very good scale for rating portion sizes of dessert because we have also encountered not so amicable sharing…although it is usually TD who deems a dessert to be truly individuelle.)   This one, from a bakery called Domique Saguin, was chocolate and it was excellent, with a rich, chocolately flavor penetrating into the buttery crust, but not overpowering the galettey-ness of the cake which would have made it just another chocolate cake.

Friends of ours came to dine last Friday and they also brought with them a galette, and this one may have taken the veritable cake, in terms of deliciousness. It had a subtle hint of pistachio in addition to the almond flavor and all four of us raked up the flaky crumbs from our plates in order to get every last bit.

We were thinking it would be nice to continue this January tradition once we’re back in the US, but I don’t know if TD or I could possibly bake something so flakily delicious.  We don’t have an oven in our apartment here and we’ve been told that this isn’t that unusual in Paris; this makes sense to me. Why bother trying to replicate something so good at home? You’d only be setting yourself up for disappointment.  The Parisian’s lack of an oven seems to be a way to avoid this depressing conclusion.  Self-reliance, that deeply American quality, is not for desserts.

And oh yes, should probably mention that the Kings Cake is also eaten in New Orleans on Mardi Gras.

PS: All this talk about the Galette des Rois convinced us to properly document the occasion so we’ll be posting the photos from our fourth gdr here.

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