My Parisian Restaurant Map

Friday, October 30, 2009

Confit de canard

This is now the second time that I've had confit de canard, and I have to say, it just gets better and better.

By now I'm sure that my obsession with duck fat is pretty clear. But imagine this: a piece of duck leg, cured with salt, rubbed with garlic and then poached in its own fat for anywhere between 2 and 10 hours. Naturally it's always served with my favorite potatoes, which are roasted with garlic in the fat the leg has been poaching in.

Normally I'm not the kind of person who particularly digs fat. I generally tend to pick it off and leave it somewhere on the side of my plate. But there is something about duck fat that is just so delicious, and it seems to be so characteristic of French cuisine. Now I know that that smell I have been smelling on the streets of Paris when I walk by a bistro, that's duck fat. Just throw some in a pan at home along with a clove of garlic and voila, you too can smell Paris at home.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nesting, aka how to make tomato sauce

"Dream a little dream of me" by Louis Armstrong is playing in the background while I slowly chop shallots, carrots and parsley. I only pause to take the occasional sip of cheap red wine I originally bought just for my sauce.

I'm nesting, or trying to win my never ending battle with tomato sauce.

For some reason, basic tomato pasta sauce is the one thing that I never manage to get right. But recently, during a discussion with my cousin on the major do's and dont's of pasta sauce, I was inspired to give it another try.

So here I am, after researching the topic for a good two hours, attempting to make a good, clean, simple but deep tomato sauce for pasta.

Step 1: Slowly brown a carrot, a shallot (bought in the French countryside on one of the many roadtrips) and 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley for 15-20 min, covered.

Step 2: Add 2 cloves of minced violet garlic (purchased from the same farmer in the country) Add tomato pulp or full tomatoes (canned), a splash of balsamic vinegar (apparently the acidity helps bring out the flavors), the rind of a piece of parmesan, a lot of red wine. Cover and simmer for at least one hour, adding chicken stock when it gets too thick.

Hopefully this one will finally be a good one!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tony would be proud

I guess the true mark of obsession is worshipping the ground someone walks on.

Lucky for me, a few years back, Anthony Bourdain decided to come to Paris and walk around the Marais.

In the first episode of his then brand new series called 'No Reservations', Tony visited a mysteriously dark and hidden bistro called Chez Robert and Louise, and showed us a world where women with red lipstick and big knives whacked away at big chunks of prime rib in the kitchen. I remember Tony being particularly tickled that his steak wasn't served on a plate, but instead on a wooden chopping board with a little moat around it so that the blood would have somewhere to drip into.

4 years later, I decided to find this bistro, because it did indeed sound almost too good to be true.

And there it is, in the Marais, not as ominous and secretive as in the past, but definitely as exceptional as promised.

We arrived and were told by a man standing outside smoking a cigarette (presumably he worked there?) that we should go sit downstairs, so we followed him past a massive open fire, into the cellar. After we had been seated at the bar, I snuck back upstairs to get a peak at what was going on with this fire.

The fire was being fed with a variety of different types of wood (so there is nothing to be said for the 'oak giving my steak any oaky flavor' or any other pretentious nonsense like that). On top of the fire was a cast iron shelf, or slab, that was precariously balanced on two bricks. And on this cast iron shelf laid row after row of sizzling, shimmering, smoking chunks of prime rib, entrecote and contre fillet. W-O-W.

I ordered the contre fillet, which was described to me as a fillet of beef which is less fatty than the entrecote. It indeed came, as promised by Tony, on a delightfully old and weathered round chopping board, complete with mote to accommodate the blood. It was served with a refreshing green salad and a plate of my favorite potatoes roasted in duck fat and garlic.

All in all, this was one of the most deliciously primitive slabs of meat Ive had in a loooong time. The atmosphere was unique and the bill was not that expensive. And I think experience has shown that any place with duck fat potatoes gets a special place in my heart.

Monday, September 14, 2009

croustillant d'agneau

Mmmmmmm.....I found a new slice of heaven.

It was conceived at Chez Paul, a new bistro that I hope to frequent regularly from now on. If it weren't for the heavy price tag that is.

For starters I had my usual favorite which came highly recommended at this place: 6 small but delicious Bourgogne snails. They came without their little homes, which I prefer, because then the garlic butter really manages to marinate these little squishy bits of goodness.

In this case Im going to tell you what we drank with dinner, since it was one of the rare occassions where someone actually knew alot about wine and was able to select one that was appropriate for our meal: it was a Bordeaux AOC called Dourther Numero 1 from 2005. I can't really think of another way to describe it except that it was a dry yet incredibly deep red that literally filled every part of your mouth...

And now for the good part-my latest discovery which has rocked my socks as much as the duck fat epiphany-the croustillant d'agneau.

Basically, it was the most beautifully cooked, tender and rosé pink fillet of lamb (if there is such a thing). As I started to pick away at it, I noticed that there was a little white rim around the fillet, which I assumed to be the fat. But no, oh no, boy was it not the fat.

This fillet of lamb, apart from being accompanied by the most sublime garlic and honey reduction and a mousseline of split peas, turned out to be enveloped in the thinnest, most transparent, soft and buttery yet somehow also crispy, layer of dough. What I thought was fat turned out to be a crunchy layer of paper thin crust, which I soon realized was actually wrapped around the entire piece of meat.

And to top it all off, hidden under this layer of divine 'crust' was the most discreet bed of caramelized onions, so delicate and finely chopped that they almost went unnoticed. Almost.

How they got the sides to be crunchy, the rest melt-in-your-mouth soft and the color almost completely transparent, I will never know. But what I do know is this: anytime you see the word 'croustillant' on a French menu, no matter what it applies to (cheese, meat, veggies), you MUST order it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Little Anecdote

So I've been lazing away in Greece on summer vacation, hence the lack of posts. I've been too boozed up on ouzo and sun to even think about sitting in front of my computer.

But before I get back into full swing blogging (which I will, I promise) here is the story of a fun fiasco to make you laugh.

The night before I left for vacation, my lovely man decided to take me out to one of our favorite little bistros on the rue Monmartre, called Le Tambour. We've been here countless times, and in fact it is one of my primary sources of inspirational French food. (see duck fat potatoes, snails in garlic butter etc.)

By now I know their menu pretty much by heart, so I tend to go for the specials. The specials are to be found on a tiny piece of photocopied paper, scribbled in the scribbliest pompous French handwriting youve ever seen. (As if to say, if you can't read me then you're the idiot, not me.)
But it's safe to say by the time your waiter comes around, you'll have gotten the gist what it says and know what you want to order.

So there I was craving lamb and garlic duck fat potatoes (duh) when low and behold, one of the specials is 'rice scribble of lamb, scribble in the pan, scribble whiskey sauce with potatoes.' YAAAAAAY!

So now I'm a real happy girl, waiting for my lamb to come, somewhere in the back of my mind vaguely wondering why there would be rice and potatoes in the same dish, but whatever, the thought of the potatoes makes my mouth water so I take a sip of wine and step back into the conversation.

Our dishes arrive, and I immediately dive in. At this point I could hardly contain myself, let alone stop to look at what I was actually eating. "Mmmmmmm, mmmmmm, mmmmm" I tell my friend, who asks me how it is. Once again, somewhere in the back of my head, I'm wondering why all the pieces of lamb are in such perfect little oval shapes. "Mmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm" I continue moaning to myself. Slowly, these little thoughts in the back of my head start creeping up to the front. "Why is the taste of this lamb so mild? Usually lamb has a really strong taste. And seriously, why is this meat so white? Lamb is usually brown!" Slowly I start waking up out of my duck fat potato stupor and give my meat a closer look. It's white, unlike lamb, and has a very spongey constitency, unlike lamb. But it does taste of lamb, vaguely.

The sponginess immediately tips me off that it's definitely not flesh, but probably some internal organ. But then I'm thinking, nooooo way, they've made a mistake and given me someone else' s order of liver or something.

So I ask the waiter, "Excuse me, this isn't the lamb is it?" "Bah oui! Ze lamb!" he says. "Exactly what part of the lamb is it?" I carefully whisper. "The riz!" (Note: riz in French means rice.) "What exactly is 'lamb rice'? I ask. And the waiter points to the two sides of his neck, right under his jaw line.

"Ze glans, ze glans!". Some translation ensues and the mystery of my lamb rice if finally revealed.

Sweetbreads in English, aka lamb growth glands. Taken from the throat and the armpits of the little lamb.


The waiter notices I look a bit...pale, and tells me "dont worry, eat it with a nice glass of red (wine) and everything will be fine!".

Thankfully, my friend trades me his rossini steak-steak on toast topped with foie gras- and all's well that ends well.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Duck Fat

On a recent trip to one of my favorite bistros (Le Tambour on rue Montmartre), I finally asked the waiter slash owner how the chef was making his incredibly crunchy, crispy, garlicky, fatty, oozy roasted potatoes. And after a few coy smiles and a couple flips of my hair he finally spilled the beans; and that's how I found myself in the supermarket, lovingly staring at a jar of something that was about to become my new best friend.
Duck Fat. Graisse de canard. Heaven in a jar.
Honestly, I was a little concerned in the beginning. Duck fat sounded so....fattening and gluttonous. So much more fattening than my innocent friend olive oil and somewhat less innocent friend butter. So I started to do a bit of research and realized that not only is it a healthier alternative to both olive oil and butter, but its also full of omega 3's and 6's, and it's less fattening. Oh and did I mention that it's delicious? I'm sure that much youve gotten by now.
I'm thinking that duck fat may just be the key to the French paradox. Maybe it's the reason that the French can get away with eating so much fat, and yet live the longest than all of the Mediterraneans. The fat they're eating is actually healthy, and it doesn't seem to have any effect whatsoever on the stunning size 0 waistlines of all the picture perfect parisian femme fatales. (Trust me, they're everywhere)
I would highly recommend that you start using duck fat immediately, any and every time that you are cooking potatoes. If you're roasting them or frying them or anything of the sort, use duck fat instead of oil or butter. The smells that will come wafting out of your kitchen will make everyone that passes your house think “Mmmmm...I wonder what they're cooking!”.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Take me out to the ballgame...

Ok, so it wasn't exactly a ballgame. It was a rugby game.

But what struck me about it was the snack of choice of Parisian fans. I knew to anticipate some good junk food...for where there is beer, and balls, there is food. But I expected a boiled hotdog on a hotdog bun the consistency of a twinky.What I got is the perfect symbol of the differences between French and American cuisine and food. 

In Paris, they don't eat hotgogs at ballgames. No. They eat fresh baguettes stuffed with french fries (probably fried in duck fat) stuffed full of spicy Merguez sausages. In principle, it's the same concept as a hotdog. But it's the details that make all the difference. Spicy, blood red sausages seasoned with a sprinkle of provencal herbs, grilled until they burst, shoved into a fresh baguette, to help you wash down your beer at half time. 

It's times like these that make me truly appreciate French cuisine. It's not all about the fancy sauces or the odd smelling offals. Real, everyday French cooking is about taking simple comfort food and taking it to the next level. Only they don't know they're at the next level, because frankly, you will never see a hotdog served anywhere. This is where I find the real Paris, the real sophistication of the French lifestyle, without a 150 euro bill at the end. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Snails and S&M

Crème Brulee S&M: Pleasure and Punishment 

The other day I was having dinner at the Brasserie Tambour, on the Rue de Montmartre. After a garlic themed dinner highlighted by snails and entrecote in garlic sauce with garlic potatoes, I decided to move on to something a little less...garlicky.

The dessert menu offered the usual selection of desserts: moelleux au chocolat, profiteroles, several cheeses for those lacking a sweet tooth, and crème brulee. The couple sitting next to me had both ordered the crème brulee, and it looked rather lavish indeed (not to mention rather huge); so I asked them if they thought it was particularly noteworthy. 'Superbe,' they both replied. 'Incroyable.' (Pardon all the French spelling mistakes) So I decided to trust their superior French palettes and give it a go. Although I love this dessert, it is not something I generally tend to order. I always seem to get swayed by the chocolaty moelleux or the puff pastry profiteroles (You can taste my undying love for puff pastry in the 'baguettes and chouquettes' post)

The best part of eating this dessert is cracking the top layer of burnt sugar. Using the back of your spoon, you tap the sugary crust until it cracks, finally letting your spoon reach the creamy goodness underneath. As I was finishing this mammoth crème brulee, I observed that not only was it incredibly pleasurable, but it was also quite painful, since my stomach had decided to expand quite rapidly and painfully while I was finishing it. (Enough to need to unbutton) 'It's culinary S&M,' my friend remarked.. 'Pleasure and pain.' And yet so worth it.

A side note, on Snails

As I mentioned, at this particular dinner I had snails. Although I am not yet at the point where I can eat an entire plate of 8 to 16 snails by myself, my good friends did oblige my taste buds by letting me pinch a few. This is the second day in a row that they've let me take a significant bite out of their portion of snails, and for that, I am grateful. However this second day in a row that I ate snails is also the second time that I've ever tried them, the first time being the night before.

Something about the smell of snails now seems to have become permanently associated with Parisian bistros and brasseries. Only since I first tried this garlicky, garden-tasting delicacy, did I realize that this was the amazing smell that I almost always found myself wondering where it could be found on the menu. And just to break some myths: no, they are not rubbery (unless they are overcooked, which is quite unlikely to happen in Paris). They are not slimy or gooey or gross. They are little bits of garlicky, herby, buttery goodness, and honestly, they taste like a garden. In the same way that people eat sea urchins because the taste is reminiscent of the sea, the same can be said for snails tasting like a grassy spring garden.

I highly urge you to try them, and then take a large chunk of baguette and dip it in all that garlicky, snaily butter left at the bottom of your plate. 'Superbe'.  

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ingredient Brainstorm's what came out of my last trip to the market. Any creative thoughts people?

-canellini beans
-kidney beans
-an eggplant
-canned san marzano tomatoes
-herby chipolata sausages

Judging by the colors represented here, it hasn't been the healthiest shopping I've ever done.

My only idea so far is a backward version of a bolognese....taking the sausages out of their casings, and using the meat as a kind of mince. Stir fried eggplants, sausage mince, canned tomatoes, loads of fresh basil, lots of Parmesan, over penne

I'm really in an eggplant mood, although I don't even think they re in season. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Being a Bum in Paris

Ok, so I know two posts in one day is a little absurd, but hey, I'm unemployed :)

Just wanted to thank everyone for the positive feedback on the blog, and share the fact that I'm sitting in my kitchen, drinking a glass of red wine, listening to the birds singing in my little parisian garden (yes, I have a garden!), while my Greek 'fasolakia' dish simmers away at its own leisure.

Cheers guys

Ingredient Brainstorm

Heres a quick thought: 
an ingredient brainstorm.

These are the ingredients that I have just bought from the newly discovered Marche de Passy.

I had an interesting little overture with the veggie man, who told me I have a 'belle souris', and as far as I know, 'souris' means 'rat.' Confusion entailed, and some English was used to clarify that the word he used was actually 'sourire' which means 'smile.'

Exasperated sigh.

Anyway these are the things I picked up, and I'm wondering what creative concoctions might be spawned from them.

  1. 2 celery stalks
  2. 2 carrots
  3. 1 heirloom tomato
  4. 3 roma tomatoes
  5. fresh parsley
  6. 2 onions
  7. feta
  8. humus
  9. red wine

  10. Any ideas.....?

    Monday, March 9, 2009

    Gitanjali's Tasty Tidbits

    The problem with this column is that it makes me fat. Writing about food always manages to wet my appetite, which means that every time I sit down to write, the scrumptious chocolate soufflés and delightful dark cherry pies I’m writing about start dancing around in front of my head, commanding me to go eat them. The result is a rather unfortunate side-effect on my waistline.

    This week, I’d like to warn all vegetarians to stop reading now and turn the page while I tell you about something that we should all have the privilege, and the budget, to eat at least once a month. Decadence is the word when it comes to foie gras. French for “fat liver,” making this delicacy requires animal cruelty at its finest. And as we all know, nothing is ever too barbaric for the French. For those unfamiliar with the process, and I’m willing to bet money on the fact that the average American has never heard of it, it involves force feeding a duck or goose until its liver is on the brink of bursting. The liver is then removed, and ready for devouring. The rich, velvety texture of foie gras comes from the fat that accumulates around the liver during the force feeding process. And to ensure the liver is extra fatty, the birds are fed corn boiled in, yup, you guessed it, fat.

    Surprisingly, I think it’s the Hungarians that go all out when they cook foie gras. Not only do they fry their foie gras, but they fry it in goose fat. It’s fat fried in fat, topped with, surprise, a goose fat dressing. A miraculous, artery-raping concoction which deserves a round of applause. They may have just topped the French when it comes to gorging on animal fat. Bravo.

    The only problem I have with this delightful dish is the duck version of it. It’s too strong, too chunky, and definitely too grainy. The flavor is almost a bit pungent, reminding you that the liver’s function is indeed to filter toxins, some of which may have ended up in your nostrils. But the goose foie gras, or as the French call it, foie gras d’ oia, is a melt-in-your-mouth, culinary orgasm. I do not exaggerate when I say this; spread it on toast and your life is complete. And if you’re feeling particularly decadent, or rather particularly French, you should eat it for breakfast, accompanied by a glass of champagne. C’est la vie, you only live once.

    If the only thing stopping you from buying some this instant is the concern over your waistline, I can assure you, this food falls under the French Paradox category; in other words, not only will it not make you fat, but it will make you live longer too.

    In the time it has taken me to write this article, I have gorged myself on one loaf of baguette, and half a jar of foie gras. (Bon Apetit.)

    Tuesday, March 3, 2009

    Paris-baguettes and chouquettes

    Alas, many things have changed in a very short time. 

    I have moved to Paris, following both love and my stomach. I needed to stave off the dull palatte that too many years in Holland was giving me.

    So I decided to postpone the Masters since I couldn't afford it anyway, and move to one of Europe's foremost culinary capitals (I will not say THE culinary capital, as my Italian step father might chop my head off).

    Arriving in Paris and being unemployed is not an easy thing. Especially when one is surrounded by the most tantalizing and seductive patisseries, brasseries, boulangeries, bistros, and restos. It's times like these when one suddenly realizes that, to be a successful gourmand, you have to have money. (A conclusion which worries me a little, seeing as my dream of being a food writer may result in my starvation; and the two don't seem to go hand in hand)

    So I started off enjoying the simple things in life. Sampling different types of baguettes, for example. The ones to be found in the supermarket can't nearly compare to the bakery I frequent around the corner from my house, needless to say. But even other bakeries don't seem to measure up to mine. Bias, perhaps? Or just convenience that what I consider to be the best baguette in Paris is being made one block away from my house?

    After the baguettes came the chouquettes. Although they're a little pricey at my bakery (in fact, much more pricey than at any other bakery Ive been to) they are little puffs of sugary heaven. In principle, they're the baby girl of the mommy cream puff, minus the cream. (see image above)
    To be bought by the 100 grams or the kilo, and not the piece, these little bundles of joy are usually placed in a small basket, hidden discretely next to the cash register. Sometimes they aren't even visible; instead, you have to ask behind the counter if they have them, and then theyll probably be unearthed from some obscure hiding place.

     I often find myself wondering why such an amazing feat of bakery isn't being displayed in a matter more fitting to its nature. Why isnt it being flaunted, advertised, framed, or publicly fondled? It seems to be an accepted part of French nature that some good things don't need be talked about, advertised, or shoved right in front of your nose. Some good things, which are so simple, and yet so elegant, are simply there, waiting to be discovered; it's like they're too good for the non locals to enjoy. They won't be given the privelege.