My Tour de Food Part II: To Eat Well, Let Go

A very interesting point about Paris: it doesn’t need you. It has history and Camembert cheese to fall back on. It doesn’t try too hard: not to be charming, chic or friendly. It doesn’t need to.

Paris leaves the enjoyment of its city up to you. You have to let go of getting what you want, when you want it. The city doesn't work that way. You have to accept that when you walk over thirty minutes to dine at a restaurant you’ve read about, it will likely be closed when you get there.

Many of the best restaurants in Paris are closed on the weekends. (What?!) I read about L’epi Dupin, an ever-changing restaurant with inventive food; naturally, it’s closed Saturday thru Monday. Clos Des Gourmets was also closed when I tried to visit it on a Monday, which was pretty disappointing because I’d heard about their lavender crème brulee. I can only assume that such spots are so good that they just don’t need your business that badly.

They know they have the goods and don't bend over backwards to show them. This is pretty much the ultimate life lesson. And after finally coming to grips with this important French philosophy, I had my 2 best meals of the trip:

1) On the cement floor of the balcony of the Hotel Des Arts in Montmartre. "Le snack" aroused the curiosity of the hotel's neighbors, who came out to stare at me as I ate. It included:

A bottle of wine that I purchased for less than 3 euros (a house brand from a wine shop that was created soon after Napoleon died; it features wine from the more obscure regions of France). Les Petites Recoltes” was simple and the best wine I had in France.

A baguette from boulanger-patissier, Rodolphe Landemaine, on the Rue Des Martyrs (please note: around 5 pm there is a mad dash for baguettes on the streets of Montmartre).

A cheese from Fromagerie Beillevaire that I couldn’t possibly remember the name of. Suffice to say it was pungent, soft and fabulous with my rose. Their house-made coconut yogurt served as my dessert course and it was just as satisfying as any of the other sweets I ate in Paris.

2) At Rose Bakery It’s sparsely decorated, mostly painted white except for a colorful mural in the back. It doesn’t need adornment; the countertop when you walk in highlights all of their freshly baked goods. I had their carrot and ginger soup, a cheese tart with sides of roasted vegetables and cabbage and was able to snag a bite of pistachio cake for dessert. Owned by a Brit and a Frenchman, the place was inviting, simple and delicious. Also, most of the servers were dressed in breezy striped shirts. Try to have a bad meal if it's served to you by a French girl wearing a striped shirt. I dare you.

Another fond food memory was finding the Raspail Bio Marche, an organic food market only open on Sundays. I arrived just as they were packing up. I had come to see the spit-roasted organic chicken, but was able to score some fleur de sel just before they put it away for the day.

Some other highlights included:

French onion soup and Camembert paired with a small green salad at La Couple, a Paris institution rumored to have their walls decorated with paintings created by artists unable to pay their bills. Hemingway was said to frequent the dining room and Josephine Baker is said to have danced downstairs.

At La Mascotte I received a lesson in escargot-eating. I heard the Frenchmen sitting at the table next to me repeat the word “escargot” (which they weren’t eating, but I was) amid their worried glances toward my table.

Tired, hungry and slightly out of sorts, I finally leaned over and asked them how to eat the darn things. Turns out, I was holding the snail tong upside-down. “There is an art to eating escargot,” one of the men said. “I’m sure we would eat a hamburger all wrong,” he assured. I'm sure that isn't possible. The French know how to eat.

I really love that they generally take time to eat 3 courses at dinner. My best multi-course meal was at Nemrod, a charming place that fulfilled my neighborhood “French brasserie” craving (ahem, not too far from L'epi Dupin should they be closed). I had the pate de campagne, which was so sublime that I may attempt to recreate it; here is a recipe from Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette). Next came a rabbit confit and lentil dish, followed by a tarte tatin with crème friache for dessert. The food wasn't complicated, but like much of what I ate in Paris, it came with first-rate ingredients and care for constructing them.

The moral of the story?

Don’t try too hard. Keep it simple. And listen to your escargot (or Frenchmen near it) and it will tell you how to eat it.


My Tour de Food Part I: A Sugary Parisian Love Story

Finally, I am back. What. a. trip.

We should probably start where any good Parisian story would begin: pan au chocolat. I never had a bad pastry while in Paris, but I had a pretty spectacular flaky chocolate creation from the Boulangerie de Papa, on the way to climb the steps of Notre Dame.

It was a chilly morning, but I sat outside and drank an allonge, or a drawn out espresso (from the French word allonger), and ate buttery pastry filled with little pockets of rich chocolate. After climbing 387 steps and hanging out with the gargoyles and chimeras of Notre Dame, it was off to the Ile Sainte Louis for some ice cream. After all, it wasn’t that cold.

Berthillon is indisputably the most famous glacier in Paris. One small cornet of the luxury ice cream and I was officially a convert. I had a scoop of the caramel au berre sale—which was true to its buttery namesake—and one scoop of marron glace, a candied chestnut variety. It was then that I had a revelation: we in the States don’t eat nearly enough chestnuts. When was the last time you actually sat and snacked on some chestnuts roasted by the fire? (My guess is probably not since 1946.)

You can still find them sold by Parisian men on street corners, wrapped in newspaper cones on the cobblestone walkways of Paris. I am nearly convinced that quality of life increases proportionally to the amount of chestnuts one consumes. I usually only have them in chestnut stuffing at Christmas time: my dears, that is not nearly enough. And so I am bringing ‘chestnut back.’ Stay tuned.

My Parisian Tour de Food continued with a macaron marathon, taste testing macarons at Laduree and Pierre Herme—among others—and having no less than a baker’s dozen. I must say, I preferred Laduree; they had a better contrast of textures, though the macaron fillings of Pierre Herme were vibrant. Laduree is credited with inventing the French macaron, after sandwiching two crisp, airy disks between a gorgeous creamy filling. Truthfully, either brand is not to be missed. Though, I am suspect that Pierre Herme is secretly trying to win me over because a few days ago amazon.com e-mailed me a ‘suggestion’ to buy Pierre Herme’s book, Macaron. Creepy amazon, creepy.

Now, you can’t discuss Parisian sweets without mentioning A La Mere de Famille, an old-fashioned candy shop that has been around since the 1700s, located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. They have marzipan frogs, candied violets and roses, caramels worth the jet fuel to Paris, and candied fruits almost too pretty to eat.

They also introduced me to callissons, an ancient diamond-shaped confection that people in Provence used to eat in hopes of warding off the Bubonic plague. They are made from an almondy dough; come in flavors like citron, cassis and mirabelle et framboise; and have a delightfully chewy texture that makes you say, "bring on the black death."

“Like a kid in a candy store” took on a whole new meaning at A La Mere de Famille. I am not usually one for scooping up candy to snack on, I tend to prefer cheese or some salted nuts. However, I left with no less than 50 euros of candy that day, my dear friends. Talk about buyer’s remorse. Luckily, I had enough sugary confection to assuage the guilt. It also helped me come to the conclusion that you can’t possibly feel grim while eating a marzipan mouse. I think marzipan could solve more problems than most people realize. Are your friends having trouble conceiving? Suggest a marzipan baby. You can’t go wrong.

Unfortunately, my trip wasn’t all marzipan and candied roses. It rained a lot, which even in Paris starts to lose its charm after a few days—no matter how cute the word parapluie sounds (or how many macarons one eats). It was also much colder than I had anticipated, which only made me further up my almond-ante.

In the end, the sweet side of Paris won me over. (Like there was really any other doubt.) I came home with a renewed commitment to increase my dessert making. In hard times, it can’t hurt to have some pastry-making skills. Think of what it would have done for morale to have some pan au chocolat during the plague. Or at the very least, some pockets full of candied posies.


The World Is Your Tenderloin

I'm sorry it's been so long. I took a good look at my surroundings and decided they need some tending to before I ship off to Paris. People have started to ask me what the weather will be like during my stay in the city of lights. And I have no idea. And this is slightly embarrassing. And life shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

I have packing to do. I have passports to find. My fridge is empty; I'm having peanut butter and jelly (okay, stewed prunes) for dinner tonight. Again.

I've been grinding my teeth and furrowing my brow. But I am going to Paris. And so I am taking a mini vacation from the blog.

But before I leave, let's look to the pig. After all, it's said to be a smart animal. And it's given us quite a good deal of charcuterie, which counts for something. But most importantly, it helps us remember:

The world is your tenderloin, stuff it with whatever you want.

Happy eating and au revoir!

Prune Stuffed Rosemary Pork Tenderloin

1-2 pound pork tenderloin
About 10 prunes, soaked in cognac or another brandy you fancy
A few springs of fresh rosemary, minced
Kosher salt and pepper, liberally
Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Gently make a hole in the center of the tenderloin with a knife and make sure it goes all the way through. Stuff the hole with your brandy soaked prunes; it helps to work from both sides. Season the pork with salt and pepper; sprinkle the minced rosemary and pour a little olive oil over the top. Massage your pig and roast it for about 20 minutes, or until it registers 140 degrees (or 155 if you'd like to play it safe ... or if you are a wuss).

-You may wish to add pistachio nuts in with the prunes, when stuffing the tenderloin. This is what I did when this picture was taken (back when I had time to stuff things with pistachios).


Let There Be Raspberry Muffins

You know it’s going to be an interesting month when you start to relate to things that you know you shouldn’t be relating to. I’ve seen a few Halloween signs posted in storefront windows advertising the sale of spooky paraphernalia with a quote from the cat of Alice in Wonderland. “We’re all mad here,” the signs read. Yes, I say to myself, we’re all mad here too; then I throw my head back and cackle.

I should mention that I celebrated a birthday the first of October, which officially kicked off a month of madness (including, but not limited to: a road trip to the Finger Lakes and a dinner at the Stonecat Café, a restaurant I hold dear to my heart; a tailgating pilgrimage to Happy Valley; a trip to Paris; a few visits from out of town friends; and a fairly heavy task list.) I will be buzzing all month and I’ll likely use my birthday to fly through most of October until I wake from my stupor covered in birthday cake crumbs, (likely) red wine stains, and (hopefully) crumpled crossed off to-do lists.

I'm fairly certain it’s the cake that will get me through; I feel quite passionate about birthday cake. So much so that my sister told my brother to lie to me about having some cake on his birthday last month. No joke. I suppose there are worse things, but I can't think of any. Why such an emphasis on birthday cake, you ask?

There are a lot of things that you can’t control about your birthday. You’ll probably find a few new wrinkles, at the very least. The one thing you can control is cake. You’ve survived another year, for goodness sake: have some cake. Eventually (spoiler-alert), you won’t make it to another birthday. So on your birthday, you make the rules.

Behold, my Birthday Rule Set for 2010:

Let there be cake.

Let there be wrinkles.

Go with the flow.

Don’t think too much.

Don’t think too little, either.

Embrace being whoever you are (especially if it resembles an Alice in Wonderland character)

And don’t forget the cake.

Naturally—this being my birthday—I wasn’t going to attempt making my own birthday cake (talk about madness), but I have been wanting to try a muffin recipe from Flour bakery. I am not sure what dictates when a muffin crosses over into cake territory, but I am pretty sure if you slapped some frosting on these suckers they’d pass for cupcakes without complaint. I also think the amount of butter in the recipe supports this theory.

Don’t let the butter scare you. Embrace the butter. Butter exists for a reason. As do birthdays. Both serve as a reminder to enjoy life; one day, you’ll no longer have either. And if you need a reminder to have dessert on your special day, perhaps it should come with a little tag that says “eat me", a la Alice in Wonderland. At the very least, make some muffins.

Raspberry Creme Fraiche Muffins
Adapted from Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery + Cafe

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/3 cup sugar
10 tbsp melted butter, cooled
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
1 cup creme fraiche
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl sift together the first four ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, minus the raspberries. Combine wet and dry ingredients until just mixed; do not overmix. Fold in raspberries and scoop batter into muffin tins, until about two-thirds full; lined with muffin liners. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden.

Makes ~24 muffins (using standard muffin tins)