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Beyond butter and cream

March 7, 2011

There are days when I think that I am the luckiest girl in world to live in a place with so much rich delicious food around. At every street corner you can smell either the holy pastry trinity of butter, sugar and cream, or dishes laden with rich fats or lounging in a delicious creamy buttery sauce. But it’s true what they say about having too much of a good thing. You end up at some point either  bored, or fat, or both. Luckily Paris is a town of options.

When I feel like eating lighter, or just differently, I make sure to cruise by the Japanese neighbourhood by rue Sainte Anne. Nothing like a nice noodle soup to put the spring back into one’s step, especially when it is still chilly outside.

Tasty house made udon at Kunitoraya.

I know, it’s deep fried, but it’s a small quantity AND it’s good…

There are places along the street where you can order bento boxes to go. Nothing fancy, but pretty decent for what you pay (from €8-€12).

Amongst all the Japanese joints in the neighbourhood there are also some other asian restaurants. One of my favourites is Zen Zoo, a Taiwanese tea salon that specialises in bubble tea that one can order directly at the outdoor counter. If you’re in the mood for a meal there’s a nice small selection of prix fixes meals. I’ve had the noodle soup with the duck and the orange pork, both very good.

If you’re a tourist in Paris you will no doubt want to dine on the finest traditional French cuisine to be found in Paris. But for expats and those who like to shake it up a bit it’s places like these that keep the town fresh, modern and alive.


Swedish delight

February 16, 2011

Growing up in Winnipeg was an interesting culinary experience.  On the one hand there wasn’t much variety and a lot of processed food, fairly typical of the 1970’s and ’80’s.  The prevailing mindset at the time stemmed from a prairie folk practicality of eating modestly and not experimenting too much beyond the ‘norm’.  On the other hand there was, and still is, a huge influx of immigrants coming from all corners of the world bringing with them their rich culinary heritage.  I have many fond memories of chowing down on everything from pupusas to borscht, bun bo, dim sum and everything in between.  One of the best discoveries was the day I was introduced to cardamom.  I worked with a woman who immigrated to Winnipeg from Sweden and had a fondness for the ritual afternoon coffee break.  Often these moments involved just the coffee, but one very cold winter day she brought in some home made bullar, a pastry roll filled with a sugar cardamom paste.  She warmed them up and served it with the coffee.  The smell was intoxicating, sharp, slightly astringent, fruity.  The taste of the yeast based rolls were only slightly sweet, with a light texture and intensely aromatic.  I cracked, and became completely enamoured.  Seeing my grave condition my friend kindly gave me the recipe below so that now, even in Paris, I can still relish that moment.

Bullar – makes 20
220C / 10 minutes

50 g.           butter at room temp.
1 2/3 c.      floor
50 g.           yeast (prepared according to package instructions)
1/3 c.         cold milk
1 1/2 tbsp.  sugar
1/2             egg


100 g.         butter at room temperature
2 tbsp.        ground almonds
1/3 c.         sugar
1 tsp.          ground cardamom (I grind my own so that the fragrance is really potent)
2 – 3            drops almond extract


1/2              beaten egg
pearl sugar

*20 paper cups

1.  Combine butter with flour.  Stir in yeast mixture into cold milk.

2.  Add egg, sugar and flour.  Work until this becomes a smooth dough.

3.  Place dough onto a floured surface (sprinkle some more dough to too sticky) and roll out into a long rectangular shape.

4.  Combine ingredients for the filling and spread over dough.  Roll dough and cut into half inch pieces and place into paper cups.  When cutting make sure that your knife is extremely sharp.  If it has some difficulty slicing through the dough moisten lightly with some water.

5.  Let rise 30 minutes then brush with the remaining egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  Bake for approximately 10 minutes or golden brown.

6.  Let cool on a rack, covered with a tea towel.

Lycka till!

Happy hearts day

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone! Here’s to all the honey’s out there celebrating.  Most bakeries in Paris are closed on Mondays, but I lucked out passing by one close by, Le Moulin de la Vierge, who was indulging in some Valentine’s fun.  There’ll by some dijonnais hearts with our champagne for dessert tonight…

Seeing red (in a good way)

January 31, 2011

It’s another grey winter day in Paris, which means it’s spitting rain, damp and cold.  I’m no stranger to chilly weather, but without the sun this prairie girl is at a bit of a loss.  Luckily, and ironically, the winter coincides with citrus season.  There is nothing like freshly squeezed orange juice or the scent of lemons to remind one of warmer sun drenched places.  The past few weeks I’ve found bergamot and blood oranges at my local organic store Naturalia and the farmer’s market.  I’ve indulged in some immediate citrus self gratification but how to save those sentiments for later?  Smells like a marmalade making session.  In terms of preserving fruit I find marmalades to be the easiest to prepare simply because it’s rich in natural pectin and I can break up the process in two steps.  First step is to gently cook the fruit then let it sit overnight for the pectin to be released, then add the sugar, boil away and process.  The classic ratio of ingredients for most marmalades is 1:1:1, fruit:water:sugar.

The following are the steps I followed for this delicious blood orange marmalade.

1.  Peel off the quantity of rind desired with a vegetable peeler (in french they’re called économes). I like a lot so I use all the rind I can get.  Slice or finely chop up and set aside.

2.  Slice oranges in half to remove any pits, which should be very little if at all.  If you prefer a marmalade more jelly-like juice about half the oranges. If you like your marmalade chunky with all sorts of goodies floating inside don’t juice.  Peel off the white pith remaining on the oranges (it goes a lot faster if you have an orange peeler handy) and set aside for making the natural pectin. Chop up or finely slice oranges.  You can also add the juice of a lemon to add a sparkly note.  Save the skin.

3.  Weigh the rind, orange pieces and juice.  Add the oranges and it’s equivalent weight in water to a large pot.  Put all the pith, pips and lemon skins in cheesecloth and also add to the pot. Cover and let simmer over low heat until the peel can be easily cut by a wooden spoon.  This can take about an hour or two.  Do not overcook.

4.  Take off heat and let sit for about 12 hours max.

5.  Next day prepare and sterilise all your canning equipment and jars.

6.  Remove the cheese cloth sac, squeezing out as much pectin as possible.  Add the sugar to the fruit mixture over low heat and slowly let the sugar melt.  Make sure that you do not hear any more crystals on the bottom of the pot when you stir it.

7.  Turn up the heat to high and let that baby begin to boil.  You should see big bubbles foaming around.  Regularly skim off the scum.

8.  Now to determine if the marmalade is ready for canning you can either use a candy thermometer or the cold plate method, which has always worked for me.  If you choose to do the latter I recommend putting a plate in the freezer beforehand.  Around the 10-15 minute mark begin checking the mixture for readiness.  With the frozen plate method dribble a bit of the marmalade on the plate, let it cool down (this takes about a minute or two) and push it with your finger.  If it wrinkles it is ready.  Sometimes I don’t even wait for the wrinkle if I see that the edges set immediately.

9.  Take off heat and start canning.  Work quickly because believe me you the marmalade sets almost instantaneously.

10.  Store your stash in a cool dark place.

11.  Go to bakery and purchase some light gold croissants to go with your ruby red marmalade and chow down with a cup of coffee.

*Some basic notes on preparing conserves which might help the process along.

– The best pot for preparing marmalades and jams is wider than it is tall.  The reason for this being that you want the water to evaporate as quickly as possible while cooking the sugary mixture.  The worst conserve is one that has an overcooked taste.  Industrial jams are cooked in vacuums at temperatures between +38C – +60C to retain a fresher flavour and colour.  When you test your jam to see if it’s ready to can you are actually checking to see that enough of the water has been drawn away from the pectin so that it can set properly.

– That big sac of pith and skins can be unwieldy and a pain to handle.  Then there’s the question of what to do with it after you’re done?  Just throw it out?  If you prepare a lot of preserves I suggest either purchasing or making a jelly sac.  This way you can re-use it many times and avoid having to tie up that messy mass of fruit rejects for the pectin.  There are some nice ones available on the internet, the nicest being made with linen and delivered with a wood sleeve to help squeeze out juice or pectin.

Nordic treat in Paris

December 22, 2010

Usually at this time of the year it is raining relentlessly. This year it got colder earlier than anticipated so it’s been snowing instead. With all the white stuff falling in Paris you’d think that it was a country much furthur up north than it is. What better way then to welcome a culinary team from Denmark for a dining event featuring the new wave of Nordic cuisine. Billed as “100% Nordic” the Monday night dinner, one of many to introduce different chefs and approaches to culinary preparation to the public, was organised by a group called Omnivore. It is spearheaded by Luc Dubanchet, food journalist and critic, since 2003 and is a media forum for and about the people in the haute cuisine world. There’s a website, lushly photographed quarterly magazine, and numerous events for professionals and enthusiasts alike. Omnivore has been around since 2003 and has attracted a lot of attention through it’s efforts to give voice and sense of community to young chefs internationally.

For the past few years the hottest culinary phenomenon has been generated by a new wave of chefs from Denmark and Sweden. There’s been a great reinvigoration and a rediscovery of sorts in the region, formally starting with the New Nordic Cuisine Manifesto penned by René Redzepi and Claus Meyer of Noma in 2003. The groundswell has only been growing as professional recognition and super stardom status has been bestowed to chefs practicing this “new” type of cuisine. Unfortunately not a lot of us can make it up north to dine and taste for ourselves what the fuss is all about. What a pleasure then to have them come down to us! The featured chefs of the evening were Christian Puglisi of Relae Restaurant and Torsten Schmidt with his namesake restaurant Malling & Schmidt

The mad scene in the kitchen while meals were underway

The dinner started with an entrée by Puglisi of cut oysters on a layer of what seemed like créme fraîche, all hidden under finely sliced marinated cabbage. To fully appreciate the dish it was necessary to have at least all three elements present in a mouthful. The oyster was firm yet yielding with a slight taste of iodine, being played against the crunchy cabbage and the smoothness of the sauce/cream. Not my favourite, but not a bad way to ease into the nordic theme.

The following entrée of a barley porridge soup was much better. I think with all the cold weather this appealed to people more than the first which was the conceptual equivalent of dipping a toe into the winter sea. The soup, again by Puglisi, was a fantastic play on a usually modest dish and developing it into something more refined with flavours of grilled smoked almonds and crunchy raw cauliflower dressed with powdered black trumpet of death chanterelles. The mushrooms were definitely transformed into something I have never tasted before, giving a slight earthy acidic note to the smoothness of the porridge and the direct crunch of the cauliflower and almonds.

We then moved onto the meat dish which consisted of braised beef cheeks served in it’s jus (apparently smoked) with shaved medallions of raw beet and a a dollop of beet purée. The meat was melting, with a texture 0n the gelatinous side. The sauce was thick and rich. It is my humble opinion that the raw beets could have been shaved a bit thinner. Other than that the sweetness and cool texture of the beets and purée were a good complement.

The dinner ended on a gorgeous note. The dessert was an ice cream infused with oak chips decorated with all manner of poetic little flavours such as shaved salsify, freeze dried berries, hazelnuts, dehydrated powdered butter, and a plum coloured powder that could have been pulverised dried berries.  There were so many different flavous and textures at play which seemed familiar but difficult to really define with each spoonful. Delicious and memorable.

At the end of the dinner the chefs and their teams were presented to the diners by M.Dubanchet and spoke briefly about who they were and their approach to cuisine. I really appreciate the idea of chefs stepping out of a tradition of anonymity and coming face to face with their diners, breaking tradition and becoming open to the process which is at the heart of the Nordic movement.

A break for the sweet tooth

December 16, 2010

Holiday season is in full gear and I’m betting that ovens around the world are in overdrive churning out sweet delights of all shapes, sizes and forms.  Starting tomorrow I too will join the frenzy, gifting them out to friends who are already up to their eyeballs in all things sugary.  However, not everyone enthuses over yet another dessert package to make their teeth screech so I’m taking the time out to create some savoury treats too.  Something easy to make up and most people, well, in Europe anyways, love is garlic confit.  Full of flavour, but with the offensive edge taken off, it is great on crostini, mashed up as part of a soup, sliced on a pizza, and the remaining oil is delicious in a vinaigrette.  All you need are cloves (pictured are pink garlic cloves from Lautrec, mild and sweet) from about 3 bulbs, some whole peppercorn, a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme and a bit of sea salt.  Toss everything into a small casserole, add olive oil to just cover the garlic and simmer for about an hour over very low heat.  Do not even think of letting the oil come to a boil, it should just barely simmer.  When done plae into clean glass jars and make sure that they are kept cool in the fridge.  Use up the cloves within a week (this is very important otherwise you risk developing botulism), the remaining oil strained of the herbs you can keep around for a while longer.


December 1, 2010

My brother is a man of moderation.  Well, most of the time, until he discovers something he really likes, at which point he will throw caution to the wind and pursue with reckless abandon.  Recently while in Argentina he discovered that he loves empanadas, and that they are abundant and delicious throughout Argentina.  Apparently there are empanadas at every turn. As a snack, in a bar, in restaurants, people’s homes, as an entrée, and sometimes as a dessert. Alongside steak, empanadas are a symbol of Argentinian cultural identity.  What the madeleine are to the French (well, at least Proust), so is the empanada to Argentinians.  This tasty little savoury pastry has it’s origins in an arabic pastry called fatay when Spain was under Moorish rule.  The empanada then most likely made it’s way to Latin America via the large Galician population which immigrated over during the 19th and 20th century, and is now firmly rooted as a part of the local culinary tradition throughout.

Some questions I asked my brother…

– Were they available on the streets?

No, we always got it in restaurants.

– What was your favourite type of empanada?

We never really knew what was coming in the empanadas – they were all usually different varieties of beef.

– Did the different types of empanadas result from regional variations?

Possibly.  A driver we had was telling us how he was in some northern area of Argentina and got empanadas that were as large as medium pizzas and they ordered 10 of them by accident thinking they were small sized.

– Was the pastry flaky, or dense?  Were they deep fried or prepared in the oven?

I think the pastry was never flaky; differing levels of dense.  Pretty sure both deep friend and in the oven.

– Did you eat any sweet empanadas?

No, they were all quite savoury.

– Did it seem at times that you would never be able to escape eating another empanada?

That was fine with me I never wanted to escape.  I was always seeking out the empanada.  And sometimes it found me.

So that my brother will always be able to relive his empanada glory days an Argentinian friend kindly sent us his mom’s recipe which has been posted under the Recipes section.