Friday, December 17, 2010

(Pre-)Chrismas in Paris

Paris doesn't seem to be overly festive during the holidays. There are some lights here and there, the big department stores have display windows but in general it seems fairly quiet. Although there was a snowstorm this month that had Paris stalled and taxi drivers sitting at home.

There are no 24/7 Christmas songs playing here. Or maybe there are and I just don't know since I don't watch TV  or listen to the radio (slingbox!). But they do have a really cute uber-touristy Christmas market located on the bottom half of the Champs-Elysees starting from Place de la Concorde.
It's pretty much like a regular holiday market, with vendors hawking jewelry, scarves, wood carvings and other random gift-esque things. A part of the Christmas market is divided into "countries" with each section devoted to a particular one (eg the Germany section sold bratwurst, the Belgian section sold waffles, etc.). However, it seemed that mulled wine aka vin chaud aka Glühwein aka Glögg (this is my favorite name for it) didn't have a nationality and was ubiquitous with all. Which was good because every few booths is another potential wine stop to warm you up. Bad because with so many people, good luck in trying to walk holding a hot cup of dangerously dark red steamy liquid while trying to avoid people bumping into you causing you to spill your drink all over yourself and stain your jacket. No, that did not happen to me but it almost did. Eventually we just decided to stand off to the side and drink.

The other thing that this market seemed to have a lot of was food. Aforementioned bratwurst was eaten, as well as Transilvanian Kürtőskalács (similar to Baumkuchen) which was dusted with cinnamon sugar, some chocolate covered gingerbread cookies and these things:

They're actually kinda funny-looking now that I see this picture but they were delicious. They were called chocolat mousse meringue and supposedly a specialty from Alsace (or so I think it said but I couldn't find them on Googling and might I mention I am an excellent Googler?). Basically its a small wafer disk (pretty tasteless), topped with some kind of sticky chewy ooey gooey  cross between a marshmallow and undercooked meringue, which I guess is there the mousse meringue part comes from, and enrobed in a thin layer of chocolate (by the way, there's a dessert book called Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey out which (a) looks good and (b) has an awesome title). They had them in what I thought was different flavors but it's just a different chocolate covering. Anyhow, this was the best €1 spent in a while.

You know what else I spent money on? A mini buche de noel since I've never had one before. Maybe not the best place to get it (Paul, although they do have some killer chocolate chouquettes) and not the most traditional flavor (I got the exotique with passionfruit and mango) but it did in a cinch. But it was also meh. So meh that I didn't even finish and that rarely happens with dessert.

The other thing that's pretty awesome during the holiday season here is the ridiculous lighting along the entire facade of the Galeries Lafayette's main building. The Macy's facade Christmas tree lights and even the snowflakes on Saks are weak sauce compared to this. It almost looks like cathedral windows.

The awesomeness of the lights was quickly supplanted by the un-awesomeness of the crowds around and inside the department store. People were in there like herded cattle - you could barely move in some areas! It look me a while to find what I was looking for but after I did, I didn't spend a second longer in the store and got out as fast as I could (a feat in itself).

And since it's the holidays, I once again took over an oven, this time baking chocolate chip cookies, salted fudge brownie bites and mini blackberry cornmeal cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting (that turned into mini blackberry cornmeal cupcakes when the frosting broke) and distributing to coworkers. They seemed to be either amazed that I (a) can cook or (b) that the things didn't taste awful. You decide which one. Although I totally over-baked one batch of brownies. (Note: must not be lazy and take pictures of food I make).

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a 7:30am flight to catch to New York.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thanksgiving - sans pictures

What did I make for our Thanksgiving potluck the Saturday after other than the aforementioned ridiculously delicious chunky apple cranberry sauce?

Well after taking over SM's and AB's kitchen since they have an oven and I don't (although my hatred of electric stovetops has been renewed), I made some gravy which we ate with mashed potatoes, some brown butter caramelized butternut squash (yum!), some pumpkin pie pops (which I left at AB's apartment because they were pretty awful), super-easy pumpkin cinnamon rolls (which, by the way were a perfect alternative to pumpkin pie) and Dovetail's (NYC) cornbread. JP and I went to Dovetail for my birthday one year and I was ridiculously sick and didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to, but the one thing I do remember really liking was the cornbread. Sorry, I failed at pictures but trust me, its really really really ridiculously good - try it next time.

Sweet Cornbread
adapted from Dovetail (with some help from Homesick Texan)

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup coarse cornmeal (I think I used worked pretty well)
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold, cubed butter
1/2 cup grated cheddar (optional)
1 cup buttermilk + 1/2 cup extra

Preheat oven to 400

Mix all the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. Or you can whir it in a food processor if you're really lazy. If you're using cheese, add it now. Add the buttermilk and stir until dough comes together. Mine didn't come together so I added another 1/3 cup about 2 tbsp at a time or so until I got the mix into a ball

Chill for one hour. Roll out into 3/4 inch thickness and cut out desired shapes. I made circles but Dovetail serves them as rectangles

Brush the tops lightly with some more buttermilk (I think this is what gave my cornbread a nice browned top) and bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned

Note: You can cut down the sugar to make them less sweet and also mess around with ingredients like jalapenos or rosemary. Personally, I'd double the amount of cheese next time. Also, don't buy pre-shredded cheese because they toss it with cornstarch or something like that which basically makes it harder to melt the cheese

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thanksgiving - the store

Sometimes, you just want a taste of home so much that you don't care how much it will cost you. This is especially the case when that third Thursday of November rolls around and you find yourself scrambling to find the American ingredients you need for all your Thanksgiving recipes. Luckily for me, I thought ahead and came back from the US last time with three cans of pumpkin puree and a a bag of cornmeal. Those found themselves in some cornbread, some pumpkin rolls and some pumpkin pie pops. But I needed cranberries so down the street I went (literally) to the appropriately-named Thanksgiving, a store that sells American (sometimes imported from Canada or the UK) foodstuffs. 

The second I walked in, I was soooo glad about the stuff I brought back from the US. A can of Libby's pumpkin puree? €3.50. Packet of jello? €2.50. Nestle Tollhouse white chocolate chips? €7.00 (although the semisweet chips were cheaper at €4.50). They seems to be doing pretty ok with such a high mark-up! Granted, I don't know what they pay on their import taxes and their rent is probably pretty high as its in a popular area (unless they own the space, as they have been there for some time...)

But I was there for one thing and one thing only. And so I sucked up the cost of Ocean Spray cranberries at €4.50/12 oz bag and got two. Because, after all, what's a Thanksgiving dinner without some cranberry sauce?

Chunky apple and cranberry sauce
adapted from Good Housekeeping c. 2001

2 tbsp butter
4 large Golden Delicious apples peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice 
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 bag (12oz or 3 cups) cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water

In a nonstick large skillet (12-inches is ideal), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the apples and cardamom, and cook about 10 minutes stirring occasionally, until apples are golden and tender-crisp.

Increase the head to medium-high, stir in the cranberries, sugar and water and heat to boiling.

Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until most cranberries pop and the mixture thickens slightly (anywhere from 6-10 minutes). Pour into a lidded container, cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Note: Apparently allspice works as well if you don't have cardamom but I'm sure cinnamon or cloves would work too.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Spring Buvette

Spring was actually never on my list of "must-go" restaurants. When Spring re-opened in July in a new space near Louvre-Rivoli, I'd already read enough about the American-born chef and the previous Spring. A darling of the French-restaurant scene it seemed. But when I read about the menu at the re-incarnated restaurant, I wasn't really that intrigued.

But I am a big fan of the recently (September) opened Spring Buvette, or wine bar that was opened in the basement of the restaurant. The place doesn't take reservations and there are a few communal tables but this is a great way to sample some of the kitchen's food without waiting several months for a reservation, as is the case with Frenchie. 
We decided to go on Thanksgiving because (a) its Thanksgiving and you have to do something and (b) I was secretly hoping that since the chef, Daniel Rose, is an American, he might have something Thanksgiving-y on the menu.

We were in luck (but I think this was purely by accident) as the legume du jour was pumpkin served with a grilled aubergine puree, radish and some baby spinach. We also ordered the abricots farcis which were stuffed with roasted duck necks and a tourte du jour which was veal and foie gras enrobed in puff pastry.

The plat du jour was mutton. I'd never tried mutton before but I like it! It's definitely gamier than lamb but one of the preparations on the plate was almost like pulled pork - shredded, succulent and tender. MMMMM. There was also some kind of root vegetable puree but I couldn't figure out what it was. Although for all I know, coulda been potatoes.
And since it was in fact a wine bar, we also ordered fromages (blue, muenster and saint nectaire) and charcuterie, which included saucisson sec, chorizo bellota and jambon noir de bigorre (yay huge leg of black pig behind the bar! You are mighty tasty). Oh, and can I just mention that skip the Bordier seaweed butter (unless you really like seaweed) and stick to the standard butter, which tastes like cream and is perfect for the never-ending (wheat? rye?) bread that they give (sometimes warm!).

But the best thing that evening was most definitely the wine and the super knowledgeable sommelier who swayed me more than once with his recommendations. A lot of the wines here are either organic or biodynamic. We went first went for a Morgon which was unavailable (have I mentioned how much I love Morgon???) but the sommelier brought us a different bottle, a Morgon Cote du Py from Jean Foillard (2008 I think). It was delicious. We also didn't want to switch wines when we ordered again but we got another red that was a little spicier but also delicious. Totally don't remember what it was called (started with a V) but the sommelier said that it was, like the Morgon, bottled without sulfur dioxide which is a wine stabilizer (this makes the wine spoil more easily if its not handled carefully so I'm not sure what the point of not using sulfur dioxide is actually...I guess to keep it organic/biodynamic?). And then we just went back to the Morgon for the third bottle and it was awesome.

And to wrap up the evening? Dessert - poached apples with fromage blanc and a Parmesan-cocoa nib crisp. And also a little bowl of tangerine jelly with cocoa nibs. Us Americans call that jello (as opposed to Jell-O which is trademarked by Kraft).

Oh, and again a persuasive sommelier who persuaded all of us to get some more wine. A glass of non-port port (yea, don't ask) smelling of cherries and chocolate and hazelnuts and caramel and coffee, a glass or two of crisp Gewutztraminer 2002 from Zind-Humbrecht, and a syrupy half-bottle of late-harvest (vendanges tardives) Reisling from the organic producer Pierre Frick (who apparently caused a scandal/was arrested when he planted GMO vines in his vineyards, which is illegal in France tore up GMO vines at some research institute).

A not-too-shabby dinner on Thanksgiving. Most definitely better than last year when I was stuck in Paris with nothing to do.