Recently in France category

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

le roux caramels

I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.

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Le Caramelier; Salted-Butter Caramel Spread

There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.

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The famous C.B.S. caramels in assorted flavors, including lime, black tea, orange-ginger and, of course, chocolate

I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.

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Freshly-made C.B.S. caramels studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts

Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.

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The 55-year old candywrapping machine barely keeps up with the demand for M. Le Roux’s caramels

Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.

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Salted-Caramel Buckwheat Florentines just-slathered in bittersweet chocolate

M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.

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Exceptional chocolates from Henri Le Roux, which were too good not to eat right away

I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.

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Henri and Lorraine Le Roux in their boutique, in Quiberon

I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.

Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.

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Le Roux
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France

and

1, rue de Bourbon le Château (6th)
Paris

(Will ship internationally.)

Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
M: Blanche

Le Roux Chocolate bars

Related Links and Recipes

Henri Le Roux in Paris

Salted Butter Caramels

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs

A l’Etoile d’Or

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

Jacques Genin

Jean-Charles Rochoux

Patrick Roger

Paris Favorites

How to Make the Perfect Caramel



Fleur de Sel

There’s been a lot of discussion about what is the best salt in the world. There’s lots of opinions, tastings, and scientific studies floating around.

But I’m here to tell you, my absolute favorite salt is Fleur de sel de Guérande. I think there’s no finer salt available anywhere.

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When I was invited to visit the salt marshes and learn to rake the highly-prized, precious crystals of fleur de sel, I decided that the Guérande, in Brittany, would make the perfect place to begin my August vacation. Brittany is a rugged part of France that faces the Atlantic and is unspoiled by tourists. The coastline is gorgeous: large rock formations are piled everywhere, giving one many opportunities to ascend the boulders and enjoy the magnificent views in all directions. The ocean was a bit too cold for me to swim in, but Bretons have no trouble diving right in.

(Trust me, it’s freezing cold, which meant no swimming at the beach for me…especially the naturist beaches!)

But there’s also lots of buckwheat crêpes and sparkling apple cider to keep your spirits up as well, just in case you get stuck in one of the rainstorms, as I often did. And although the Guérande lies in the south of the region, and in spite of Breton flags everywhere, I was curiously told by the locals that the Guérande was actually part of the Loire-Atlantique, not Brittany.
Like the numbered roadway signs that lead to nowhere (locals told us not to follow the signs since they’re wrong), and in spite of the magnificent Michelin maps, driving in France provides its fair-share of frustrations.

Still, we managed to make it, and by the time we arrived I was ready to throttle someone. Yet looking out over the marshes did indeed have a calming effect—perhaps they can build a salt marsh in Paris, visible from my apartment?

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Le Marais Salant of the Guérande.

These are the salt marshes of the Guérande, les œillets.
They’re so prominent, that they’re visible on the Michelin maps of France, although when I got home and tried to look on Google maps, viewing the region was prohibited. Perhaps there’s a military installation nearby, since it’s on the coast. The exceptional salt from the Guérande is justifiably famous since it tastes like no other salt in the world. Although the words ‘fleur de sel’ have been bantered around and used as marketing tools for many salts being promoted (nowadays you find salts labeled as such from Portugal, Italy, and elsewhere) nowhere else on earth does the salt have the same fine flavor and delicate crystals of Fleur de Sel de Guérande.

Continue Reading Fleur de Sel…

Finding a Hotel In Paris

red hotel sign

Here’s a listing of a few notable hotels in Paris that you might want to investigate if you’re planning to come for a visit. I’ve been traveling to Paris for many years before moving here, and some of the hotels listed I’ve stayed in, while others have been recommended by guests and friends. There’s a pretty good selection, including one located on the top of the public hospital! Some are in the budget category, while a few are nicer if you’re looking for more comfort.

There has been a spate of hip, hi-design hotels opening in neighborhoods outside of familiar areas and these hotels offer design-oriented rooms at reasonable prices. MamaShelter and Hi Matic are examples of them, and they are becoming more and more popular, especially with travelers looking for something more off-beat.

There are a few caveats to remember, which I’ve listed below, since everyone has different standards and concerns when staying in a hotel. Only you know if you’ll be comfortable in a ‘budget’ hotel with few services, possible street noise, and standard bedding. Price makes a big difference and a hotel that’s less than 100€ per night is likely to offer few amenities, while one in the higher range is, of course, going to be a nicer place to stay. Prices listed are just to give readers an idea of how much the hotel was at the time when I created this list. They are subject to change so do check the hotel websites for the most up-to-date information.

Oops! Budget Hotel
50, avenue de Gobelins
Tel: 01 47 07 47 00
Fax: 01 43 31 17 74

Contemporary, hip hostel, with shared or private rooms, with baths, WiFi, A/C. and very economical prices.

MamaShelter
109, rue Bagnolet
Tel: 01 43 48 48 48
Fax: 01 43 48 49 49

Philippe Starck-designed budget hotel (rooms start at €79/night) in off-beat neighborhood. Quirky and interesting, but beware that dining in the hotel isn’t as affordable as the rooms.

Hôtel Saint Pierre
4, rue de l’Ecole de Médecine
Tel: 01 46 34 78 80
Fax: 01 40 51 05 17

Good budget option in the student-oriented Latin Quarter, free hi-speed internet in the rooms and television. Rates start at €63 per night. Just down the street from my favorite hot chocolate place in Paris, Pâtisserie Viennoisserie, where you can take breakfast too (closed weekends.)

Hôtel Bourgogne-Montana
3, rue de Bourgogne
Tel: 01 45 51 20 22
Fax: 01 45 56 11 98

In the relaxed seventh, very popular, good quality for the price. Good breakfast buffet and excellent staff.

Hôtel Amour
8, rue Navarin
Tel: 01 48 78 31 80

This hip hotel is well-priced, with rooms starting at about €100, especially considering its proximity to the rue des Martyrs. Rates are low, and the popular dining room is known for good fare, with the locals as well as guests. The artist-designed rooms are popular during fashion week, hence rates go up 20% when the fashionistas are in town.

Hôtel Hospitel
1, Place du Parvis Notre Dame
Tel: 01 44 32 01 00
Fax: 01 44 32 01 16

Located on the top floor of the historic Hôtel Dieu Hospital! It’s just next Nôtre Dame in the center of Paris. AC and WiFi.

Hi Matic
71, rue de Charonne
Tel: 01 43 67 56 56

Offers stylish “cabanes” with an ecological bent, designed by Matali Crasset. Rooms start at around €145/night.

Hôtel Bourg Tibourg
19, rue Bourg Tibourg
Tel: 01 42 78 47 39
Fax: 01 40 29 07 00

In a lively area, the Marais, but on a quiet street. Chic rooms designed by Jacques Garcia. Rooms that start at 190€. Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee, in French), interior garden, and air-conditioning.

Grand Hôtel Jeanne d’Arc
3, rue de Jarente
Tel 01 48 87 62 11
Fax 01 48 87 37 31

In the Marais, close to the Place des Vosges, this hotel is an outstanding value for its location (and it’s just a short stumble from (Vert d’Absinthe) Consequently, this hotel books quickly. No air-conditioning or fancy services. Doubles are around 79€.

Hôtel Castex
5, rue Castex
Tel: 01 42 72 31 52

Air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Well-located on a quiet side street near the Bastille.

Hôtel Chopin
46, Passage Jouffroy
Tel: 01 47 70 58 10
Fax: 01 42 47 00 70

In a passage near Montmarte. Inexpensive, lively area near the major department stores. Upper rooms have more light; request the forth floor.

Hôtel de la Place des Vosges
12, rue Birague
Tel: 01 42 72 60 46
Fax: 01 42 72 02 64

Rooms 100-140€ per night, with Wi-Fi No air-conditioning, but perfect location on small street leading into place des Vosges.

Hotel des Chevaliers
30, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 42 72 73 47
Fax: 01 42 72 54 10

Great location a stone’s throw from the place des Vosges in the Marais. Air-conditioning, WiFi, and safes. Rooms begin at around €105/night.

Hotel Duo
11, rue du Temple
Tel: 01 42 72 72 22
Fax: 01 42 72 03 53

Very nice, modern hotel in the heart of the Marais, near lots of cafes and nightlife. Can be noisy during summer months if you leave windows open due to the neighborhood. Mid-priced.

Hôtel Britannique
20, avenue Victoria
Tel: 01 42 33 74 59
Fax: 01 42 33 82 65

Located near Chatelet. Clean and soundproofed rooms. The rooms are a tad on the small side but located overlooking a nice square in the center of Paris. Rooms start at 139€.


A few tips to keep in mind when researching hotels…


  • I never travel anywhere without my Tempur-Pedic Eye Mask. It’s simply the best travel product ever! Super-comfy, it blocks every bit of light so you can get a good night sleep in hotel rooms or airplanes.

  • You get what you pay for. Any hotel under 100€ per night is likely to be a bit flimsy, the décor a bit tired, and the rooms may not be a quiet as you’d like.

  • More and more hotels in Paris have free Wi-Fi. It does pay to ask when reserving if that is a concern.

  • In general, rooms on the inside are far quieter than rooms overlooking the street. Take note, especially if you plan to come in the summer. The downside is that inside rooms can face neighboring apartments, and often garbage cans rumble around in the early morning.

  • Don’t judge a hotel by the lobby. Many places have a gorgeous lobby, which can be deceiving. It’s cheaper to make the lobby look amazing rather than the rooms. Look at the room before you accept it.

  • The ‘star system’ can be misleading. Hotels pay taxes based on how many stars they have, so places are reluctant to accept four-stars. So don’t let stars be the sole judge. Two-stars or less generally means there are shared bathrooms, however.

  • Print out and bring your confirmation. I’ve had friends staying in lower-priced hotels in Paris who were told their room was booked and had to leave.

  • Does the hotel have an elevator? Although most do, some older ones may not, which is something to consider if you pack ‘American-style’ (which I am guilty of sometimes) and have a lot of heavy suitcases.

  • If you like your hotel, befriend the manager and go back. They’ll remember you and you’ll get better treatment each time. Bring them some chocolates on the last day or make little gesture of thanks if you ask them for special favors, such making restaurant reservations.

  • Most of the time, breakfast is extra; it may be expensive and can make your budget hotel not such a great deal. You can have a croissant and coffee at a local café for a couple of euros, although sometimes it’s nice to treat yourself the hotel breakfast once in a while. Many places charge up to 15€ per person (or more), so it may or may not be worth it to you.

  • Air-conditioning in France is not like American air-conditioning and can be weaker than you’re used to, which is something to consider in the summer. Normally the air-conditioning in the lower-priced hotels can be weaker.

  • If you’re staying for around a week, it can be more interesting to rent an apartment, and there’s lots of them out there. Some are professionally-run places with services and concierges. Others are privately-owned apartments that the owners either rent out habitually, or rent when they’re not there. Prices are similar to many of the hotels I’ve listed. The advantages are you can do your own cooking after you’ve explored the markets and wine shops and you can save on meals (although you have to do the dishes…) The downside is no one is there to help you, and if you rent a private apartment, often they’re smaller than what you may be used to.

  • Lastly, there’s a whole other world outside of the Left Bank. Many guests think they have to stay there, and are comfortable surrounded by lots of tourists and English-speakers. But other neighborhoods in Paris are great to explore and staying in one for a few days can give you a better sense of what Paris is about.

  • The French hotel chain Citadines rents ‘apartment-hotel’ suites with mini-kitchens. Although the décor is rather Ikea-like and lacking in Parisian charm, the rooms are clean and well-kept, but if you want housekeeping or extra towels, you’ll pay extra. You can get find deals if you stay in a neighborhood that’s not-quite centrally-located (but it’s so easy to get around with the métro, who cares.) Search their site, or other travel sites, to find deals, especially off-season.

Other Links and Resources

Secrets of Paris

Paris 35 (Hotels around Paris for 35€ per night)

Paris Trip Tips

Eurocheapo: Paris

Air BnB (Vacation Rentals)

Messy Nessy Chic Paris Hotel Guide

Frugal Paris (NYT Frugal Traveler)

Renting an Apartment in Paris (My Tips)

Cheap & Chic Hotels in Paris (New York Times)-Annotated List

Vert d’Absinthe: Absinthe in Paris

Paris is always full of little surprises, like any major city. It’s always fun to poke around and find something new and unusual. And there’s plenty of the unusual in a big city like Paris, as I often report. I think of Paris as a big village, full of colorful characters with lots of stories to tell and unusual offerings. And getting the know the people in your neighborhood, especially the vendors selling fine foods and drink, can be especially rewarding since often if you stay for a while and talk to them, there’s always something fascinating to learn.And, of course, taste!

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Getting ready to prepare a glass of absinthe, French-style, of course.

I’ve been meaning to take you to visit one on my favorite shops in Paris for quite a while: Vert d’Absinthe. This little shop is located in the Marais, but a bit removed from the busy tourist streets, just off the Place St. Catherine. Owner Luc-Santiago Rodriguez tells me his shop was the first boutique anywhere dedicated just for the purpose of selling absinthe, that wickedly suspicious elixir that’s recently been getting a lot of attention lately.

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Luc-Santiago Rodriguez of Vert d’Absinthe in Paris.

Although the drink was originally produced as a cure-all medical tonic in 1792, Absinthe became a rather popular drink amongst Parisians in the late 1800′s, mainly with hedonists living in Montmarte who would sip it in cafés and clubs, like Le Moulin Rouge, before it was ultimately banned by the French government in 1915.

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Dishes with numbers were to let patrons know how much their glass of absinthe cost. Think of all the paper they saved!

Although experts are as unclear as a cloudy glass of absinthe on exactly why it was banned, the most colorful theory was that people went mad drinking absinthe due to the rotten wormwood used to make the drink. It was dubbed le f&eacute’e verte or ‘the green fairy’, since it was said to inspire hallucinations as well.

(Absinthe was banned in the US in 1912, and so far, it’s still technically illegal to import into the US.)

But nowadays, most people, including Luc-Santiago, agree that the powerful French wine industry at the time was upset that people, especially the artsy bohemians who lived in the north of Paris, were drinking cheap, hi-test absinthe (at 70% alcohol) instead of pricey wine (around 12% alcohol), in an attempt to get a better buzz for their buck. Since the French wine industry had suffered a severe set-back from the phylloxera infestation which killed most of the grapevines in France, the price of wine had gone up enormously. So it’s thought that the wine industry pressured the French government to put the kabosh on absinthe production.
And that was that.

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It’s my one-stop shop for all things absinthe!

In 1988 absinthe made a comeback and the French government once again made it legal to sell and drink the anise-scented exilir, absinthe attaining a bit of a cult status in the process. With all the ceremony of pouring something previously forbidden in a fancy glass, pouring water over a sugar cube to make it cloudy (called louching), then slowly sipping it while staring into space in a deserted café…how could anyone not be entranced by the romance of absinthe?

If you come to France and want to try or purchase absinthe, be aware that not all drinks that look and sound like absinthe are indeed absinthe. You’ll come across ‘absente’ (missing the ‘h’), which has a bleary picture of Van Gogh on the packaging (it was said he went mad drinking absinthe and cut off his ear because of it, which to me is a rather iffy marketing move), but these impostors use a wormwood that’s different than the variety of wormwood (artemisia absinthium) used in true absinthe.

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The true herbs of absinthe.

The wormwood used to make true absinthe contains thujone, the most important compound in real absinthe.

Anyone interested in absinthe should make the trip to visit Luc-Santiago’s little shop Vert d’Absinthe, where 25 different kinds of absinthe are stocked. All are French except for one, which is made in Switzerland, and most of the French absinthe varieties are made near the Swiss border. Monsieur Rodriguez stocks all the proper paraphernalia for properly preparing and drinking a glass of absinthe, from vintage to contemporary; spoons, glasses, fontaines, and, of course, the bottles themselves.

And perhaps you’ll get a demonstration and a taste-test. Although drinking absinthe French-style means louching the drink by pouring water over a sugar cube through the special spoon before it clouds up the absinthe, the more flamboyant Czech-style method involves lighting the cube of sugar dramatically on fire, which I’ve yet to see him do.

Vert d’Absinthe
11 rue d’Ormesson
Paris
Tél: 01 42 71 69 73
Open daily, from 11am to 8pm (closed Monday)



Related Links

Absinthe Cake Recipe

Chubby Hubby: The Green Fairy

In Absinthia

The Wormwood Society

La Fée Verte



A few unusual places for absinthe in, or near, Paris:

-Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, Paris, tel. 01 42 81 02 33) serves absinthe at their historic bar, a former cabaret at the foot of Montmartre.

-Musée de l’Absinthe (44 rue Alphonse Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, tel. 01 30 36 83 26, about fifteen minutes outside Paris) is open on the weekends and holidays and sports all sorts of memorabilia and paraphernalia from absinthe’s heyday. Take the train from the Gare du Nord.

-Cantada is a heavy metal bar, and one of the few bars in Paris to serve a wide selection of absinthe.

-La Fée Verte (108, rue de la Roquette), is a neighborhood café with absinthe on offer.


Currants? Oui, Currents? Non

I am a bad food blogger.
I mean, who would post a picture like this?

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GRRrrrr!Seeing Red…

The most successful and popular food blogs start with a clever idea or beautiful image, and generally follow it with a witty or an emotionally-involving story behind it all.

Instead I’m posting this picture of the room where was to spend the entire weekend locked inside, which was to be my private retreat. Think Edvard Munch and The Scream, and I think you get the idea of my internal torment.

Last week I had left Paris to work on my next book, since it’s impossible to get anything done around here with all the caramels, chocolates, and glasses of red wine interrupting all the time. So off I went to the countryside for the weekend, armed with my laptop, some paperwork, too-little chocolate (which I later discovered, in a panic) and a good book.

So I arrive, start unpacking, and Merde!, I forgot my powercord! No electricity, except for the few hours on my battery, which luckily was new enough to get my through the first day. Since I’m two hours from anywhere civilized, and the hope of finding an Apple retailer is undeniably nil (although there is a nice egg farm & retailer next door) I was stuck doing nothing but reading and baking all weekend. So when you buy my next book, and find the last third of it blank, you’ll know why.

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Seeing Red…Currants

But all was not lost, since the house was surrounded by red currant bushes and the branches were loaded with tiny red berries, I spent a good portion of the weekend picking the little red orbs, relieving the branches of the tiny clusters of gorgeous little fruits.

And as I greedily filling my mouth with the puckery berries, I was overcome with a feeling of having to bake something. So all was not lost, and bake something I did!

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Rhubarb-Red Currant Crisp

For dessert the first night, I made a terrific Rhubarb and Red Currant Crisp with Polenta Topping. I sliced rhubarb into little pieces (about 8 cups), tossed it with some sugar (about 1/2 cup), some flour (about 3 tablespoons), a vanilla bean, and a few big handfuls of freshly-picked red currants, and voila, we had dessert practically right from the garden. Except for the sugar and vanilla and flour, although the house was surrounded by wheat fields, which was too green to pick and mill into flour. And besides, I’m not thatcrazy. Although I did go picked some wheat and cracked it open, but it was too fresh and I’ll sadly have to wait a few more weeks.

Aside from red currants, there were black currants (cassis) too, but they weren’t quite ripe. But the white currants were sweet and lovely but too precious to cook with, so I enjoyed them right off the branches. And next time you, or anyone around you, complains about the price of a basket of berries, go outside and pick a few hundred red currants and tell me what you think each basket is worth.
There’s a few running debates about the price of locally-produced, hand-picked berries, but you’re welcome to post comments here. And if you feel like picking any red and black currants, we’re heading back in a few weeks and could use a few extra hands.
(Warning: The pay stinks, but the rewards are delicious.)

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Seeing White…Currants

Oddly enough, last year I saw a few baskets of white currants in my local convenience store. (You know, the kind of place where you can buy milk or butter or wine on dimanche if you urgently run out.) In their tiny, miserable produce section, just next to the shriveled carrots and brown, wilted lettuce (who buys that?), there were three baskets of plump white currants, so I made a mental note that if it’s ever a Sunday and I need some white currants in an emergency, I’d know exactly where I could get some. But finding a powercord in an emergency?…c’est pas possible.

No, the grapes weren’t quite ripe for picking yet…

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No Wine…Yet.

But the egg farm nearby had lots of fresh eggs, so I made a Tortilla Española with bacon, and pomme de ratte potatoes, which everyone tries to tell me are called ‘fingerling’ potatoes in America, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, since I’ve never tasted any potatoes in the states that were as good as these. But if anyone out there can define what exactly is a fingerling potato, please let me know. Is it just any tiny potato?

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There Was No Apple Store, But There Was An Egg Store

So since this is summer, I’m becoming obsessed with making a lot of fruit crisps (instead of earning a living). One of my favorite ways to top them, and to ensure they live up to their crispy moniker, is to make a topping with polenta, coarsely-ground cornmeal. It can be difficult to find in Paris, and although instant-polenta is available, I bought it once…and that was one time too many. (C’mon folks, we’re friggin’ right next door to Italy!) But I was happy a few years back to find a good source for coarse polenta at the Arab markets that I like to prowl through, which they stock in abundance.

Fruit crisps are perhaps the best and easiest of desserts to make during the summer, when all the great fruits and berries are at their peak. They’re incredibly easy to put together if you’re anything like me and keep a bag of Polenta Crisp Topping in the freezer, so you can make one at a moment’s notice. In general, I find that 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of flour, plus a dash of vanilla is just about right for almost any mix of fruits and berries. Mix it all together and put it in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with crisp topping and bake in a moderate oven until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crispy and nicely-browned.

If using plums or apricots, double the amount of sugar, since they get rather tangy once baked. Although I used rhubarb and red currants in mine, you can use any mixture of peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and plums. Add a few raspberries or blackberries as well. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use white currants, you’re certainly welcome to. But if it’s Sunday and you’re fresh out, go check at your corner store to see if they have any in stock.
There’s something nice about living in a country where it’s impossible to find a powercord in an emergency, but white currants are available whenever you need them. Talk about priorities!

(More pictures from the country are on my Flickr page.)

Polenta Crisp Topping

Enough for about 8 cups of fruit filling

3/4 cup (105 g) flour
2/3 cup (90 g) polenta
1/2 cup (55 g) almonds or walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (110 g) firmly packed light brown or cassonade sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (115 g) salted butter (chilled), cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the flour, polenta, almonds or walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix everything together.

Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the butter is finely broken up. Continue to pulse until the crispy topping no longer looks sandy is just beginning to hold together.

If you don’t have a food processor, chop the nuts finely with a chef’s knife then work the butter in with your hands or use a pastry blender.

Storage: Topping can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen in a zip-top bag for up to one month.

Recipe Adapted From: Ripe For Dessert.

The Rules: Bringing Food Home From France

charcuterie

“Can I bring it back?”

Answering many of the questions visitors have about what’s allowable to be brought back into the United States (legally), here are some articles and posts about what can and can’t be brought back into the United States:

- Think Twice Before Stuffing Your Suitcase (USA Today)

-Transportation Security Administration

-Importing Food Products into the United States (FDA)

-Travelers Bringing Food Into the US for Personal Use (US Customs & Border Protection)



(Please note that rules and regulations are subject to change and revision, and it’s always best to consult with the US government websites for the most current information.)

Favorite Paris Restaurants

Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Paris. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’ve mentioned many of my other top picks here on the site, so you can use the search engine to find them. And there’s others on My Paris page here as well.

Several of these are also not fancy places. Sure, many people come to Paris for fine-dining, and you can find many of those addresses floating around guidebooks and online. But sometimes you just want a big plate of vegetable salads instead of half a carrot garnished by a shredded basil leaf with a dot of saffron sauce. I’ve included a few stand-by, reliably decent restaurants in case you happen to be in Paris on a Sunday, when many places are closed.

If you have some favorite places that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them since I’m always looking for new places to try and I’m sure others would too.
Feel free to leave your dining suggestions in the Comment area.

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Before you start, here’s a few tips when dining in Paris:

  • It’s always a good idea to reserve a table. Even if you arrive and the place is virtually empty, they like to know you’re coming and you’ll get a warmer welcome. Unlike the US, often you can call most restaurants that afternoon and get in easily. Hot restaurants, or ones that are fancier, you should call about a week in advance, or longer. Don’t bother using email links on most restaurant’s websites here since you’re unlikely to get a response.

  • Don’t be embarrased to order wine or water by the carafe. You probably think you’ll feel like a cheapskate…but get over it. If you look around, most of the Parisians are doing the same thing. And yes, the water is safe to drink in Paris. Why do people keep asking that?

  • Adding a tip is not required, but in spite of what you hear, most people leave a little extra for good service. If the check is 28€, you could leave 30€ if you were pleased. Or if your meal is 95€, you could leave 100€. But remember that it’s not required and if they don’t bring you back your change, request it. I’ve had a few places pull that one (in Paris and in the US.) It’s rude and presumptuous.

  • LIke anywhere in France, always say Bonjour or Bonsoir when entering a restaurant, and when you leave, say Merci. Preferably add a Monseiur or Madame along with it.

  • Many restaurants have ‘deals’ at lunch, or fix-price menus that are often a bargain. Some have them at dinner as well, and they’re generally a good value.

  • Please, do not bring out your hand sanitizer at the table. Do your grooming in the bathroom.

  • No one has doggie bags, so don’t even ask. (Although a friend of mine showed some cleavage and got one. Once.)

  • No one has ice, so don’t even ask. (Ok, well, you might get one or two. Wear something low-cut if you plan to ask.)

Rôtisserie Beaujolais 19 quai des Tournelles, tel 01 43 54 17 47. Grilled and spit roasted meats, and typical French fare. In the 5th. Avoid seats just next to the opening to the oven…it’s très hot and they like to stick out-of-towners there, who they think won’t complain. But I do since they invariably lead me to it. Open Sunday night.

Chez René 14, blvd St. Germain. Tel 01 43 54 30 23. Great French classics. The best Coq au Vin in town, with a sauce as smooth as velvet. If you don’t order the fix-priced menu, be prepared for a lot of food. It’s quite an experience and the cheese plate(s) is/are insane. Dinner menu, approximately 40€. In the 5th. You didn’t hear it from me, but there’s a clear brandy digestive hidden behind the bar…with a snake in it! I haven’t been since there was a recent change of ownership, but I hear the food is still very good.

Cuisine de Bar 8, rue Cherche-Midi (M: Sevres-Babylon), tel 01 45 48 45 69, in the 6th. Open-faced tartines, or sandwiches, served on pain Poilâne, the famed bakery next door. Order the 12€ formule with a salad, tartine (I like the one with sardines and flakes of sea salt, or poulet with anchovies), a glass of wine or bottle of water, café and a spiced cookie. Very casual yet chic. And friendly. No reservations…lunch only. If the wait it long, they’ll often pour you a welcome glass of wine.

L’As du Falafel On 34, rue des Rosiers in the Marais (M: St. Paul), closed Friday night and Saturday for the Jewish holidays. The most famous falafel anywhere! Join the crowd clamoring at the window. No reservations.

For something vegetable-oriented, Chez Marianne in the Marais at 2, rue des Hospitalieres St. Gervais, tel 01 42 72 18 86. Come here for decent Mediterranean salads. You choose a combination plate of 4, 5, or 6 salads. This is a good address to know about if you’re craving something without a lot of meat. Perfect with a bottle of house rosé. Approximately 20€. Reserve, or wait for eternity. Open every day and night, but be aware of the often abrupt servers.

Chez Omar is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Specialties are couscous and they have excellent steak and French fries as well, but I always have the roasted lamb, or méchoui d’agneau. Very lively, no reservations. Open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sundays. If you go for dinner, be prepared for a wait after 8:30pm. Don’t let any Parisians cut in front of you! A simple shove with your shoulder, followed by a very apologetic “Oops! Pardon” is usually all it take to get them to recede. Do it firm enough and you’ll only need to do it once. Trust me. Moderate prices, which do seem to keep climbing each time I go. In the 3rd, at 47 rue de Bretagne. (M: Temple or Arts and Metiers)

Another couscous place that’s less-hectic is L’Atlas, with fine Moroccan food. Feathery light couscous and savory tagines. Skip the first courses. Not fancy nor too pricey considering the fine food and gracious service. Dine in the lovely tiled dining room, or outside in fine weather. Located at 12, St. Germaine des Pres. Vegetarians will appreciate the large selection of seafood tagines. Tel 01 44 07 23 66 (M: Maubert-Mutualité), in the 5th.

Bistrot Paul Bert 18, rue Paul Bert, tel 01 43 72 24 01 (M: Faidherbe-Chaligny) Out of the way, but definitely worth going to. I love this restaurant. Some of the best desserts in Paris too. Offers a 3-course fixed menu for 32€. In the 12th.

Les Papilles 30 rue Gay-Lussac, tel 01 43 25 20 79. Wine bar and light, ‘market-fresh’ food. Menu approximately 30€. In the 5th. Nice portions, and cheerful staff.

You can follow along at my Paris Restaurant Archives for more suggestions, as well on the My Paris page.



Related Restaurants and Wine Bars in Paris

Le Rubis

Le Garde Robe

Le Verre Volé

Les Fine Gueules

Café des Musées

French Menu Translation Guide

Brittany’s Butter Bonanza

Of all the regions in France, one of the most peculiar is Brittany. The cuisine is hearty, earthy, and dynamic…like the terrain…

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The coastline is a virtual lunar landscape of jutting rock formations, with pristine beaches tucked in between. Consequently, upper Brittany is somewhat remote and not a popular tourist destination. Most of my days began at a almost-deserted beach with a dip in a frigid, clear water, and finished at a lively crêperie, picking through a mound of moules frites, steaming-hot mussels simmered with white wine and local shallots, served with a overly-generous pile of frites that I thought I’d never be able to finish. (But of course, I always did…mustn’t be rude.)

Ah, summer vacation in Brittany. There’s not much to do here except swim in the chilly water, and eat seafood, red onions (more about them in a later post), and…the delicious salted butter.

Unlike the rest of France, the Bretons don’t eat much cheese…in fact, there’s no local cheeses that I can think of that are produced there and I didn’t see one fromagerie in ten days. But they make up for it by offering up lots of butter, which they’re justifiably famous for. When you compliment a local pastry shop or restaurant on their cuisine, they will invariably respond proudly, “C’est la buerre de Bretagne!

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There’s also not so much wine wine consumed either, since the locals drink plenty of sparkling, lightly-alcoholic apple cider. A fizzy bottle is popped open before each meal and served in a traditional bolées, similar to a squat coffee cup with a handle.

But back the butter—it’s the best I’ve ever tasted. Breton butter is notable since it’s almost always flecked with large, coarse grains of salt that crunch when you bite into them. I spread some on my toast each morning before drizzling it with bitter chestnut honey. Much of the salt used is harvested on ponds and marshes in the Guérande, where the famed fleur de sel is harvested as well. And unlike the rest of the country, Bretons often butter their bread, which is never done elsewhere in France except with oysters, which are customarily served with buttered rye bread, pain de seigle. (So next time you’re in Paris and that waiter gives you a disapproving sneer when you ask for butter, tell him you’re from Brittany.)

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Naturally much of this butter makes its way into buckwheat crêpes, or galettes de blé noir (when made with buckwheat flour, or blé noir, they’re normally called galettes rather than crêpes. You can buy crêpes at most of the local pastry shops, and if you’re lucky, they’re still warm.

One night I picked up a stack and for simple dessert, I heated a bottle of hard apple cider in a skillet, added a handful of unrefined cassonade sugar, a modest knob of Breton salted butter and some delicious prunes from Gascony. Once the cider was sweet and syrupy, I added some folded crêpes, a pour of Calvados, and voila!

Perhaps the most famous dessert of the region is the Far Breton. Far is the Breton word for ‘custard’, and the Far Breton is remarkably similar to a custard tart sans the crust. Like everything, there are good versions, and not-so-good versions (like pretzels on the streets of Manhattan). You’ll find Far Breton everywhere in Brittany; in supermarkets, outdoor markets, restaurants, and pastry shops. Like flan in Paris (which is a wedge of custard tart, and not the inverted caramel custard that many of us are used to,) a slab of Far Breton with prunes is often a mid-afternoons snack, or le goûter for hungry folks.

Although I find most of them rather dense and heavy, I knew that if I tried as many as possible like Goldilock’s, I would certainaly find the version that was “just right”. And sure enough, the best was from a pastry shop in Lesnevin called Labbé, a few steps off the main square.

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(If you’re looking for a recipe, you might want to try the one by Dorie Greenspan that appeared in Bon Appétit recently.)


Another extraordinary treat is the Kouign amann, which is pronounced (and spelled) a few different ways, depending on your accent. I learned to say it by rhyming Kouign with the word schwing!, from Wayne’s World…which I’ve tried to explain with a sharp thrust of my hips to French people but it doesn’t seem to translate very well, and people were looking at me funny, so I gave up.

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A friend who visited Brittany once wrote me and said, “A stick of butter would seem light in comparison!..” when describing his first encounter withKouign amann. And indeed, the word amann is the Breton word for butter.

I had to try one from several bakeries, since it’s one of my favorite desserts: layers of flaky pastry baked with plenty of salted butter and sugar, until it’s all dark, crisp, and caramelized? Bring it on. Sometimes they’ll sell it by the slab at outdoor markets, and they slice off a hunk for you and sell it by the kilo. But the best thing I ate all week was…

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Here I was surrounded by fabulous buttery creations, but then I discovered strawberries from Plougastel. But honestly, these were the best strawberries I’ve ever had. Although usually I judge fruit based on it’s aroma before I buy (and these had little smell), these looked so ruby-red and glistening, that I just had to try them. Each one was sweet-sweet-sweet! Each was juicy with flavor, like a soft piece of sweet strawberry candy and deep red all the way through. I’ve never had strawberries like that before, although I’ve seen them in the markets in Paris, they never looked so appealing as they did at that village fruit market in Brittany.



Related Links and Posts

Alledgedly the Birthplace of Kouign Amann

Le Bateau en chocolat (Georges Larnicol launches a chocolate boat, video)

Kouign Amann Recipe

A Great Kouign Amann in Paris

Kig ha farz

Larnicol: Kouign Amann in Paris