Recently in Dining & Travel category

Le Severo

restaurantparis.jpg

There’s lots of good food in Paris, but sometimes you have to travel to the outer neighborhoods to find the gems. And while the 14th arrondissement isn’t all that far, it’s worth the trek for the excellent meal at Le Severo with some other friends at a little petit coin of a restaurant, a schlep from wherever you are in Paris. There’s only 10 or so simple tables and a lone cook in the open kitchen who presides over the dining room. An old zinc bar acts as a catch-all for bottles of water, wine carafes, and a big container of fleur de sel…which was a good omen.

One entire wall of Le Severo is a chalk-written wine list and menu. Notice I said ‘wine list’ first. That’s because three-and-a half lengthy columns are up there, listing all sorts of wine, heavy on the reds. Somewhere in the midst of it all lurks a terse menu, and it’s almost all about beef: steaks, Côte de Boeuf, Lyonnais Sausages, and Foie de Veau. First courses range from a salade Caprese, (a dish you shouldn’t order outside of Italy) and a salad with goat cheese. But the real star here is le meat, so we started with a platter of glistening slices of cured jambon artisanal, which isn’t really beef but I’m too revved up to go back and change that, and it came with a too-huge slab of yellow, ultra-buttery butter (which is the only way I could describe it…it was really, really buttery…I don’t want to change that either) which we slathered on the bread, from the organic bakery, Moisan, then draped our slices with the ham. We then gobbled ‘em down.
Delicious.

The other starter was a Terrine de pot au feu. Pot au feu is the French equivalent of a boiled-beef supper, complete with vegetables and broth. When done right, it’s excellent, and at Le Severo, my hunch paid off. The terrine featured cubed, boiled beef parts, tender and neatly diced, loosely held in place with a light, jellied beef broth.

Since it’s rather warm and humid here in Paris right now, I chose a bottle of Fleurie, which was an overwhelming task considering the size and scope of the wine list. But the prices were gentle enough to encourage experimentation and the list is full of curious wines, so I think whatever you chose would be the right choice. The Fleurie was light, upbeat, and fruity…yet sturdy enough to stand up to a slab of beef.

Anyhow, our steaks arrived flawlessly cooked.
The French love their beef bleu, practically raw. But I like mine rare to medium-rare, or saignant. The chef-jacketed owner William Bernet, who is the singular server, assured me I’d be happy with saignant, and when he brought my faux filet, the rosy, juicy slices were indeed cooked just to the lower edge of my desired point of tenderness. To the side, my steak was accompanied by very, very good house-made French Fries.

My only fault was that the fries could have spent an extra 48 seconds in the deep-fryer to get that deep-golden crust that everyone loves but cooks seem to have trouble attaining around here, a fault I find in too many restos in France. Does anyone really like undercooked French fries? But I didn’t need to reach for that container of fleur de sel at all during dinner; everything was salted just-right. That to me, is the sign of a great cook, and a great restaurant. If you can’t salt food properly, you should find another line of work.

I was able to talk my companions, who just moved here from Rome and were delighted to chow down on good, honest French cooking, into splitting a cushiony-round disk of St. Marcellin cheese, which was roll-you-eyes-back-in-your-head amazing. I had a simple Creme Caramel, which arrived properly ice-cold and floating in a slick of dreamy burnt sugar sauce.

And because they were eating cheese, I didn’t have to share one bite of it (Ha! My strategy worked.) My friends then had a Mousse au Chocolat, which they liked, but they were not as conniving as me and shared a bit, but I felt it could’ve used a wallop of more chocolate flavor, but that’s how I am about chocolate desserts. The espresso served after dinner was quite good, and living in France, I’ve gained a new appreciation for Illy café, which is all but impossible to ruin.

First courses at Le Severo are in the 10€ range, while main courses were priced 15 to 25€. The hefty Côte de Boeuf, which they’ll prepare for 2 or 3 people, is 30€ per person and I’m going to have it on my next visit.

On the métro home after dinner, it suddenly dawned on my that my dining companions were macrobiotic. So if macrobiotic people can enjoy a beef restaurant like Le Severo, you can imagine how happy it makes us carnivores.

Le Severo
8, rue des Plantes
M: Mouton Duvernet
Tél: 01 45 40 40 91

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.

cbstartiner.jpg

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.

cbscaramels.jpg

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.

cutcaramels1.jpg

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.

caramelmachine.jpg

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.

florentines.jpg

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.

boxoflerouxchocolate.jpg

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.

mrandmrsleroux.jpg

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.

cbsbook.jpg

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.

fleurdeselsign.jpg

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?

fleurdeselmarsh.jpg
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!

absintheglass2.jpg
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.

mrabsinthe.jpg
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.

absinthedishes.jpg
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.

absinthevarieties.jpg
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.

absintheherbs.jpg
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.


Polenta Crisp Topping Recipe

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

badblogger.jpg
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.

redcurrantsfretoy.jpg
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!

crisprhubarb.jpg
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.)

whitecurrants.jpg
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…

grapesfretoy.jpg
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?

tortillafretoy.jpg
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.

Chocolate That’s “Too Good To Use”

Once upon a time, I worked in a restaurant that was well-known for using ingredients of exceptional quality. The most magnificent fruits and vegetables would come barreling through our kitchen door every day, from plump, rare black raspberries to teeny-tiny wild strawberries, fraises des bois.

While I can’t really guess the psychology behind it, we would often treat these marvels like precious jewels, reserving them for the perfect moment.

Or we’d just forget about them, then throw them away.

Unfortunately, because they were so fragile, they’d often last no longer than a day or so, and we’d arrive the next morning to find they hadn’t been used the previous evening and had to be tossed. While I don’t want to apologize or make excuses for this inexcusable behavior, restaurants are odd places full of strange people acting unusual…and no, it’s not just the customers. There’s mis-communications, too much going on all at once, and frankly, things don’t always happen like they should. And don’t tell me that you haven’t let something accidentally spoil in under your eagle-eye either.

Because I’m not buying it.

slittigianduja.jpg

So one day, one of the other cooks started to dub things as they came through the door, “Too good to use.”
He used the phrase to refer to things that were so special, that we just couldn’t bear to use them. And soon, the rest of us picked up the phrase too, and when something beautiful would arrive, it became the joke to label it as being something that was “too good to use.”

So, last year when I led an Italian Chocolate Tour through Tuscany and Torino, we stopped at Slitti in the tiny town of Monsummano Terme. Although Slitti started out in 1969 as a coffee-roasting company, Andrea Slitti (the son of the founder) started applying his roasting expertise to chocolate-making and now Slitti is regarded as one of the top chocolate-makers in the world. After our visit, on the way out, Palmira Slitti (Andrea’s wife who runs the shop) pressed a jar of their Crema da spalmare al Cioccolato Fondente ricca di nocciole into my already loaded-up bag of chocolates with a cheerful ciao bella.

slitti2.jpg

When I got home, I put the jar on my kitchen shelf so I could admire it, and it sat there day-after-day. Each day I would gaze up, all glassy-eyed, imagining the chocolate-y goodness through the glass of the jar, and I could practically taste the tiny bits of roasted Piedmontese hazelnuts, embedded in a rich, dark chocolate paste that were speckled throughout.

One day I decided it was no longer “too good to use” and abruptly pulled the jar down from its perch, opened it up, and with knife poised, got ready to spread.

Ugh!
Instead of dipping into the tasty spread, I peered inside first and saw that the entire surface was covered with green, dusty mold. Ick! So at 6:30am, I had the unenviable task of cleaning moldy chocolate. Not a pretty thing to wake up to. I managed to get all visible signs of mold off, then I poured in a shot of Jack Daniels (which around here is definitely not too-good-to-use) and swished it around to kill any microscopic traces of green hairiness.

Thankfully I didn’t toss it, and the hazelnut-chocolate paste was the best I’ve ever tasted. Unlike commercial hazelnut and chocolate spreads, this crema da spalmare from Slitti was made from the best, just-blended chocolate imaginable, studded with the world-famous Piedmontese hazelnuts from Langhe. And I’ve been enjoying it for the past few weeks, the warm weather in Paris makes it the perfect spreadable (ie: heap-able) consistency for my morning toast.

So maybe you have something in your cabinet, something you picked up on a trip that you’re holding on to. Or do you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Or is there something else that’s so special that you can’t bear to open it?

Do you have something that’s “too good to use”?


Slitti
Cioccolato e Caffè
Via Francesca Sud, 1268
Monsummano Terme
Italy
Tel: 0572.640240


Note: Slitti chocolate but you might want to try the Askinosie Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread, or try my Chocolate Hazelnut Spread recipe.

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.)