Recently in Uncategorized category

La Table Nutella

The hottest table right now in Paris is not at some snooty Michelin 3-star restaurant. It’s La Table Nutella, a temporary café to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Nutella, the world best-selling spread. Nutella, a paste made of hazelnuts and chocolate (and, um, a few other things) was invented in the Piedmonte region of Italy, famous for it’s delicious hazelnuts.

Each morning a line forms before 7 am, waiting (and hoping) for entrance. I kinda gave up, not really wanting to wake up that early and standing on the street. And I hate crowds of people grabbing food. Plus I had heard stories of a new French revolution brewing since there wasn’t nearly enough food to feed the hoards, and the staff was insanely stressed trying to control the crowd.

nutellacafeblog.jpg

It seems that the staff has figured out a solution to the problems plaguing the café by severly limited the amount of guests, which means the dreaded queue.
Then like magic, I got an email from Louisa that she scored a VIP table and we could cut in front of the queue, something the French are so adept at they even have their own word for it: resquillage.

Once seated, we ordered just about everything on the menu. All proceeds go to the group Rêves, so we didn’t feel guilty.

eggblog.jpg

This is a dessert created by pastry chef Philippe Conticini for the café, who has written a companion cookbook with stunning recipes using Nutella. It’s an eggshell filled with a rich, creamy chocolate custard that tasted remarkably like great chocolate pudding sans the skin. The baton, or cookie, that came with it was crunchy and the perfect accompaniment..

We split a giant brownie, and when I say giant, that thing was huge… Très Américain! Layers of sticky, dense brownie batter baked with a ganache-like paste of Nutella and toasted hazelnuts. I loved it, but others felt it was too rich.

brownieblog.jpg

So I ate theirs for them.

The Apple-Nutella Crumble was an unfriendly Franco-American alliance on par with Bush and Chirac (Apple Crumble has replaced the ubiquitous Apple Tart in France as the dessert-of-the-moment)…although I don’t like apples and chocolate together, so I’m not the best judge. I did enjoy the fromage blanc with a dollop of Nutella but we all flipped for the little croissants which when split open, oozed out a serious amount of gooey Nutella inside.

When I cut it open, like the croissant itself, Louisa’s enthusiasm spilled out, “Oh yeah, baby, bring it on!

Seems I’m not the only one in love with Nutella.

ilovenutellablog.jpg

La Table Nutella
46, rue de Sévigné, 4th
Until June 22
Monday through Friday, 7am to 11:30am
Saturday 8am to 3pm
(Get there early; latecomers will most likely not get seated.)

Chocolate, On Rue Tatin

Cooking On Rue Tatin
with Susan Loomis and David Lebovitz

For this very special week, I’ll be joining cookbook author Susan Loomis for a week of cooking and baking at her gorgeous and famous home on Rue Tatin (yes, she lives on Rue Tatin!) in the village of Louviers. Susan has written extensively about her life in Normandy and her latest book, Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin has quickly become one of my new favorite cookbooks.

During the week with Susan and me, we’ll be cooking up a storm in her professional kitchen, creating menus and elaborate multi-course meals featuring local ingredients as well as learning cooking secrets and techniques as we go.
We’ll be focusing on chocolate this week, and I’ll conduct special seminars during your visit. We’ll have a focused tasting and evaluation as well as learn how-to tempering chocolate, create wonderful chocolate confections, and baking classic French chocolate desserts.

We’ll also visit an outdoor market in the medieval village of Le Neubourg that is simply amazing, as well as conduct private tastings of goat cheese and wine with local producers and specialists.

More information can be found by visiting On Rue Tatin.
This week is certain to sell-out as group size is limited; reserve your space now.

September 25-30, 2005

Second Chances

For the past several years, I’ve avoided Mariage-Frères in the Marais. Last time I was there, a friend who had just arrived from the states had to go there immediately for tea. As the afternoon wore on, he began the usual jet-lag wilt (I can mimic the facial expressions, complete with nodding-back head, but I can’t describe the feeling adequately at the moment.)
The best description that comes to mind–“Your body arrives one day…and your soul arrives a few days later.”

DSC01289blog.jpg

As my friend faded into oblivion, I unsuccessfully tried to signal one of the linen-clad waiters for l’addition. At Mariages-Frères, the waiters have perfected and refined the art of avoiding the customers gaze. So we waited and waited and waited. That was my last visit.

But last week a non-jet-lagged friend asked to meet me her there for tea, and I thought why not give it another chance? Three years is a long time to hold a grudge against something that’s a Paris institution.
Our rendez-vous was mid-afternoon, and the tea salon was calm and the servers were graceful and accommodating. I had a perfectly brewed pot of green Sencha tea along with a rather good wedge of tarte layered with fresh raspberries topped with a black tea chiboust.

tartblog.jpg

In the grand tradition of tea time, we imbibed in small cakes as well: a lovely, moist financier scented with green matcha tea and a madeline with a subtle bit of Earl Grey tea leaves.

teacakesblog.jpg

Mariages-Frères
30-35, rue du Bourg-Tibourg
Métro: St. Paul

Comment Policy

fruit

Comments are welcome and an important part of my blog, and readers are very welcome and encouraged to leave comments in the blog posts. Questions will be answered in the comments at my discretion and due to the number of comments some posts have, and my other work, I’m unable to answer every comment. And in other cases, I may answer inquiries personally via e-mail and may not publish the comment.

So please use a valid e-mail address when sending in a comment. E-mail addresses are hidden from the public view and will not be used for any other purpose, nor are they shared or published in any way.

If no comment field appears at the end of a published post and comments, that means that the post is closed for comments. And if you have a question, it’s likely been answered in the comments previously and I don’t wish to comment further on it for various reasons.

1. Comments and URLs which link to commercial websites or blogs will immediately be deleted.

The exception is if the link is part of the discussion, ie: If someone asks where they can find a certain item or product, and another reader leaves a comment with a link to where it can be obtained.

2. Please do not leave the name or URL to your website or blog in the body of your comment.

There is a space for that where you enter your name and e-mail address, and it will automatically be linked to your website or blog. URLs that don’t relate to comments will be stripped out.

The exception to that if you are linking to an entry on your blog or website that is relevant to the discussion. Examples include if you’ve attempted a similar recipe or you have a post on your website or blog that adds to the discussion. You are welcome to leave a link, but please format it in HTML, (tutorials here and here), which will make it easier for readers to visit your site.

3. Comments may be edited for grammar, spelling, or content.

4. Comments may be moderated and may not appear on the blog without approval.

5. Comments may be deleted at any time, without notice.

6. If you find a broken link or typographical error, you are welcome to point it out.

But please realize that due to the temporal nature of blogs, those are both bound to happen and if you wish to mention it, tact is appreciated.

7. Diverse points of view are welcome but please keep the conversation civil.

The comments often become forums for discussion amongst readers, which is encouraged, but name-calling or baiting comments will be edited or deleted.

8. One-third of the readers of this blog live outside the United States

Please keep that in mind and readers should be sensitive to cultural differences and values when leaving comments or responding to others.

9. Anything written in ALL CAPS will be deleted.

10. Don’t Be a Douche.

Having worked in restaurant kitchens for over three decades, there isn’t anything that I haven’t seen, or heard. Trust me.

Blog Policies

If you have questions about various policies of the blog, you will likely find the answers at these links:

Disclosure Statement

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Use the Comment Feed

Restaurant Write Up Policy

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned On the Site



Panna cotta recipe

One of the fun things about living in Europe is that there are other people who’ve moved here (like me) who love their local culinary scene (like me.)

A few lucky guests each week follow along (or rather, try to keep up!) with Judy Witts Francini, aka Divina Cucina. A bundle of energy, each morning armed with an empty basket and a head full of menu ideas, she takes the Central Market in Florence by storm. A day begins with espresso at her favorite pastry shop, Antica Pasticceria Sieni (via San Antonio) where you sip espresso served with spicy wedges of panpepato, crisp brutti ma buoni (which means “ugly, but good”), and delicate cream-filled pastries.

panforteblog.jpg

Soon after, you’re exploring the market with Judy. I tasted well-aged balsamic vinegar, found delicate tiny wild strawberries, and sampled aged sheep-milk Pecorino cheeses…which could make even the most devoted, cheese-loving Francophile pack their bags for Tuscany.

After thoughtfully selecting wines for lunch from her local expert at Casa del Vino (via dell’Ariento, 16/r), the sandwich maker fixed me a surprise snack for my train trip that evening. When I unwrapped my sandwich, I found Tuscan bread stuffed with anchovy and olive oil marinated tomatoes, arugola, and creamy burrata cheese from Apulia.

Then we walked back to Judy’s apartment and participated in some hands-on cooking demonstrations.

Judy is a dynamo of knowledge, full of great culinary tips, such as…

1. Don’t listen to music or watch tv while cooking, which distracts you from the food as it crackles, sizzles, and simmers.

2. Used good olive oil.
The best olive oils are pressed from hand-picked olives. Lesser-quality olive oils use olives that fall from the tree, which causes them to bruise and become prone to rancidity. That’s why cheaper olive oils turn bad after a few months while better oils last much longer. And tastes better!

3. Always heat olive oil first in your saute pan before adding meat or vegetables.
This allows food to sear and cook quickly, which augments flavors. An exception is fresh garlic, which should be heated at the same time as the oil, since it’s easy to burn.

4. Techniques are more important than recipes or details.
Even if you’re not a master chef like Judy, use recipes as guidelines for cooking. While a recipe may indicate a cooking time of 20 minutes, you may find it takes more or less time in your kitchen. And you may like more salt. Or your lemons are larger, and sweeter. Learning techniques, rather than just following recipes, will make you cook like an Italian.

5. Almost all true balsamic vinegars are aged for at least 10 years. Anything less is not a real balsamic. The stuff you buy in shops labeled ‘balsamic’ with the consistency of water is not true balsamic and has added colorings and flavorings. Once you taste the real thing, you’re eyes will roll back in your head and you will hallucinate.

I’ve been cooking professionally for over half of my life and I’ve tasted some mighty fine food, but one of the best things I’ve ever had, she made right in front of us: Herb Garlic Rub. It’s something that anyone can make and tastes infinitely better than those stale mixtures one buys in a jar. Judy shucked a few large branches of fresh rosemary leaves. She added the leaves from an enormous bunch of fresh sage, a generous handful of salt, and 4-5 cloves of fresh garlic. Then she chopped and chopped and chopped until very fine, then left the mxiture on the cutting board until dry, which takes a day or two. Once dry, store the mixture in a jar. You can use the Herb Garlic Rub on any meat, fish, poultry, or vegetable. Add a bit to a bowl of good olive oil for dipping bread.

sandwichblog.jpg

Then in an amazing feat of culinary skill, replicating something that intrigued me at the market, Judy split a long loaf of Italian bread lengthwise. She generously poured some good olive oil over the insides (without measuring, folks…), dusted it with Herb Garlic Rub, then tucked a pork tenderloin inside. After wrapping the whole thing in foil, she baked it directly on the oven rack (in a 375 degree oven for about one hour.) As she unwrapped it, the overwhelming aroma of herbs and garlic permeated the air. None of us could be polite any longer, and we begin ripping off hunks of the herb-and-olive-oil infused bread and stuffing them in our mouths.

For dessert Judy whipped up Panna Cotta, one of Italy’s most beloved desserts. Although Judy uses local Tuscan cream, you can substitute whole milk or buttermilk for some of the cream. We tossed tiny wild strawberries and plump raspberries in sugar to macerate, then piled some atop each Panna Cotta and drizzled it with an unrestrained pour of 30 year old syrupy-sweet balsamic vinegar.
Rare, and outrageously expensive, Judy kept advising, “Pour on more! Pour on more! That stuff tastes great!”

judyblog.jpg

Divina Cucina Panna Cotta
6 Servings

4 cups heavy cream (or substitute half-and-half, or use half buttermilk)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 packages unflavored gelatin, such as Knox

Soften gelatin over 6 tablespoons cold water.

Heat cream over low heat with the sugar and stir until dissolved. Do not boil. Remove from heat.
Stir in gelatin until melted. Add the vanilla. Pour into glass serving goblets or bowls.

Chill for at least 2 hours. Once firm, top with sweetened berries and aged balsamic vinegar, or lots of shavings of chocolate.

France 1: American 0

So here I was, about to share with you tales of a market visit and meal I had in Florence, Italy, with my friend Judy, better known as Divina Cucina. We found fragrant, tiny wild strawberries, so she made a terrific Panna Cotta to serve with them, topped with a drizzle of aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar. Then while typing away (and procrastinating at the same time…does that count as multitasking?), I was reading other food blogs and noticed that Amy and Clotilde just posted Panna Cotta stories. Sigh! So I’ll save that for another entry and if you absolutely have to make Panna Cotta right now, one of their recipes should hold you over until then.

Instead, I get to rant.
I wish I had a euro for each time someone said to me,
“What do you do all day in Paris? It must be so exciting!”

Well, let’s look at how I spent yesterday morning, shall we?

I decided to have some friends over and make Braised Duck Legs in red wine. I decided the perfect accompaniment would be Cipolline Agro Dolce, another recipe from Judy. Before you say anything, I know, I know. You’re supposed to, 1) visit the market first, 2) find what’s in season, 3) then decide what to cook. Of course I know that. One of the many things I absorbed in my thirteen years at Chez Panisse. But I am the kind of guy that likes to head out shopping with a list. Otherwise, dinner would have been whatever was in my kitchen: radishes, olives, and Pocket Coffee. (see previous post)

(Judy’s recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of peeled boiling onions, which you cook on the stovetop with a cup of so of white wine, enough to cover, a few tablespoons of sugar, vinegar, and olive oil, salt, and a chili pepper. You cook it all until the onions are glazed and caramelized. Delicious!)

Since there are no outdoor markets in Paris on Monday, I figured that I’d simply go to the supermarket and pick up boiling onions (Italians call them cipolline.) I first went to Monoprix, which seems to have everything…except what you went there to get in the first place. Sure enough, no small onions. I then went across the street to Ed, which is a discount supermarket and kind of grim and unsavory. The gate was down: “Closed For Inventory.” Grrr.

I then walked over to Franprix, another supermarket. No onions. How can this be? One of the greatest food cities in the world, and no boiling onions? I decided to try Picard which specializes in frozen foods. People here rave about Picard (although I wonder, “Who the heck buys frozen baguettes when there are 1263 bakeries in Paris?”…and yes, I do know those kinds of things.) Picard has everything frozen; sacks of red currants, figs, and sour cherries, pigeons stuffed with foie gras and chocolate-glazed ice cream profiteroles. I scanned the freezers passing over frozen baby artichoke hearts, sliced leeks, minced sorrel, and fava beans.
But, of course, no onions.

After two hours of searching from supermarket to supermarket, I decided to call it quits. Heading home, I wanted to at least stop at Nicolas and get some wine, since I didn’t want to go home dejected and empty-handed. As I approached, the door wouldn’t budge.

“Open Monday, 4pm-8pm.”

Defeat.
France 1: American 0.

Late yesterday afternoon, on my way to yoga, I stopped at Shopi, another supermarket and my last resort. Sure enough, there were little filets (mesh sacks) of boiling onions buried within the produce section.

The label read, “Produit d’Argentine”.
It was a very long journey…for both of us.

As you can imagine, I was very careful not to burn them.

onionblog.jpg

So, to answer your question…That’s what I do all day.

Where Are All The Cafés In Paris?

At a recent dinner party here in Paris, I asked a gentleman from New York City how he was enjoying his trip. He responded it was fine, but “I can’t find anywhere to get a coffee in Paris.”

There’s been perhaps 3 times in my life where I’ve been speechless, much to the consternation of anyone within earshot. And this is the first time this century.

How can anyone say there’s nowhere in Paris to drink coffee?
(I’ll forgo any mention of how the same guest began hacking the beautiful artisan cheeses, carefully selected and arranged on a platter, into little bits after the host set it down. “That’ll make things easier!” he proudly announced.)

I still have no idea what he was talking about.
Make what easier?

Anyhow…
Paris is a city filled with cafés.
In fact, the concept of the café was invented here in the 1600′s at the Le Procope in the Latin Quarter, unfortunately a sad victim of a hideaous remodel about a decade ago. Cafés flourished when struggling artists and writers like Hemingway and Picasso (and more recently, Lebovitz) would escape their freezing-cold apartments for cozy heated cafes.
People come to sip coffee, read, argue, and have a smoke. There’s a café on every corner, on every street, in every neighborhood. Because apartments are so small and Parisians are rather private, invitations to homes are rare. Instead people meet in cafés, and many consider them the living rooms of Parisians.

So I scoured the city in search of a café.
After 3 seconds I found one. Then another. And then another! Mon Dieu! These things are everywhere! Just in case you come to Paris and need to find one, this is what a café looks like:

cafe1.jpg

After giving it more thought (perhaps more than it deserved) I may have figured out what he was talking about. He wanted Starbucks. Ok, so that’s coffee.

They said it couldn’t happen here, but Starbucks has made it’s way to Paris, opening several outlets over the past year. The appeal of Starbucks in America is pretty easy to understand: Starbucks gave Americans permission to sit down for 20 minutes, have a decent cup of coffee, read the Times, and use a bathroom (although unless you’re rather acrobatic, not all at the same time). This concept has been embraced by Americans as neighborhood diners morphed into fast-food outlets in cities and towns, erasing local culture and communities. But do Europeans know what to do when confronted with a giant 20-ounce coffee in a paper cup, ‘les brownies’, and vente-mocha-soy-low-fat-chai lattés?

starbuckslist1.jpg

Here’s the list of beverages explained for the French clientele. It’s a bit hazy, since the people working in the shop were eyeing me suspiciously, (perhaps with even less comprehension than most French people eye me.)

When I travel to other places, I look forward to experiencing other cultures, and “doing as the locals do”. Living in France has taught me that attempting to “fit in” means learning the language (the verbs are killing me), dressing up (I changed out of sweatpants to take my garbage out last sunday in case I ran into any neighbors), buying my cheese in one shop and my wine in another and my butter in another…and my vegetables in yet another. But in between it all, I take the time to enjoy a coffee in real cafés, one of the pleasures of living in Paris.

But just in case I run into anyone looking for a coffee, I finally found just the place to send them to…

AmericanCoffee1.jpg

Note: I’m off to Italy this week to lead a Chocolate Tour from Piemonte to Tuscany. I’ll have lots of pictures and stories when I get back. I hope to post some entries from the road as well.

French Food Stamps

The other day I was waiting on line at La Poste (emphasis on the word ‘waiting’…), I happened to notice a new series of stamps on sale. Of course, I wanted to take a picture right then and there, but I figured everyone would think that was goofy, so I bought a set to show you:

stamps1.jpg

I love these. Stamp dedicated to cane sugar, Cantal cheese and ‘la bouillabaisse’.

And people ask me why I live in France.