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Category Archives: Paris

Just Another Sunday in Paris

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Today was a little bit random. I didn’t have anything solid planned culinary-wise, so I slept in and then blazed my own trail around Paris. For two days now, I’ve been on the prowl for a particular spice shop that has alluded me, so I figured I’d give it one more go. It’s still out there…somewhere. You can run little spice shop, but you can’t hide– I WILL find you. When I finally gave up, I kept walking and bumped into Marche aux Enfants Rouge. It is a pretty small outdoor market with a decent amount of food stalls. I didn’t need anything, but poked around and noticed all of the little enclosures off the stalls with tables. They were all packed, and I presume the patrons were noshing on what they had bought at the market.

From there, I continued on my way. After figuring I was nowhere near the spice shop (that‘s just a guess), I turned around and saw Cirque D’Hiver in the distance. It was time for it to start, so I walked down and got a ticket for €10. The ring was micro compared to Ringling Bros, where I haven’t been in probably 20 years, but the talent was phenomenal. My palms started to sweat when the trapeze artists did their thing, and these three acrobat men did a bit that required the strength of a bevy of Clydesdales. That would be them in the picture on the left. I digress…this has nothing to do with food.

After the circus, I pulled up Google Maps and discovered I was really close to Breizh Café. I knew it was open on Sundays, and despite telling myself I wouldn’t buy any food today, I couldn’t resist. Breizh is rumored to have some of the best buckwheat crepes in all of Paris, and I would completely agree. I had a jambon (ham) and fromage (cheese) crepe and a glass of white wine, and stopping in was a wise decision. Further validating this detour was the fact that Pain de Sucre was just around the corner. 

In December, Budget Travel ran a culinary advent calendar of Paris where they featured a different place each day. That’s how I found out about Pain de Sucre, and also about the boulangerie later on. Here, they have macarons and gourmet marshmallows, and while I’ve managed to restrain myself from the macarons (salted carmel and chocolate mint), I couldn’t resist biting into the pistachio marshmallow I purchased. O.M.D (Dieu). Silky. Savory. Sweet.

Update: I inhaled the salted carmel macaron after dinner tonight, and it was the best portable dessert I’ve ever tasted.

Heading back to Montmartre, I exited the metro at Abbesses. It’s one of the oldest and deepest metros in Paris, and still has the original Guimard style glass covering. It’s one of only two left that do, Port Dauphine being the other. It’s also a hop, skip and a jump from Coqueliocot, a fantastic boulangerie also featured on Budget Travel’s Paris blog. There, I picked up a piccola baguette, and promptly ate half of it on the walk home. It was fluffy on the inside, and crusty on the outside. In other words, parfait.

People always wonder how French women eat like they do (and I did today) and don’t get fat. Let me tell you…it’s the stairs in the metros and in Montmartre. So much for not buying anything today. After all that walking (and climbing), I decided, I earned it.

Tomorrow: Fat Tire Bike Tour

Cooking Class #1: Brangelina. Broccoflower. And Sausage Cheese.

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Paris is literally bustling around me right now. A certain someone suggested I head to Place de la Concorde and type my next blog from here. So, here I am…sitting in the park off Place de la Concorde (I opted out of dodging traffic to get to the fountain) writing. It’s a clear and brisk day in Paris, but the sun keeps making an appearance. Sitting on park bench being flanked by Hotel Crillon to the left, where my new favorite cookbook is from, and the Eiffel Tower to the right is hardly torture.

Yesterday, I survived my first cooking class in Montmartre. I woke up and walked down to the Jules Joffrin metro to meet up with my class, and found my instructor (from Los Angeles) with her green shopping cart, three other Americans, and two Aussies. It was a fantastic group! We got started right away on a super market sweep like that of my last blog post, only this time, our Sherpa provided tons of inside information, truly breaking down the last bit of apprehension that any of us had shopping in this style.

We visited a traditional boucher where we bought our meat (we also stopped for a brief moment in front of a horse meat butcher…there are only about 40 left in Paris), a cheese shop where we learned about the layout of the store (it’s intentional…the strongest cheeses are kept at the front for ventilation reasons), a fishmonger, a fruit and vegetable market, and finally, a boulangerie with an oven so old, when it breaks, the stores closes down for weeks at a time while the part is retrieved from some obscure place in France. The bread was to die for.

The menu was completely up to our group, and we decided on some things that were outside of our cooking comfort zones. To start, we beheaded and cleaned langoustines, and removed the nerve and egg sacks from fresh scallops. We seered the scallops and sautéed the langoustines, and served those with a confit of fennel and onions, alongside a sauce we made from the langoustine shells and cream (have no fear– we strained them out). Delicious.

Our main meal was constructed from lamb shoulder. As I mentioned before, it’s cold in Paris (it actually snowed during class yesterday), so a stew was the way to go. We browned the lamb, and deglazed the pan with Calvados, an apple liquor, and then into the pool went onions, shallots, carrots, garlic and white wine. The stew simmered for about two hours while we got busy with other things, like the celeriac puree and sautéed romanesco served alongside it. If you’re not familiar with romanesco, check out the picture. It tastes like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, and is sometimes aptly called, broccoflower.

For our second protein, we chose duck breast, since most of us weren’t familiar with how to cook it. We cleaned up each piece of meat, including trimming away some of the fat and scoring the fatty underside so the fat didn’t bubble up and pucker. Then, we browned them in a dry pan; you wouldn’t believe how much fat rendered off each one. They went into the oven for about seven minutes to finish cooking, resulting in medium rare duck that we served with a red wine reduction. The fat was so crispy and delicious, and the duck tender and mild. It was, in most of our opinions, the star of the show, and I will never shy away from making duck again.

While the stew simmered in the background, we polished off our starters, but not before we separated eggs and extracted vanilla beans for crème brulee. Wowsers. I don’t know what was better: eating it or getting to torch the top. Who says cooking isn’t fun? We also learned about the cheeses we had selected, and the order in which to eat them. It seems rather obvious, but some people forget that you should always eat your strongest cheese (in our case, a bleu) last. That way, the fortitude of the flavor doesn’t alter the taste of the other cheeses. We enjoyed these with our breads from the boulangerie.

I honestly don’t think I have ever eaten so much in my life. There was wine and champagne involved too, and lots of great conversation about Paris, culinary delights, restaurants, Costco, celebrity chefs, and the lives we lead elsewhere. After class, a few of us popped up to the Sacre Coeur to walk off our lunch. It was beyond necessary. The views over Paris from the butte were magnificent, much like our lunch was, and I had fun showing a few of my new friends around Montmartre.

While I knew a lot of what was taught, I also learned a lot in this class, chief among them not to be timid of new ingredients. Adventure is part of a successful kitchen experience, and being able to adapt and roll with the punches is a lesson for life. 

Cookn with Class
18th Arrond.- Montmartre
€160/4 Hours Including Market Tour

Next class: Tuesday at L’Ecole Ritz Escoffier

To Market, To Market

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One of the great (and obvious) things about renting an apartment while traveling is the availability of a kitchen. It allows you to take control of your culinary destiny, and also act like a local. Take yesterday for example. Upon arriving, I knew I’d need to make a trip out for food, but what I forgot was how different the experience would be.

In high school French class, I remember learning the words “boulangerie” (bread bakery), “poissonerie” (fish monger), “boucher” (butcher), “fromagerie” (cheese shop), “patisserie” (sweets bakery), and “marche aux legumes et fruits” (vegetable and fruit market). These are all independent entities in France. It seemed so silly at the time–to think that someone would gallivant down the street stopping into each of these different places to purchase their food items. Why wouldn’t they just go to Ralphs or something?

The truth is, while it may be a bit more time-consuming to shop this way, it’s really quite charming and enjoyable, and the food seems to be fresher. The shops are all tiny, and in some cases, have standing room only, but that’s all you need as you pop in for a baguette, a bag of potatoes, or a portion of brie. It also means they don’t have enough back-stock to compensate should something nuclear occur, hence, the farm to market phenomenon, whereby the farm ends up on your table and the prices remain affordable. Sure, they have “supermarkets” here, but it’s a loose translation and they more closely resemble a 7-11, in my opinion. Charming? Hardly. In fact, normal “supermarkets” are not allowed in the 20 arrondisements at all. Charming? Indeed.

My shopping trip yesterday resulted in a dinner of carmelized onions and brussel sprouts with potatoes, a sautéed breast of chicken, sliced tomato salad, and a glass of rosé. If I had to estimate, I’d say the entire dinner (including wine) set me back about €5 (just shy of $7). Stopping into the markets was fun, and I was also able to practice my French. Schlepping the bags up the vertical stairs in Montmartre in the rain, well, that’s another story. 

The fruits of my labor…simple and delicious. My kind of meal, indeed.

So Long, Farewell

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I’m sitting on my flight right now typing this from a window seat. My carry-on was ever-so-slightly too tall to fit in the overhead bin despite two men trying to help me, and it was because of a pair of socks or something equally squishy and ironic. 

Neither of these things are characteristic of my travel style, so a mini panic attack ensued that consisted mainly of my face turning red when she asked whose bag it was. When carrying it to the front of the plane to have it checked, however, the flight attendants on AA 484 let me put it in the crew baggage/closet area onboard. I didn’t say much. Just a brief lament about how on this very same route a few years back, my bag didn’t make it, and then I giggled at the irony. I think they could sense my distaste for checked luggage because they asked me for my bag and told me it was our secret.

When we took off backwards from SNA, a tear rolled down my cheek, which is also not characteristic of the titanium exterior I like to uphold. But I could see all of Orange County from said window seat, and realized, “Holy hell, I’m not going to see this place for awhile.” Cue Pussycat Dolls ‘I Hate This Part Right Here.’ Leaving this morning was no better. I had to say bye to my parents, my animals (I never did find Tommy to say bye to him), and Brady…the human version. After having his car backed into by a lime green VW Bug when he pulled up, I couldn’t help but thinking it was symbolic. Was this his way of telling me he was smashed I was leaving? These are the types of things I think about when I’m trying to distract myself from getting all worked up. It didn’t work.

It’s hard to believe I’m on an airplane right now bound for a place 12,000+ miles away. For the longest time, this day seemed like it would never get here, until this week, when I could see it on the horizon and wished it was off in the distance somewhere (kind of like the ground from this airplane right now). I feel anxious, excited, sad, eager, manic, confident, and like I could cry at any minute. Does anyone have a Xanax handy? Seat 11E is open next to me, and there are a variety of people I wish were sitting in it. The reality is, I’m flying solo. And I’ve got a lot of days, hours, and minutes to fill before I’m sitting next to someone on my return flight home from Istanbul.

The beverage cart is approaching, and I’m going to grab some water and hydrate. It’s going to be a long flight to CDG from DFW, and I’m hoping the two aisle seats flanking my middle one (yet another move I never make) are open so I can sprawl out for the flight. After a trip to the Admirals Club for my requisite red wine and Tylenol PM cocktail, I’m going to put January 28th behind me. I always say I don’t like even numbers, and I’ll be honest– I’m not a huge fan of this day. Perhaps, that’s why I’m returning on lucky number 13 (of May). Finally, something that makes sense!

Up, up, and away…Project Culinary Hopscotch is underway.

Destination #1: Paris

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January 29th- February 4th, 2010