Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Algerian pastries at La Bague de Kenza

Sunday, December 14th, 2008 by Paul

If you think of the words “Paris” and “pastry,” what comes to mind? A croissant or pain au chocolat? A macaron? How about baklava?

While I don’t think I’ll be able to separate Paris from pain au chocolat, I won’t be able to think about pastries in Paris without also thinking of the Algerian pastries from La Bague de Kenza.

We didn’t even read this article in the New York Times before we happened on La Bague de Kenza on Rue Faubourg St. Antoine, just down the street from us. We were just walking down the street one day and saw through the window a store full of the tiny delicacies stacked into pyramids on silver platters. How could we resist? We walked in, sheepishly, and even with our basic French could only manage to point at what looked good.

We pointed at the cute pastries made from almond paste and shaped to look like whatever fruit it’s flavored with: orange, pear, apple, banana, fig. We pointed at the small rolls or “fingers” filled with pistachios. If the woman behind the counter suggested something, what else could we do but nod, unwittingly, knowing that everything would taste wonderful?

We weren’t disappointed. Despite their looks, the pastries aren’t overly sweet. Some of the fruit can be very sugary, but others are softer and more subtle, and remind me more of halva.

La Bague de Kenza has two locations in the 11th arrondissment, one in the 15th, and another in the suburbs. Paris will always have pain au chocolat, but I’ll always have my memories of Algerian pastries.

Magret de canard aux figues

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 by Paul

In France, you are never very far from the source of your food. The same concept of terroir that goes into wine is also present in the food, from the preparations of the dishes to the places where the food is made and how it is sold in the markets.

At the Market at Place d’Aligre where we shop, there are boucheries selling everything from whole rabbits to lamb’s brains to bifteck de cheval (yes, the French do eat horsemeat). One day we went to one of the poultry sellers: we wanted to make a chicken in the slow cooker, since my ability to make a proper poulet rôti being hampered slightly by the lack of an oven.

At the market, the chickens are sold whole, and I do mean whole. When I ordered one, the man asked me something in French that I didn’t understand, but had the foresight to respond with a polite “oui, monsieur.” The man took his well-used knife, cut off the head and feet of the chicken and gutted it completely, taking care to prepare the liver and giblets before returning them to the cavity. Finally, he took a blowtorch and burned off the excess feather follicles that hadn’t already been removed.

Yes, you can also go to the Monoprix and buy the same plastic shrink-wrapped, processed meat, and you can even buy any number of frozen meats the same way as in the US. There also any number of smaller bio stores that sell organic or other natural products. In most cases, though, there’s little to prevent you from knowing that the meat you eat comes from an animal.

I happen to think that’s a good thing, and so it’s not with any queasiness when I have to spend a few minutes removing some unwanted feather follicles from my magret de canard before making dinner.

Magret is the breast of a Moulard duck that has been raised to produce foie gras, aged on the bone for seven days. Much like foie gras, it’s considered to be more of a delicacy item than a standard fillet de canard. It can be grilled, sauteed, or roasted in the oven. I find it tastes best seared — but that’s me, and people have told me that I like my meat not rare but “frightened.” Your tastes may differ.

A very quick and traditional method of preparation is with fresh figs, when they are available. Clotilde has a recipe with a lavender crust, and you can find other recipes with truffles and the like. This recipe is closest to what I managed to create, and with the pictures it’s easy enough to understand even without knowing French. If you want a translation, just ask 🙂

While they are available in France at any good meat and poultry shop, magrets are hard to come by in the States. D’Artagnan is always good supplier for these types of things. Serve it with a hearty Southwestern French wine like a Madiran or Bordeaux.

Little olive oils

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 by misty

Before I was hit with the rhume de normandaise (a cold from Normandy) that kept me in bed for the last three days, I went to the olive oil shop to buy olive oil. That’s right, the olive oil shop where you buy olive oil. It’s like the bread shop where you buy bread. The meat shop where your meat is waiting. The cheese shop, the bean shop, the underwear shop, you get the picture. The grands magasins are overwhelming in their breadth and price tags, and so much empty white space! But the tiny shops teeming with all varieties of one specialty – like say, an algerian pastisserie displaying 20 trays of 20 different confections – are just more enjoyable places to spend your Euros.

At L’olivier, you get your bottle of olive oil poured from a big keg after you’ve done various taste tests. It’s not revolutionary, there are fancy olive oil shops everywhere but not as many as there are here. I also purchased tiny bottles of flavored olive oils and vinaigrettes. Shake and voila – the perfect amount of salad dressing. Guess what you’re all getting for Christmas!

Now, I must go to the wine shop where you get your to-go wine poured from a barrel!

Speaking of spending Euros, it’s been reported that the EU is officially in recession. Only one country has seen increased spending this quarter. I’d like to say, “You’re welcome, France.” It’s been a pleasure handing over our money.

Also – our Halloween pumpkin! Thank you, Michael, for sending these pics from our night carving pumpkins in Paris. Yes, I did eventually find one and here he is. He’s a French pumpkin.

French wine labels

Friday, October 24th, 2008 by Paul

To many people, reading French wine labels is like, well, reading French. They aren’t nearly as cut and dry as wine labels from the US or other newer wine-producing regions like Australia or Chile. To the French, the most important component of wine is not the grape but the terrior, a concept that loosely translates to the soil but encompasses also the climate, the topology, and sometimes even the people and the circumstances under which the wine was made.

So on a French label it’s most important not to look for the grape but where the wine was made. For that one looks for the words Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée. From there, you get the region, or perhaps even the town, where the grapes were grown and where the wine was made: the terrior. Of course, to make any sense of the AOC you just have to learn which appellations are where in France, what are the major grapes in that region, and so on.

To make matters worse, there are over 300 distinct appellations d’origine contrôlées.

So just when I think I’ve come to terms with navigating the French wine label, last night’s wine threw me a curve ball. Instead of saying Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, it said something different: Appellation d’Origine Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure.

Wha?

I’d never seen this before. Has my knowledge of French wine labels been even more incomplete than I had previously even thought?

It turns out, of course, that it was. A quick Google search reveals that Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure, or VDQS, is a classification just under the AOC. It’s an oenological purgatory that some wines are forced to stay in as they make their ascent from Vin de pays status all the way up to full AOC status.

And much like the Catholic limbo, it’s a distinction whose time is at an end. The French parliament has abolished this classification, with the last wines labeled VDQS set to be released in 2011.

The wine we had last night was delicious, so let’s hope they make it to AOC status. Meanwhile, I’ll continue trying to fill in my knowledge of French wine labels, one glass at a time.

Mussels!

Friday, October 24th, 2008 by Paul

This isn’t London, and I’m not going to go on a murderous rampage turning people into meat pies, but I was very glad to see my friends again:

These are my friends

At last, my arm is complete again.

Misty and I have been on a sustainable seafood kick for a while; living in the Pacific Northwest makes us susceptible to all things green, and when we hear about all kinds of fisheries on the decline, it makes us want to do our part. Inspired by Clotilde’s recent post, we wandered over to the market on Boulevard de Richard Lenoir to pick up some mussels. I’ve always had a fondness for the tasty bivalves, and when I learned that these particular mussels had their own appellation, I was eager to try them.

Moules marinière

They turned out well, I think. They are a lot smaller than the mussels we get in the Northwest, but a lot cleaner. Their beard was more of a soul patch. While they are still in season I might make them again and add a bit of fennel or some Pastis instead of saffron. Of course, there are plenty of other fish in the sea and at the poissoniere markets.