29 May 2007

Paris: Food Shopping On Rue Cler

Shopping on Rue Cler is everything it is reputed to be: A medley of aromas and a cacophony of sounds.

It is a rich experience.

Most of the vendors are friendly, some sing as they work, others unabashedly hawk their products. They tease one another but are respectful with customers.

French merchants keep careful track of their customers’ place in line, and try to wait on them in the order in which they have queued.

The fresh produce is perfection, and must fresher and tastier than anything I’ve found in my town. The cheese is aromatic, so is the fish and seafood.

We took a liking to fresh sausage on our last trip and have gone through several kilograms of it (back to lean meat when we get home). The hard salami is equally tasty, and we became regular customers at both Davoli and Roger.

Rue Cler has both a LeaderPrice and a FranPrix for basics like paper towels, toilet paper and items that come in jars. There is another supermarket around the corner on Avenue de la Motte Piquet.

I like French supermarkets. For one thing, the products are about half the cost of similar items at home, even when you translate euros into dollars.

Secondly, the house brands are generally high quality, something you do not necessarily find in the U.S., not in my town where choices are limited.

I like the mix of businesses on Rue Cler.

What I don’t like is the long trek over several busy streets, especially after a day (or even before) of walking around. After a week, it became a chore to drag the little cart over cobblestones. Perhaps we just have not acquired the knack.

We were happy to find larger FranPrix on Avenue de la Bourdonnais. It is a straight shot from our flat.

There are also several traituers nearby, one that sells Asian food and another that specializes in Mediterranean food. Our block has several Italian restaurants and two bakeries. When your feet are tired (which is always the case in Paris) and you are too hungry to cook, there is always a sandwiche jambonto purchase for just a few euros. You can add cheese, onions, tomatoes and pickles if you larder is well stocked.

Really, eating in Paris need not be expensive, if you cook most of your meals yourself.

I am not suggesting you abandon the experience of sitting in a café. It is the best way to people watch in a city that is rich in everything, including people.

Cooking in Paris: Onion-Cheese Soup

In 2007, we rented an apartment in Paris to save money on food. It was as simple as that.

Besides, I thought cooking in Paris might be a heady experience. I was right.

Part of that is due to the bottle of wine my husband opens about 7 p.m. as I head for the kitchen. The other part is the cheese.

I’ve been saving cheese rinds for nearly a week now, with the idea of making some sort of cheese-y soup to go with baguettes from area bakeries.

I opened my cheese rind bag the other day. Here’s what I had: Rind from Comte and St. Paulin cheeses, purchased at FranPrix and Leader Price, respectively.

(My game plan was to try budget-priced cheeses to see if I liked them before purchasing higher-priced versions from a fromagerie. Being from Wisconsin, I can live on cheese, so buying a lot of it presents no problems.)

I bought the creamy St. Paulin on a whim, because St. Paulin-Louiseville is the area of Canada where my great-grandmother, called Mémere, was born and raised.

Then at an Ed store in the 18th (an upscale Ed, more or less), I found a chevre from the Poitou-Charentes area, where Memere’s ancestors originated. It, too, had a rind.

I melted the rinds in a saucepan over low heat, first adding about a tablespoon of unsalted butter and then about 1/3 cup cream.

This is the result of that experiment, made with what I had on hand:

Three-Cheese Onion Soup
  • about 1 cup cheese rinds from Comte, St. Paulin and chevre
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 3-4 sweet onions, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • dash extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • 2 onion-garlic bouillon cubes
  • 2-3 cups hot water
  • 2 teaspoons Provencal sauce
  • dash herbes de Provence
Chop cheese rinds into small pieces and set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add cheese and cream. Maintain medium-low heat until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, slice onions and mince garlic; combine with olive oil and butter in medium stockpot. Heat water and drop in soup cubes; stir until cubes melt.

When onions have begun to turn golden brown, add water and herbes. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes. Add melted cheese and allow flavors to marry over medium heat for about 15 minutes. You may want to fish out any large pieces of rind still left.

Serve with salad and a baguette. (You may not be able to find Provençal sauce locally. Same with the bouillon cubes. Vegetable bouillon and tomato sauce would do.)

I made this with budget-priced cheeses, and it was fantastic. I think it was the best soup I’ve ever made (she said modestly).

We paired it with a rosé from Provence. Maybe not the perfect choice but not bad at all.

Honestly, you cannot go wrong with food here.

22 May 2007

Cooking in Paris: French Toast with Nicoise Lemon and Vanilla Syrup

2207: After nearly five days in Paris, I hold fast to my theory that food tastes better here.

It is not a cockamamie theory. The explanation is simple. The French value good food. Good food needs the best ingredients. And that is what you find here. (At a far better price than in Wisconsin, I might add.)

We took the little cart to Rue Cler on Saturday and made the rounds. Salami from Davoli La Maison Du Jambon. Pork sausage from Boucherie Roger. Pont d’Eveque cheese from La Fermette. Fresh produce from Les Quartres Saison and necessities from Leader Price and FranPrix.

Even the cheapest items were a good value. My husband found a serviceable bottle of Bordeaux for fewer than two euros. We bought a pricier bottle of white Bordeaux from Magda Traiteur on Rue de Monttessuy last night.

To date, in my American kitchen in France (our flat is owned by an American), I have made salami sandwiches, salads, grilled cheese-and-sausage sandwiches, sausage and peppers and sausage and fettuccini — simple fare, to be sure. It all tasted better here.

Maybe you need to be very relaxed to make good food. I think that’s part of the equation. But the other part is that the ingredients are the best I can afford.

I feel better cooking here, even though the kitchen is smaller (and not very conducive to good food photos).

But I am not telling you anything you don’t already know if you have cooked in Paris.

And if you haven’t, you must. You really must. It is much more economical and certainly healthier on both figure and wallet than eating out all the time.

French Toast with Nicoise Lemon and Vanilla Syrup
  • 8 thick slices day-old baguette
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter
  • ¼ cup vanilla syrup
Whip together eggs, cream, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Soak baguette slices for about 2 minutes. Lightly toast in skillet until golden brown. Serve with syrup; top with more lemon zest and powdered sugar, if you have some (I did not).

The second photo is taken from Rue de General Camou, in front of the American Library in Paris.

As Elouise put it, “I absolutely adore Paris!”

19 May 2007

Eating in Paris: Embarrassing Travel Moments

Jet lagged, lacking proper sleep, at 8:30 p.m. on the day we landed in Paris, we could not figure out how to get past the inner lobby door of our apartment building. We remembered the digicode, and successfully opened the outer door, but we’d forgotten that the inner door opened with the little plastic wand on our key chain.

(Never mind that this is how we open doors at the university where I teach journalism. On our first night in Paris we simply could not think.)

After numerous attempts at using the front digicode to enter the inner door, I said I’d go out in search of help. What kind of help, I had no idea. But I went to a café around the corner where the maitre d’ (or perhaps the owner) seemed friendly when I passed by earlier in the evening. He listened and went in search of someone who knew someone in the building. By some divine intervention, a waiter did know someone. He called his friend and the friend came downstairs to show my exhausted husband how to get inside.

Meanwhile, I found some friendly American women to talk to. It’s true, the 7th is filled with Americans. On our first night in town, that was comforting indeed.

The following night, we went to the café for an early supper. Simple but filling bistro fare, a bottle of wine we liked and crème brulee for my husband and profiteroles for me.

The waiter was all smiles and gave us extra attention. The maitre d’ inquired about our visit, and it was well worth the 60 euros we spent there.

There may be fancier places to eat in this neighborhood. But we were treated kindly at this one.

Au revoir until Tuesday.

13 May 2007

Fleur de Sel: From the Ile de Re to the Camargue

High on my list of things to bring home from Paris is fleur de sel.

Yes, I can find it locally, or I can pay a fortune for it online.

But buying it in Paris will no doubt be more economical and the jar or box will be a long-lasting reminder of our trip.

(Can you hear me knocking on wood and praying here. Last time, absolutely nothing went wrong. No lost luggage, no missed trains. A panhandler or two, but no incidents. Please, please let that be the case with this trip.)

I like the fact that much of the salt I find locally comes from the Ile de Re, which is near LaRochelle, birthplace of some of my French ancestors.

I also like when it originates in the Camargue, a place I have never visited, but plan to do so someday (armed with a good deal of organic mosquito repellent).

Fleur de sel, as everyone reading this already knows, is best added at the final moment in the food preparation process. When combined with herbes de Provence, it is an excellent means of both flavoring and wringing excess liquid from aubergines.

It is best used sparingly, too. That way each grain is a gift, an enhancement of flavor.

Do you use sea salt? Where do you find it?

29 April 2007

Chicken Stuffed With Sun-Dried Tomatoes: Shopping in Your Own Pantry

The same so-called financial experts who tell you to shop with a list also tell you to shop your own pantry before heading out to the store.

If you are a list maker, too, this is not a bad idea because it keeps you from buying a duplicate of something you already have. My husband declines to do this, usually, with is why we have so many jars of mustard and pickles in our fridge.

For the past several months, we've been cooking a whole chicken every Sunday, eating chicken salads for Monday and Tuesday, and making a fabulous chicken stock for the freezer.

Surverying the cupboard and the refrigerator, I found a large sweet onion, plenty of garlic and a half bag of sun-dried tomatoes. I bought fresh rosemary and thyme at the store and we had a moist and tangy chicken with a layered taste that hinted of a sunny slope in the Vaucluse, perhaps.

The tomatoes, garlic and onions were stuffed inside the chicken; the herbs were placed under the skin and under the chicken. Then I rubbed the skin with a garlic-tomato bread spread and seasoned it with herbes de provence and pepper. Sel de fleuer from the Carmargue was added near the end of the roasting cycle.

We served it with roasted red and green peppers, a staple at our house, and Kalamata olives. We paired it with a Johannesburg Riesling left over from the lemon-baked salmon we had the night before.

In our eagerness to eat, I neglected to take photos, but both meals were excellent.

Do you shop your pantry first? If you did that right now, what would you find that could be stuffed into a chicken for a dish that was uniquely yours?

22 April 2007

Cleaning out the Fridge: Breaded Shrimp with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Garlic and Black Olives

Cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer the other day, I found a package of frozen, breaded shrimp my husband sneaked in the house a few weeks ago.

"Are you going to eat these before we go on vacation?" I asked.

"They have to be deep fried, and you won't let me do that," he responded.

Looking closely at the package I saw (A) the price, and (B) that they could be pan fried. I may never be a world-class cook, but if there is a way to salvage something and not waste it, I'll find it.

Whenever there is a hint of summer in the air, I want two things: Seafood and spicy food. So Friday night seemed like a good time to experiment with both.

What I came up with was Breaded Shrimp with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Garlic and Black Olives.
  • 1 package frozen breaded shrimp
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried basil
  • Dash lemon juice
  • Dash sel de fleur
  • Dash freshly ground pepper
Pan fry the shrimp according to package directions and set aside, covered. Brown garlic, then add sun-dried tomatoes and black olives. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, adding shrimp for the last two minutes. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Like most of my self-concocted meals, this one is a work in progress. It would be ideal, we both agreed, to make this with fresh, un-breaded shrimp. But we got rid of the frozen shrimp, used up a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and rescued a lemon from the crisper. So: mission accomplished.

Wine: I would pair this with something light and fruity, maybe with green apple undertones.