Posts Tagged ‘french food’

C’est Frommage: Cantin

May 11, 2011

Say Cheese!

The Experienced Travelers promised our faithful Food-eurs and Food-ettes a taste of Paris, and it’s time we delivered.  Uncork  your favourite vintage and keep an aged wedge near at hand, because you’ll need both by the end of this post.

As many of you know, Nurse and I often rent an apartment off the rue de Champs de Mars.  This gives us the thrill of food shopping in the rue Cler and the deep satisfaction of Nurse’s talents in our kitchen – compounded by the Found Money from “eating in” that we can fritter away later.

Naturally we visited the cheese  store on the corner, lured by the dazzling window display of wedges and rounds.  Who knew that our corner shop was the world-renown Marie-Anne Cantin fromager de tradition Affineur.

Cantin on the rue de Champs de Mars: through these doors lies perfection

Cantin supplies the best Paris hotels and aristocratic tables.  When the Sarkozys entertain at the Élysée Palace, Carla rings up Cantin.  Surely this tenuous thread is the closest the ETs have come to the ermine cloak of power.  Can la Légion d’ honneur be far behind?

Calling all citoyens - slice a baguette and dive in

Mme. Cantin’s father opened the shop in 1950 and it is from him that she learned the art of cheese-making.  She ages her own delicacies in one of her seven caves, and sources others from small farms.  Mme.’s website advises that the process begins with the hay or grass that a happy cow, goat or ewe grazes, and finishes in caves, aging from a few weeks to two years for a beaufort or comté. (We may have cheeses aging that long in the fridge. Does that count?)

Hungry yet? Mme. Cantin's cheeses are cause for celebration

The inviting shop features chèvre, brie, camembert, comté, roquefort and cantal.   Even the uncompromising liverot – the colonel of cheese – stands at attention.  If you’re inclined to raw milk cheeses, Mme. can fulfill your order with the authentic item.  There is also rich butter and exquisite crème fraîche doled out from a large bowl.

The ETs were welcomed by the helpul staff at Cantin

Last month I brought Melinda to worship at this  Shrine of Cheese.  She went directly for the hard cheese while I favored the chevres.  We floated on the sweet pungent scents, admiring the selection and fingering the Found Money in our pockets.  The staff graciously explained the bounty before us, while I shamefully wished for a Triscuit and a knife.  My friend Stephen swears that the smelly, runny varieties are most satisfying.  He would be delighted with Cantin.

On an earlier trip, this delectable Cantin epoisses raised the standard of our vin ordinaire

Rest assured the ETs are dedicated to further exploration of Marie-Anne Cantin’s excellent craft whenever they are in the rue de Champs de Mars.  And when we win the lottery, we’ll have Mme. Cantin on speed-dial, just like Carla Bruni and the Comte de Paris.

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The “No Wine Left Behind” Tour

April 15, 2011

No Wine Left Behind: ETs Melinda and Julie working hard on behalf of the Blog

The Experienced Travelers can authoritatively state that a crisp côtes du rhône on a sun-filled cafe terrace in the Place Saint-André des Arts is the recommended treatment for cobblestone-worn feet.  And a carafe is even better. Associate ET Melinda and I had five fantastic days in Paris, while Nurse enthusiastically directed our activities from home base.  Melinda is every bit her mother’s daughter, and having her along was like Virtual Nurse throughout the trip.

St. Agricola of Avignon, the French patron saint of good weather, smiled on us with buckets of warm sun.  Thus the Parisians were in good spirits, and well-disposed toward tourists like us who leaked euros wherever they went.  Adding to the climate, Melinda’s glowing Texas charm melted the cool French demeanor and raised our cachet all across town.

Nurse supernaturally knew when it was meal time. We reported dutifully on this omlette and goat cheese salad

We went everywhere (one of us in stylish wedgie sandals) and photographed like mad. Nurse carefully monitored our pictures via Dropbox to make sure they were perfect for the Readership. Under strict direction from Nurse’s texts (what r u eating?) we documented every meal, so there are several scrumptious posts in our future! 

Melinda claims I am a travel taskmaster, but that just isn’t true!  It’s perfectly reasonable that, on our jet-lagged day, we breakfasted on the Rue Cler and tried the first macaron in our Taste Test, hit the Bon Marché food hall, shopped the rue de Sèvres and visited the chic new Hermes store, stopped for a pick-me-up and people-watching at the Café Flore and explored the rue Montgoreuil market for the second macaron in our Taste Test at Strohrer.

The dreaded cobblestones tested the ET endurance

After a short metro ride, we genuflected before E. Dehillerin and bought lovely new knives, tried fresh oysters and a crisp vintage at Au Pied du Cochon, passed the construction site over Les Halles, made our way to happy hour at a faux-Mexican bar on the rue de Bucci and had a light dinner of an omlette and a chevre chaud salad (with wine, n’est pas) at the Café Danton.  Taskmaster?  Moi? 

Over the next four days, we had Paris at our feet – which we would have realized if we had any feeling left in them. Early on, we ordered wine at every opportunity.  By the end of Day 1, we consumed 14 glasses between us.  By mid-day 2, we invoked emergency ET legislation requiring us to drink Perrier every other round. Yet by the time we dined in Montmartre that evening, we passed an amendment suspending the Perrier rule after sundown.  As we toasted the throng in the Place du Tertre,  the portrait artists lured willing subjects and the lady inside warbled Piaf songs to a piano accompaniment.  Exquisite.

Toasting the crowds in the Place du Tertre

Watch for more reports on our Parisian sojourn in future posts!

Les Macarons

November 7, 2010

Les Macarons. One ET shares the French obsession with them. The other ET is mystified.

Occasionally, the ETs respectfully disagree over a point of French life.  The frenzied, national devotion to the macaron is a serious point of contention, with Nurse firmly on the side of the French.   You can see where that leaves me.

The obsession in question is made of two thin-crusted cookies with soft centers of almond meringue held together with a layer of rich, sweet ganache.  If you’re already spinning from sugar overload, I am sympathetic. 

Nurse has a fondness for the macarons that her friend Pauline made with whipped cream.  So when she saw a patisserie window in full macaron splendor, she was hooked.  I can’t fathom why.  The fumes make my teeth hurt.

A new solar system - macarons suspended by wire over pink sugar, each with a decorative cutout

Macarons come in all colors and flavors.  They’re lemon, raspberry, mocha or pistachio and always a garish hue.  The blinding saucer-sized varieties  from the corner patisserie are Nurse’s favourites. Her blood sugar rose the moment she had the bag in hand.  A circulatory system overload caused by the almond meringue and the lemon ganache made Nurse handle her hotwheels like a NASCAR pro.  No one was safe.

If Proust had preferred Laduree macarons to madelines, perhaps he would have been less pensive. (Photo by Roboppy. Wikipedia Commons)

 

Catherine de Medici’s Italian pastry chefs introduced them to France in the mid-1500s as a simple almond cookie.  The fanaticism began when the famous pastry shop Laduree pioneered the ganache filling in the early 1900s.  Laduree’s website offers this secret to macaron success:

These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are made every morning in Ladurée’s “laboratory”. The pastry chefs measure out very precisely the required amounts of almonds, eggs and sugar, before adding one final ingredient, a pinch of unique “know-how”, essential to the making of such a delicacy. Once cooked and filled, the macaroons are put to one side for 2 days before going on sale, the time it takes to achieve a perfect balance between texture and flavour.

The part about them sitting around for two days is certainly a point for my side of the argument.  

The discs of delight make creative window dressing a snap. Does anyone but me question why you can use a glue gun on a macaron?

Patisserie owners are enthusiastic about decorating with them and I suspect it’s because profit margins on macarons must be enormous.  If you’re willing to part with 2-3 euro of  “found money” for a few bites of sass and buzz, join Nurse! 

Disagreements over who makes the best macarons are serious and consequential.   In Paris, there are several top contenders.  Laduree and Dalloyau  are two of the oldest practitioners in the city. 

Pierre Hermé –  who has written a book on the subject – has a contemporary flair and unusual flavors like rose and lychee.  (You can devour 20 of them in your own home for just 58 euro plus shipping.) 

Lenôtre  will send you a 116-piece “colonnade de macarons” for 164 euro which will turn your office holiday party into an EMT convention.  Finally Gérard Mulot on the Rue de Seine has fierce adherents who swear that his are the only ones.   

So, Readership, do you have a position to take on the subject of macarons?  Do you back Nurse in her devotion to the colorful, ganache-filled biscuits?  Or do I have the right approach – bisquick and Fluffernutter?

Versailles – the town

October 20, 2010

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Experienced Travellers are flexible.  Our free airline ticket was immediate “found money”, but it meant we arrived in Paris two days before the apartment was available.
We needed someplace to stay, and Versailles was a perfect choice. Staying in town gave us the flexibility to visit the Chateau after the tour busses depart for Chartres.  ETs are all about crowd avoidance.

Hotel Trianon Palace, Versailles. Our "found money" deal thanks to Amex points.

So how did budget-mided ETs end up at the 5-star Trianon Palace ?  Amex Membership Rewards points!  Now, if I had to pay for a hotel, I would have budgeted 130-euros per night.  So two nights on Amex points at the luxurious Trianon Palace **saved** 260 euros – which went into the “found money” account.  You’re getting the hang of it now, aren’t you?

The handicapped bathroom in our room. You shower in the bathroom (on the left). Don't blowdry your hair afterward or you risk electrocution from the water on the floor.

Even without the room charge, staying at the Trianon is astronomically expensive.  The ETs paled at the 30-euro continental breakfast and promptly found a nearby cafe.  Our fantasies of aristocractic living in Versailles were short-lived.  (Though that didn’t deter us from having our Gordon Ramsay lunch in his restaurant in the hotel.)

Look up when you walk in the Rue de la Pariosse

bThe town of Versailles held much promise for ETs,  and we spent time around the Marche de Notre Dame.  There’s plenty of 17-18th century architecture to admire, and an abundance of small shops and food stalls.

Like typical Versailles courtiers, we break for lunch at 1pm

ETs enter into the spirit of their surroundings, so when the French stop for lunch, we do too.  After a scholarly examination of  posted menus, we chose the Bistrot du Boucher. 

Nurse opened the proceedings with a Kir

paWe squeezed into a crowded banquette and looked forward to our lunch. The waiters were very accomodating and found a spot to park Nurse’s hotwheels.  Our neighbors were friendly and chatty.  The wine was good.  Everything pointed toward a pleasant afternoon spent in a buzz of full tummies and slight alcoholic daze.  

Our first pate of the trip met expectations

Nurse chose pate and tete de veau.  I more prudently selected steak-frites. Good, basic food to sustain us for the shopping that lay ahead.

Yes, I tried the tete de veau and yes, it was very good.

And since we’re on the topic of food in Versailles, I will bow to popular demand and do a second post on the Gordon Ramsay Lunch that features food photos.  The readership is clamoring for pictures, and so you shall have them.   As a student of history, I cannot ignore the will of the people.  I’ve learned from the 18c. residents of Versailles — for whom “chop-chop” isn’t the sound of mincing vegetables.  Vive la revolution!

Rue Toulouse in Versailles – la vie ancienne

  

 
 

 


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