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Archive for the ‘French food’ Category

La Tranche Sur Mer, on the Atlantic Coast of France, is one of those typically Euro beach destinations: lots of camping grounds, men who think it’s okay to terrify the female public by strutting around in a pair of form-revealing speedos, kids dragging giant inflatable animal-shaped float-aids along the street and lots and lots of ice cream shops. I can’t actually work out how all the different ice cream shops make any money because there are so many of them, but practicalities aside, they are skilled in the art of displaying their products in ways that make you not just want ice cream but physically NEED it.

The vendors accessorise their ice cream to show what taste you’ll be licking off the cone. In the top picture, the nutella ice cream was indicated by a whole jar of nutella stuck into the top of its vat. In the picture above, strawberries show that the red ice cream is strawberry flavoured. That’s what I call ingenious ice cream merchandising.  Then below we have limes showing lime ice cream and flowers to indicate… what exactly? It can’t be flower ice cream.  Perhaps it’s almond. Those flower petals look suspiciously like dragées and some couples give sugared almond flowers to the guests on their wedding day.

The shot below isn’t great but I have yet to work out what Arlequin ice cream is. Hundreds and thousands sprinkled over the top… all different colours… could be tutti frutti, I guess. I’ve googled and still can’t work it out. If you read this and know what Arlequin ice cream tastes like, please let me know!

Monsieur and I didn’t even glance at the dessert card at the restaurant where we’d dined that evening. We paid the bill, walked out onto the still-busy street, found an ice cream stand where the ‘accessorising’ was particularly good, and ordered. I had a two scoop cup with coconut and guimauve.

“How do you translate guimauve into English?” I asked Monsieur.

“I don’t really know.” Came his reply.

Qu’est-ce que c’est, la guimauve?” I asked the ice cream man.

La guimauve, c’est, euh, la guimauve!”

He gave a gallic shrug, throwing his hands up into the air. Monsieur and the ice cream man were of no help to me at all. Looking at the display, the guimauve ice cream was studded with multi-coloured marshmallow twists on sticks. I hoped that when I ordered guimauve flavour, the taste would indeed be marshmallow, and it was. That’s another reason why this sort of merchandising is so clever: it helps foreigners like me to understand what they’re eating…

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Thanks to ThePolskiBlog’s blogroll, I have today found a fantastic French food blog based in Austin, Texas of all places! Called The French Fork, it’s the blog-child of Laetitia Bertrand, a French native with a no-nonsense approach to French gastronomy. Because I can’t say it any better myself, here’s Laetitia’s blog profile:

Laetitia Bertrand was born in Bourgoin-Jallieu, France, and was raised in the small village of Bouvesse, just outside of France’s gastronomical capital, Lyon. Passionate about food, she was influenced by both her grandparents’ cooking from an early age. Today, she aspires to take the mystery out of French cooking – believing that French cooking does not have to be hard, or complicated. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, where they pursue a French lifestyle and split time between Texas and France.

Laetitia’s latest posts include gratin dauphinois and a recipe for zucchini soup made with La Vache Qui Rit. It would seem we share a love of those cheese triangles. Believe it or not (and remember, I’m a Pacific-born kid) the first time I ever had La Vache Qui Rit was in Honolulu. We were there on a family holiday, staying at a self-catering apartment with a fantastic pool complex. We shopped for provisions at a local corner store, and that’s where we first bought La Vache Qui Rit cheese. It was called Laughing Cow there, for obvious reasons, but I loved the happy cow face on the packaging and it’s one of those brands which is so strong that it hasn’t needed changing since. In fact, bearing in mind that my Honolulu introduction to the happy vache was just less than thirty years ago, that has to be a superb example of brand survival.

I digress. Visit Laetitia at The French Fork for practical culinary inspiration but I’d suggest you eat something first. This is the sort of site that makes you hungry.

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This is a photo of a horse-butcher’s shop in Fontenay-le-Comte. I simply had to take a photo. Monsieur didn’t get it, but he didn’t grow up in a country where eating horse would be like eating the family dog. Kiwis just wouldn’t ever consider it. Because of that, for me, seeing horse butchers is half novelty and half horror. Thank heavens I can’t eat red meat. Now I’ll never have to consider eating Black Beauty’s cousins.

At our Christmas party last year, an Italian colleague explained to us what horse meat tastes like. She thoroughly enjoys eating horse and waxed lyrical about her favourite horse preparation methods. Meanwhile, a strictly ethical vegetarian colleague gagged and had to excuse herself.

If you think eating horse is bad, I suggest you pop across to Epicurienne, where I’m currently discussing the more bizarre items to be found on a Vietnamese menu. Monsieur and I are in Vietnam right now, studiously avoiding the consumption of anything involving monkey, dog or snake meat. Wish us luck! The Vietnamese motto is “if you can catch it,  you can eat it!” Does that include me?

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There’s a popular stereotype about French women that conjures images of slim, elegant pouty beauties who grace sidewalk cafés as they puff sexily on cigarettes and sip espressos. These women go everywhere in a garter belt and stockings, never chip a nail and wouldn’t be seen dead in a pair of trainers. It’s a beautiful image to have but in my experience it lacks accuracy, especially if you go to a French suburban shopping centre, where there are reassuringly normal-looking women, not just French goddesses. Yet various writers world-wide are trying to convince us that we are inferior to the French dream woman, so we non-French gals find ourselves forking out a fortune to buy books that will transform us into  garter-belt goddesses who can eat foie gras and camembert on a daily basis without gaining an ounce.

Helena Frith-Powell and other Anglo-Saxones who now live in France do indeed testify to the fact that the habits of the French do contribute to weight-loss. I know for certain that the English lifestyle has seen me gain unwanted pounds which are difficult to shift and in the States the rate of obesity in adult women (and men and children, for that matter) is alarming. I’m certain that if I still lived in sporty New Zealand, this would not have happened, but for the moment home is in London so it’s time to get rid of the weight. Will these guides help? Is their advice going to be wise or ridiculous? I don’t know, but it’s time to take the books off the shelf, blow off the dust and see what they recommend.

First up for analysis will be Mireille Guiliano, author of bestselling French Women Don’t Get Fat and sequel, French Women for All Seasons. (out of interest others immediately jumped on Guiliano’s bandwagon to write about the weight-loss secrets of their own cultures: Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too by Melissa Kelly and Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama are two such examples).

After analysing whether or not Guiliano’s advice is practical enough to incorporate into a busy working life, I’ll look at Entre Nous – A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier.

Then I’ll assess the Chic and Slim series by Anne Barone.

Keep checking the posts because I have a funny feeling there’ll be a lot to say, both for and against these guides.

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I may have mentioned here that I love duck. French duck. All parts of the duck, except maybe the beak and feet. To my utter horror, I recently found that I have been particularly enjoying duck gizzards, or gésiers de canard. Mon Dieu. Gizzards? Really? Luckily for me, instead of rushing to the nearest loo to um, well, say goodbye to those less attractive bits of the bird, I latched onto the affirmative, choosing instead to take this opportunity to add them to our store cupboard. They’re simply too tasty not to, as long as you don’t think about what they are in terms of ducky parts.

Picture this: Monsieur and I are in a French supermarket, our grown-up equivalent of Hamley’s for kids. He finds his favourite French treats and I find mine. On the way to the check-out, I remember what I forgot:

“Quick, we have to find gésiers de canard,” I tell Monsieur,

“What?” he looks at me like I’ve gone mad. After all, I’ve never bought them before, or cooked them.

Gésiers de canard!” I tell him again. “We have to find some. They cost the earth in London and we can make great salads with them.”

Monsieur’s now convinced because anything that tastes good in a salad is a tick on his menu. He quickly steers me to the right aisle.

At home, we decide to try out my as yet untested salade de gésiers. I take a tin from the cupboard and read the back, checking with Monsieur that I didn’t misunderstand anything.

Les Romains, deux siècles avant Jésus-Christ, ont commencé à conserver dans des jarres leurs viandes de canard recouvertes de graisse chaude. Depuis, ce mode de conservation s’est perpétué. Cuisinés selon une recette traditionelle, ces gésiers de canard sont préalablement salés, puis cuits lentement dans la graisse pour développer leur onctuosité et leur goût.”

And in the language of the Anglo-chick:

“The Romans, two centuries before Christ, began preserving their duck meats, covered with hot fat, in earthenware jars.”

(Sounds calorific so far. Ho hum.)

“…This preserving method has been in use ever since. Cooked according to a traditional recipe, these duck gizzards are first salted, then cooked slowly in fat in order to develop their smoothness and their taste.”

Interesting blurb but there’s that word again: gizzards. Ick.

I opened the can, confronted by an opaque fatty gloop containing brown bits and pieces. It looked horrifyingly like pet food, but smelled fantastic. Following the instructions, I put the whole lot into a frying pan over a low heat. The gloop melted immediately, leaving the ducky bits to swim in spitting, hot, clear fat. I poured this off, but continued to heat the gésiers for several more minutes. Then I tried one ducky piece in the interests of not feeding dog food to Monsieur. It was delicious, melting in the mouth. Ah, sweet culinary success. We’re onto a winner.

The only downside was a couple of crunchy bits grinding against my teeth. Ah. That would be the by-product of gésiers, then. The fact that a gizzard is

A modified muscular pouch behind the stomach in the alimentary canal of birds, having a thick lining and often containing ingested grit that aids in the breakdown of seeds before digestion.

Mmmm. Nice. The word and the ingested grit still won’t put me off, after all, it was only a couple of pieces.

To prepare the gésiers (much better word than ‘gizzard’), see above. Toss the warm gésiers over salad leaves, asparagus, chopped spring onions and ripe avocado pieces. Ideal for lunch or a light dinner.

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rue Saint Dominique postcard, 1908

For a truly Parisian experience, I love to explore the area surrounding rue Saint-Dominique. The length of this  shop-lined street running from Saint Germain, past les Invalides to the Champ de Mars, provides plenty of opportunity to fill up a suitcase without the challenge of the Big Avenue crowds and, if one suitcase proves insufficient, there are a couple of wonderful wholesale bag shops where you can pick up another for a fraction of what you’d pay in Galeries Lafayette.

Bags are to me as shoes are to Carrie Bradshaw. Many years ago I sniffed out a shop in the rue Saint-Dominique called Stock-Sacs. There are bags of varied styles and colours hanging off every patch of wall in this Aladdin’s Cave of leather products, which will have bag-lovers salivating over the red calf-leather totes within seconds. There is also every type of accessory one could ever conceive of putting in a handbag: mobile phone holders, passport covers, key rings, driver’s licence wallets, chequebook covers, travel wallets, coin purses and more. If you do splurge on a bag at Stock-Sacs and then run up to the department stores, chances are you’ll find exactly the same bag for a great deal more euros. That sort of smug satisfaction makes a visit to this shop even more worthwhile.

Stock Sacs, 109 bis, rue Saint-Dominique, 75007                          tel 01 45 51 42 12

 Further along the rue towards the Eiffel Tower is a second bag shop where great bargains may be found. Called the Champ de Fleurs, it’s far less organised than Stock-Sacs and has a few manufacturer mistakes such as a lurid fuschia thing I saw in their window recently, but, if you dare to enter, there are some wonderful examples of French-made accessories to be had for a song. Monsieur’s briefcase came from this little shop and I am currently breaking in a third purchase from the Champ de Fleurs. Well worth a visit, even if the uninspired window display and dusty corners are a little off-putting.

Across the street from the Champ de Fleurs is a wonderful restaurant called La Fontaine de Mars. It warrants an entry in its own right, but suffice to say that their confit de canard is the best I’ve ever eaten, the menu is traditional with a few pleasant surprises and the atmosphere is efficient French at its best.

La Fontaine de Mars, 129 rue Saint-Dominique 75007

Tel 01 47 05 46 44       lafontainedemars@orange.fr

At 108, rue Saint-Dominique (or rue Saint-Dom, as my hairdresser called it) you will find l’Esprit du Sud-Ouest,a tiny rugby shop selling all manner of rugby shirts, balls, bandes dessinées, DVDs and All Black teddy bears. It’s a typical example of the myriad specialist boutiques to be found in the area, along with a bespoke printer, antique sport and travel poster gallery, perfumers, confectioners, shoe shops, children’s clothing stores and coffee purveyors. In that inimitable French way, the neighbourhood boulangeries somehow make bread look fashionable, so much so that it’s easy to forget that it’s just bread and, for the fashion-conscious, there are plenty of interesting boutiques with little windows displaying chic tops draped with dramatic scarves and just the right set of beads.

All that shopping will work up an appetite but it’s impossible to go hungry on the rue Saint-Dom. Nearby rue Cler is another great place to grab a bite. It boasts a daily market, delicatessans, a fromagerie, fish shop and greengrocers where the bright colours of the produce make shopping for dinner an altogether uplifting French experience compared with popping along to a sterile urban supermarket. The locals (rumoured to include diplomats, politicians and senior embassy staff) shop here alongside foreigners who’ve recognised the area’s charm and bought into it, and there are some great places to eat. Café du Marché is almost always full, serving traditional French food, and is so popular that you’re likely to be bumping elbows with patrons sitting at adjacent tables. Don’t go there if you like uninterrupted personal space. In its favour, however, is its prime position for people-watching and practically everyone who knows the area will have dined there at least once, if not dozens of times. 

Next door to Café du Marché is an Italian eatery with broad terrace opening onto the pedestrianised street, where insalata Caprese is layered, drizzled with pesto dressing and served chilled in a preserving jar with the lid popped open. The salads here are great, reasonably priced and hearty in size, so if you want to grab a bite but save some room for dinner, this is the place to go. There are fine-looking pizzas and generous plates of pasta to choose from and the efficient service gets 5 stars, too.

 If you feel like something more ethnic, there are Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants in the vicinity, or if you fancy a picnic in the Champ de Mars, perhaps you could pop into La Maison du Jambon, where there’s a perennial queue of people waiting to buy gourmet treats. The deli window, filled with freshly-prepared dishes, is art in itself. For picnic accoutrements, there is the Franprix supermarket down on the corner of rue de Grenelle. All that’s left is to select a bottle of wine from Nicolas to wash it all down. Mmm, délicieux!   

There is plenty to do in the area if you’d like to dip into Parisian art and culture: the Eiffel Tower, les Invalides, the Ecole Militaire and the Musée Rodin are all within easy walking distance, as is the Musée du Quai Branly. However, the main reason to visit the rue Saint-Dom and rue Cler is to get a taste of real Paris: part day-to-day life, part chic inspiration, part village in the middle of the City of Light. Besides, who can say no to exploring the rue Saint-Dom when the Eiffel Tower stands beckoning at one end? Not me.

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I’ll never forget the day I first tried a Salade Périgourdine. Monsieur and I were in Toulouse on the way to a wedding in Lot. We had stopped for lunch at a terrace restaurant on Wilson Square and I was struggling to decide what to eat. In the end, I decided to try a the salade terroir (no, it’s not a salad of terror, but a salad of the terre, or region) which, in this case, was a Salade Périgourdine, named for a region of France where it’s simply impossible to avoid eating duck: Périgord.

That was the day that duck took on a new meaning for me. Until then, my experience of duck had been restricted to crispy Peking style, hanging in Chinese restaurant windows or listed on a takeaway menu. I liked Chinese duck. Would I like its French cousin? It was time to find out.

The salad appeared, a mound of lettuce leaves covered in different sorts of duck. There were slices of smoked duck (magret de canard fumé), little irregular pieces of duck (I didn’t want to know which part but later learned that these are gésiers, or giblets) and cresting the lot was a perfect round of foie gras. It seemed incredibly decadent to be eating foie gras in a salad but now, I blush to say that I am getting used to it and for the rest of that trip, I ate duck in all its forms at every opportunity.

Here is a basic salad recipe so you can make the Périgourdine at home:

  • Salad leaves – I like lamb’s lettuce for this one.
  • Duck giblets – you will need a good butcher or deli owner to get these for you if you want to cook them from fresh. Otherwise, you may like to stock up on tinned duck ‘gésiers’ when you are in France. In London, we get ours from Borough Market.
  • Slices of magret de canard fumé. This is smoked duck breast. You can buy them in packs from delicatessans. My local deli orders this in fresh for me. It works out tastier and a bit cheaper.
  • A small pot of foie gras. You don’t need very much per person, just a small slice each.
  • Green beans
  • A handful of walnuts
  • Optional additions might be a few stalks of asparagus when in season or an artichoke or two, but do note that these are not traditional ingredients of a Périgourdine. You can also add tomato segments and sliced boiled egg as extras.

Start with a mound of lettuce on each plate, then sprinkle the walnuts, gesiers and green beans evenly on top. Place the slices of smoked duck breast at even intervals around the plate. Crown with a slice of foie gras.

Serve with a slice of toast for the foie gras and a chilled glass of Sauternes. You may like to have a bowl of fig chutney on the table for people who enjoy the taste of fig with their foie gras.

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

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