19 December 2009

Bon voyage

Life 3000 miles from home has its ups and downs, and the last couple of weeks have been a bit trying. Whatever Paris mojo I'd had earlier this autumn seems to have disappeared, either because I'm just off my French game or because the lingering glow of post-vacances tolerance has finally been extinguished from the natives. Suddenly my French isn't good enough for anybody, anymore, and more frustratingly I'm doing stupid things like fusing together pots and bowls used as double-boilers (admittedly a foreseeable, apparently inevitable, occurrence, in my weekly yogurt making; I've applied heat to the pot while applying ice to the bowl to break the vapor lock, but there's so much shared wall length and relatively little wall thickness that the two vessels won't act independently. It's out on the balcony now for one last-ditch effort at separation, and barring that, it'll at least make an impressive impression in the hood of the next Frog to lay on the horn. Still, a crying shame, as I love my bowl and I'll have to spend money to replace Madame's pot...) and shrinking my favorite sweaters. So it goes.

The ice-bound, vapor-locked pot-and-bowl double boiler that's soon destined for the garbage bin.

So when I had one of those baffling Paris exchanges at the market this week, it came as no surprise. I wanted duck breast, a pretty straightforward choice, given that I always buy from the same vendor, mostly because his magrets are better cleaned and plucked than many. But when I asked for one, he said he didn't have any more, despite the fact that we were both looking at several there in his case. Was this another "crepine" incident, or did he just not feel like selling me anything this week? Turns out that I'd asked for magret de canard, and he only had filet de canard. They're both duck breast, so what's the difference? The magret de canard is the breast from a fatted (ie, for foie gras) duck, whereas the filet de canard is the breast from a non-fatted duck. Learn something new every week.

Anyway, it's been birthday season here in the 16e, and usually we go out for a somewhat extravagant meal to celebrate them. But after all of the excesses of the last month, and with traveling yet to come, we decided to stay low key this year. But that doesn't mean there there can't be some playing with food. I particularly like getting to work with the same ingredients a few days in a row, to learn from mistakes, or at least try variations on a theme. Here's the highlights.

Karen's birthday dinner: parsnip gnocchi with walnut sauce. I'm certain I've commented previously on the fact that parsnips and walnuts, like chestnuts and celery root, are made for each other. Karen laughed at me when I made the parsnip gnocchi a few weeks ago. Happy birthday, Funny Girl.

Sometimes it sucks to have a birthday so close to the holidays. In this case, K had to suffer though the indignity of the uncooked portion of venison filet I bought for Thanksgiving, paired with her favorite sides of braised belgian endive (maybe the simplest and most delicious preparation ever: brown endive in butter, put lid on and turn down heat for ~45 min) and potatoes anna.

The opera cake (dark chocolate, coffee, and almond-- how can anybody resist) from Gantier that she didn't get at Thanksgiving. Everything else was just foreplay. I'm OK with that. It's that good...

Funny Girl has a thing for Italian wines, especially from the Montalcino/Montepulciano area. Despite historical fondnesses for Beaujoulais and Bordeaux, we've recently figured out that her favorite French red wines come from the southern Languedoc/Rousillon region, where the intense sun and grape varietals play up the jammy "yummy" flavors. I think I tasted this wine, the last one bought at the Salon des Vins last month, but I'm not 100% sure I managed to pry the bottle out of her hands. She's surprisingly strong for an old broad...

There have been lots of mushrooms available through the year here. Morels, girolles, cepes/porcinis. But right now it's black trumpet season, or as I first learned, black trumpets of death. Kind of like huitlacoche (the black fungus that grows on corn and used in Mexican cooking), they're black, dark, intensely earthy. And compared to their more glamorous cousins, cheap. So I bought 250 g and made a black ragu with creamy polenta. Man, I love winter.

For my birthday, a simple frisee salad with bacon (well, pancetta from Mucci). Love the bacon.

And now that we have a good fishmonger, striped bass with sunchoke ravioli and saffron broth.

Emptying the freezer before leaving for Spain: parsnip gnocchi with walnut broth (roasted walnuts pureed with chicken broth and strained, yet another way to make these two ingredients work together), mizuna, and crisp pancetta. Funny Girl's been busting on me about my complete lack of plating skills, so I tried to make it pretty.

Sweet potato ravioli with browned butter, mizuna, and pine nuts. I never get tired of pasta.

Magret, err.... , filet of duck with sweet-and-sour golden turnips and potatoes "boulangerie" (from the days when people brought crocks of food to the baker to put in the back of his oven). The sauce is black and nasty (in the good way) from the trumpets of death.

Looking at the weather forecasts for the Mid-Atlantic, it seems the freakish December dusting of snow we got here in Paris the last couple of days will be dwarfed by copious white stuff in the next days at home. Riding the mountain bike in the snow is one of the great pleasures in life, so those of you drooling at the prospect go out and enjoy it enough for both of us this weekend!

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