Chocolate, Apricot, and Ginger Loaf Cake

Cake au Chocolat, Abricots et Gingembre

On Sunday afternoon, we had a few friends over for the goûter. In attendance were : Marie-Laure and Ludo, with whom we had had brunch earlier in the day ; my friend Sophie, who used to work at my company ; Stéphane and Caro, who are friends from college ; and our neighbors Stéphan and Patricia. To feed this crowd, I wanted to make something chocolate. I know, I know, I surprise myself too, sometimes.

When Pierre Hermé‘s Chocolate Desserts cookbook came out, one of the magazines I read had an article that published four of them : they don’t quote the book word for word, they just give the recipe essentials, which still makes the book worth buying, as Pierre Hermé always gives very detailed instructions. All those recipes looked great, but you have to make choices in life, as hard as they may be. So I set out to make the apricot and ginger chocolate cake.

Language note : in French, the word “cake” (which is pronounced more or less like “kek“) means not just any cake – that would be “gâteau” – but a cake that’s baked in a loaf pan.

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Burgundy Snails

Petits Gris à la Bourguignonne

Last week, Maxence and I were at the Poissonnerie Bleue, the fish market at the bottom of the rue des Martyrs, a.k.a. fish lover’s paradise : they have a very wide and very tempting selection of sea food. It is always pretty crowded, but the service is friendly and fast. As we were standing in line to pay, we noticed they also sold frozen garlic snails, so we promptly bought two dozens.

Petits gris (literally “small gray”) are a variety of snails, much smaller than their cousins the “Escargots de Bourgogne”. They are often prepared “à la Bourguignonne” : boiled, seasoned with garlic parsley butter, and served as a first course, in their shell.

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Le Troyon

Update, spring 2004 : Le Troyon is now closed, but the same team now runs Caïus at 6 rue d’Armaillé in the 17th (01 42 27 19 20).

[Very surprisingly, Le Troyon does not give out little address cards like most restaurants do, so I don’t have a picture for this entry!]

Last Monday, my parents invited Maxence and I to dinner at Le Troyon, Maxence’s favorite restaurant in Paris. This was our fourth time eating there, we had raved about it to my parents, and they were eager to try it. The setting is elegant but intimate, and the service is professional yet friendly. They have a three-course menu that runs at 33 euros and changes every day but for some signature items.

As is the style in a lot of Parisian restaurants, the menu is hand-written in chalk on blackboards, that the waiters carry to each table for diners to read, propping it up on your table, or balancing it on a chair or a shelf close to you. I like the dynamic of that, because people squint, they turn their necks, they comment on the spelling, wonder about a word that they can’t quite make out, and is it “cul” or “col“, and they’re all looking in the same direction, instead of being isolated behind their own menu.

When you are ready to make your choice (or not, as is more often the case), the waiter will stand next to the board and answer questions, decipher the handwriting, describe dishes, give advice, discuss the choice of products. I love that part because that’s when I get to enquire about what this or that is served with, and how is it prepared, and do you recommend it, and will I like it, and does the chef like it, and where do you buy the bread, and what’s a good wine pairing, and how’s the business going, and can I work here? Until I feel everybody’s getting impatient and I just shut up already.

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Lemon Thyme Crème Brûlée

Lemon Thyme Crème Brûlée

Ever since we bought the Oxylaser Blowtorch I’ve been pining for an opportunity to use it. My sister Céline has (at least) as much of a sweet tooth as I do, so I decided to make us Lemon Thyme Crèmes Brûlées for dessert on Saturday.

I found a disturbing number of very different crème brûlée recipes out there, calling for widely discordant oven temp, cooking time and quantities of eggs/cream/sugar. They starred various ingredients for flavor, and I was tempted by several combinations : rosemary and vanilla, cinnamon and orange flower water, as well as a version that included chunks of honey spice cake! As is often the case, I ended up using several recipes for inspiration, choosing the ones I figured should work, and sort of blended several into my own version. For flavor, I decided to use lemon and thyme, which I had on hand and sounded like a promising duet.

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

And without further ado, my friends, let me share that recipe…

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Porcini Walnut Risotto in the Pressure Cooker

My sister Céline is currently living in Frankfurt, Germany. She is to come back to work in France at the beginning of next year, which makes me deliriously happy, but until then we have to make do with the weekends she comes to spend with us. This Saturday, after the traditional afternoon of shopping together, Céline came over for dinner. She is very appreciative of my cooking, so it’s always a pleasure feeding her.

As a main dish, I prepared a porcini walnut risotto in the pressure cooker. I always start from a recipe I picked up on the Cooking Light Forums some years ago, and tweak it to include whatever ingredients my risotto happens to star.

Each of us was served a little mound of risotto, on which I ground black pepper and sprinkled parmesan, with a green salad on the side. Alternatively the risotto could be deposited on a bed of salad in a shallow bowl, or circles could be used to shape the rice neatly, but this was just us, so I forwent the fuss.

Risotto is always a very satisfying dish, and here the creamy rice was particularly well complemented by the soft porcini and the crunchy walnuts. The three of us polished this off nicely but, had we had any leftovers, I would have made risotto cakes the next day, sautéed in a little olive oil in a skillet, in the manner of Italian arancini.

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