Chocolate Vanilla Petit Pot, Caramel Petit Beurre Ribbon

Petit Pot Chocolat Vanille, Ruban de Caramel au Petit Beurre

[Chocolate Vanilla Petit Pot, Caramel Petit Beurre Ribbon]

This is the dessert I served to end Saturday night’s dinner. The idea came to me during the same bus ride through Paris that brought us the goat cheese mousse. I don’t know what was in the air that day, but ideas just kept bubbling up, a swarm of dishes taking shape and morphing in my mind, which I kept writing down furiously. Stepping out of the bus, I even had to sit down on a bench to finish writing what I had in mind. Euphoria is the closest word I can find to describe the feeling.

And this is the brainchild of such a bout. A small, transparent glass. On the bottom, a layer of chocolate cookie crumbs. Then a thick layer of crème à la vanille. On top, a layer of ganache, studded with toasted pecan fragments. On the side, a strip of shiny caramel, encrusted with bits of crispy butter cookies.

I used our Duralex glasses which I like so much, bought at the Madeleine Résonances store. Duralex is the name of a heavy duty unbreakable glass material, but their particular charm stems from the fact that they are the typical glass you get at school cafeterias in France. They also happen to be a very important vector of social structure among kids : each glass has a number engraved at the bottom, and the one you get leads to endless interpretations and conclusions. Whoever has the smallest/largest number has to give away his dessert, or has to go fill the water jug (and during this absence anything can happen to your food and/or your popularity), or maybe this number is the age at which you’ll get married, or the number of millions you’ll make, the number of kids you’ll have, or even the age at which you’ll die. Wasn’t school just sheer fun?

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Roast Beef, Shallot Compote, Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Filet de Boeuf, Compotée d'Echalottes, Rattes au Romarin

[Roast Beef, Shallot Compote, Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes]

While planning for our Saturday night dinner, I conducted a little research to find out what was best to eat with Baptiste’s bottle of St Julien. My sources were comfortingly unanimous. Red meat, roasted, was the card to play. I chose to roast a filet de boeuf, a very tender beef cut, and serve it with a shallot compote and roasted rosemary potatoes. The meat was promptly ordered at our favorite butcher’s, La Boucherie des Gourmets in the rue Lepic.

As you will infer from the many comments in the roast recipe, I am really not a meat specialist. Steaks, ribs, chops and other single-serving cuts I can handle, but I tend to be a little intimidated by big slabs of meat (both in the literal and figurative sense), and I don’t have a lot of experience cooking them. It always seems to involve a lot of complex techniques I shy away from – brining, basting, probing, stuffing – and I don’t even own a meat thermometer. But I’m more than willing to play with the big guys and learn. Especially when it turns out as well as this…

And without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, here are the recipes.

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Fresh Goat Cheese Mousse with Cherry Tomato Jam and Bacon Chips

Mousse de Chèvre Frais à la Confiture de Tomate Cerise, Chips de Lard

[Fresh Goat Cheese Mousse with Cherry Tomato Jam and Bacon Chips]

Yesterday, we had two of Maxence’s oldest friends, Baptiste and Jérémie, over for dinner. The occasion was to finally open the bottle of St Julien that Baptiste had given us a while ago, a 1996 Sarget du Château Gruaud-Larose. As I have done in the past, I will tell you about the dinner menu over the next few entries.

While I wanted the main dish to be classical to compliment the wine nicely, I do have a lot of fun coming up with fancier and more personal stuff, and decided to give myself carte blanche for the starter and the dessert. As is usually the case when we throw dinner parties, the previous week was spent idly toying with recipe ideas, the back of my mind always more or less occupied with ingredients and techniques, writing them down and sketching plating ideas in my little red notebook.

On a particularly fruitful bus ride, I decided to use my Confiture de Tomates Cerises in the first course, and came up with this idea.

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Cherry Tomato Cinnamon Jam

Confiture de tomates cerise à la cannelle

My mother has been making jars and jars of delicious jam every summer as far back as I can remember, using fruit bought at the Sunday morning greenmarket (strawberry, apricot), hand-picked by my family (raspberry, blackberry, blueberry), or given out by friends blessed with overflowing orchards (rhubarb, plums, cherry plums). She labels them and stores them in the cellar, where they patiently age for a year before being generously spread on buttered toast for breakfast. The wait is hard on us, but we know it’s for the best.

Yet jam-making has always seemed an involved enterprise to me, until last summer when I decided to give it a whirl.

I started clipping recipes from magazines, and bought a jam book written by Christine Ferber, often referred to as “la fée des confitures” (the jam fairy), an Alsacian who makes them the old-fashioned way, with local seasonal fruit, cooked in small batches in copper pots.

I also started saving all the jars I came across, stacking them at the back of my already bursting kitchen cabinets, and generally driving Maxence crazy. I even bought a few beautiful ones at the French chain store Résonances. Can you picture the love child of Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma, conceived during a trip to Paris? That’s Résonances in a nutshell. Believe me, it is tough to resist the calling of that one.

Over the summer, I made three different recipes in small batches, put the jars away, and vowed to wait until the chilly winter days to open them. Those days have finally come, and for reasons that will soon be disclosed, the first jar I opened was the Cherry Tomato Cinnamon Jam.

It’s a beautiful jam, bright red with golden specks, and the taste is very surprising, a sweet and tangy compote with a full tomato flavor and subtle hints of cinnamon.

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L’Homme Tranquille

L'Homme Tranquille

L’Homme Tranquille is a small restaurant in the rue des Martyrs, precisely a block from our apartment. It is a very cosy, intimate, comfy, friendly place. It looks a little secret from the outside : the door is narrow, the large windows that look out onto the street are curtained, and the lighting inside is dim, coming from low lamps and candles.

You push the door open – the handle a bit faulty – and enter a room with a high ceiling, in which small wooden tables are set up close to one another. Posters for art shows and movies, some old, some new, signed or unsigned, are pinned to the walls, in a seemingly random pattern. Long shelves, high up on the wall behind the counter, display a collection of antique glass bottles, water jugs, and ceramic food jars.

You called ahead to know if there was room for two, and you are greeted by the friendly owner, a very tall thirty-year-old with unruly hair and a thick woolen sweater, who takes care of the service, single-handedly or with his wife. He offers to seat you at a table close to the heater and lights a small candle. He pauses a moment and says he remembers you from last time, or more accurately, he recognizes your boyfriend and apologetically explains that he has no memory for women’s faces. A moment later, he comes back with two kirs (white wine with blackberry liqueur), on the house. “Parce que je vous aime bien“, he says warmly.

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