L’Avant-Goût

L'Avant-Goût

From time to time, my dad offers to come and treat me to lunch on a weekday. My company offices used to be located in Nanterre, a cheerless suburban town, where we had to make do with an ordinary brasserie randomly called “L’Européen”. But last summer, to everybody’s relief and joy, we moved to the 13th arrondissement of Paris, close to the Parc Montsouris and the Butte-aux-Cailles and the Place d’Italie. A much much much better environment, it goes without no saying, and a great opportunity for me to discover an area of Paris I knew very little.

Last Tuesday, my father asked me on one of those father/daughter dates I enjoy so much, leaving me the choice of the restaurant. I accepted with glee, and in a heartbeat suggested we went to “L’Avant-Goût”.

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Oeuf Cocotte

When I was 9 years old and in the last year of primary school, I didn’t have class on Wednesdays. My parents considered me old enough to be home without a nanny, so I would make my own lunch. This involved a lot of canned beef ravioli, warmed up in a saucepan. From time to time, scorched ravioli in a saucepan, the reward for getting a bit too engrossed in some paper-cutting activity or other.

It’s around that time that my parents got our first microwave oven, for which I had an odd fascination. I remember very clearly the amazement when we brought the first glass of water to a boil, the solemn warning about not running it empty and not putting anything with metal in it, the panicky fright when I accidentally did (maybe a can of ravioli) and the mini-fireworks that ensued.

Oeuf cocotte is made by cooking an egg in a ramequin along with other ingredients — usually ham and crème fraîche, with an optional topping of grated cheese.

I remember that this microwave oven came with a little recipe booklet. I knew nothing about cooking back then, but I read the booklet carefully, and spotted the one thing that seemed doable: a recipe for Oeuf Cocotte. And that’s how oeuf cocotte went into the Wednesday lunch rotation, keeping the beef ravioli company.

Oeuf cocotte is made by cooking an egg in a ramequin, along with other ingredients — usually ham and crème fraîche, with an optional topping of grated cheese. “Cocotte” is a cute word for a hen, and is also an old-fashioned endearing – or condescending, depending on the tone – term for a girl. So I guess “Oeuf Cocotte” could be accurately translated as “Chick Egg”.

This was, in effect, the very first recipe I ever followed, the very first dish I ever prepared from scratch and unsupervised. Of course, eggs cooked in the microwave are impossibly rubbery, and sometimes they even imploded if left in there for too long. But the pride of eating something I had prepared myself more than made up for it.

And then I grew up, I moved on to other gastronomic pursuits, and somehow the oeuf cocotte was left by the wayside. Until last week, that is, when I bought a package of Boursin — a soft garlic and herb cheese — the lid of which offered a simple recipe for oeuf cocotte, baked in the oven. And that’s what we had for dinner the other day, to deliciously simple and satisfying results.

As you’ll see, this is a very versatile recipe. The only things that need to be there are the egg and the crème fraîche or some sort of fresh creamy ingredient. The rest can be added or omitted depending on what you have on hand. And if you have large ramequins and a large appetite, two eggs can be nice too.

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Chocolate Pear Chocolate Tart

Tarte Chocolat Poire Chocolat

[Chocolate Pear Chocolate Tart]

As you know, I have a passion for chocolate. In restaurants, I am never intimidated by the decadent sounding all-chocolate desserts, and I can usually be relied upon to pick that. I have also tried my hand at that kind of desserts, and loved every minute of it, from the imagining to the making to the savoring to the methodical plate scraping. But chocolate can also be sublimated by the presence of other well-chosen ingredients, and I’ve always thought the pairing of chocolate and pear a truly heavenly one.

For some reason, chocolate pear tarts had been on my mind for a little while (oh, you should see, smell, taste the world of goodies that inhabit my mind!), and our Saturday night dinner was the perfect occasion to assuage the itch. Building on my previous tart-making experiments, I created the following recipe and decided to call it Tarte Chocolat Poire Chocolat, because there is chocolate in both the crust and the filling…

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Grilled Polenta Slices

[Grilled Polenta Slices]

I have a strange relationship with polenta. I either love it or loathe it, depending on how it’s prepared. If it’s just been cooked and it’s mushy, the smell and texture really put me off. But if you let it settle and you slice it, or even better yet, if the slices are grilled, then polenta is my very good friend.

And on Saturday night, grilled polenta slices are what I served with the Ginger Pineapple Chicken Skewers. (You can see them pictured on yesterday’s post.)

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Ginger Pineapple Chicken Skewers

Brochettes de Poulet, Ananas et Gingembre

[Ginger Pineapple Chicken Skewers]

This was the main dish for our dinner party on Saturday. I got the inspiration from a recipe in the excellent cookbook “Mes petits plats 100% naturels” by Catherine Mandigon and Patricia Riveccio, which I recommend wholeheartedly : the recipes are amazingly unusual and tempting, and everything I’ve cooked from it so far has been a success. The original recipe calls for pork, but I used chicken breasts instead, and made a few other modifications. Here’s my version.

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