Chez Catherine

Chez Catherine

A couple of weeks ago, Maxence and I celebrated our seventh dating anniversary. To mark the occasion, we had decided to treat each other to dinner at a gastronomic restaurant. Our friend Baptiste happens to be a very good source for top-notch dining recommendations, a trait he gets from his father : let it be remembered that he’s the one who introduced us to Le Troyon. He was duly asked for counsel, and his answer was, without so much as the shadow of a hesitation : “Chez Catherine“.

Catherine Guerraz is considered one of the top French women chefs these days, along with Flora Mikula and Hélène Darroze. Her restaurant, off the avenue de Friedland close to the Champs-Elysées, is rumored to have very narrowly missed a Michelin star in the 2003 Guide Rouge.

After much anticipation during the day, we arrived at 8:30 and were led to our table. The restaurant has three rooms, warm and welcoming, with unusual brightly colored paintings on the walls (by an artist named Jean-Noël Duchemin) and red velvet banquettes all around.

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Chocolate and Candied Chestnuts Coffee Cake

Coffee Cake Chocolat Marron Glacé

[Chocolate and Candied Chestnuts Coffee Cake]

I wanted to bake a cake for our new year’s eve party – what’s a party without a cake? — and this is what I made. The recipe for this cake is originally a Sour Cream Coffee Cake from Bon Appétit (circa 1993), which my mother and I tinkered with a little while ago, lowering the sugar content, subbing yogurt for sour cream and converting the measurements from cups to grams.

My mother and I absolutely loved it, so perfectly crispy and caramelized and moist and flavorful. The original cake has a walnut and cinnamon topping, and I had made a delicious hazelnut and blueberry version for my birthday party last summer. A funny thing to note is that coffee cakes are not common at all in France, so when I tell people what this cake is, they always get a quizzical look on their faces, wondering why they can’t taste the coffee. So I have to explain that coffee cake is a cake to eat with coffee, not a cake containing coffee.

I wanted to try twisting it again, using more festive ingredients this time, chocolate chips and chunks of marrons glacés, those delicious glazed sweet chestnuts which are a typical holiday treat in France. I modified the recipe to account for the sweeter nature of my toppings, and avoid having my guests fall into sugar shock.

For the chocolate chips, I used the ganache drops I bought at G. Detou before the holidays, which characteristically came in a one-kilo bag. The candied chestnut pieces were generously donated by Maxence from his personal Christmas loot.

The resulting cake was as good as I had hoped. The little bits sunk to the bottom somewhat, which made for a scrumptious bottom layer. It is just the right sweetness, the tastes of chocolate and chestnut present but subtle, complementing the batter’s taste but not overpowering it in the least. And the texture is so pleasant that Maxence commented it was “comme un canelé, mais en gâteau”, which is really the best compliment he can make, considering how much he loves canelés. We served it along with a deliciously fresh fruit salad, a signature Marie-Laure concoction.

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Bacon Walnut Snow Pea Salad

Salade de Pois Gourmands aux Lardons et aux Noix

Veggie lover that I am, our new year’s eve party buffet had to include something green. Maxence and I love snow peas, because of the taste and the crunch and the look, but they’re seldom served in France, so I’m always happy to give them the space in the sun that they rightfully deserve. I think they’re perfect in salads, and this is what struck my fancy this time : a scrumptious combination that went surprisingly well with the terrine.

Terrine and salad were then followed by Stéphan’s sumptuous lamb tagine, complete with prunes, dates, apricots, almonds and walnuts, served in the beautiful tagine dish that Maxence’s mom brought us back from Turkey.

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Goatfish Terrine

Terrine de Rougets

[Goatfish Terrine]

Every once in a while I get cooking cravings – the sudden desire to tackle a new sort of dish or technique. About six months ago, I decided I really needed to try and make terrines. I promptly bought myself a little recipe book, simply called “Terrines“, by Catherine Quévremont. It contains thirty easy and tempting recipes of meat, fish or vegetable terrines, and even a couple of dessert terrines.

I then embarked upon the difficult quest for the perfect terrine dish. I wanted a rectangular one, so the slices would all be of equal shape and size, with a lid. I thought this a simple need, but apparently, it was not. I combed every kitchen store in the city and found an impressive array of terrine dishes in all shapes and sizes : oval with a lid, yes. Rectangular with no lid, no problem. But rectangular with a lid? Not a single solitary one. Thankfully, I went to spend a few days with my parents in the Vosges (a mountain range in the East of France), and a visit to the incredibly resourceful Catena store (simple concept : they have everything) ended the search by way of a beautiful bright red ceramic terrine dish with a lid. I was so happy I threw in silicon molds to make financiers and a cool zester, too.

My terrine-making urge first produced a meat terrine for a picnic at the Buttes-Chaumont (terrine d’agneau aux fruits secs et aux épices — a spiced lamb terrine with dried fruits), then a vegetable terrine for a luncheon with Maxence’s mom and grandparents (ratatouille en terrine — a layered terrine with zucchini, eggplant, tomato, arugula and tapenade). Although somewhat time consuming, especially the veggie one, they were both fun to make and I was very happy with the way they looked and tasted.

The food at our new year’s eve party was going to be served buffet-style, and I thought a terrine would be a good idea. I wanted to make a fish one this time, and my book had a recipe for a goatfish terrine that looked really good, so this is what I set about to do, making a few modifications here and there. The recipe relied on the potatoes only to hold the terrine together, but I found that this made the final product a bit messy to serve, as the slices sort of collapsed. So the recipe below is the one I would use next time, using gelatin to help the terrine hold its own.

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Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Tapenade

Coquillages Farcis Ricotta et Tapenade

[Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Tapenade]

Last Tuesday, my sister Céline and I met for lunch. The plan was to eat at Rose Bakery, but it was closed for the holidays, so we went down the rue des Martyrs to Fuxia instead, a really nice Italian restaurant, hip yet friendly, where we had truly excellent salads. After that, we spent the afternoon strolling around the neighborhood, enjoying the unexpectedly sunny weather, and running various errands, which culminated in the buying of great fabric and crafts material at the Marché St Pierre, a huge discount fabric store at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur.

At one point, we went into a little store that the Fuxia people just opened, an Italian fine goods store and trattoria called Fuxia l’Epicerie. It’s open everyday till 10 pm, and sells a variety of Italian goodies (pasta, biscotti, condiments and the like) as well as freshly made antipasti and main dishes to go, which you can also eat at the small counter – comptoir de dégustation. Nice.

From one of the shelves, I distinctly heard a pack of conchiglie, big shell-shaped pasta, calling my name with their many little voices. Hmm, thought I. Stuffed shell pasta! Great finger food for the new year party! Back home, I took out a cookbook in which I remembered seeing something like this, but the recipes, though nice, didn’t appeal to me very much at the time (chicken-tomato, salmon-dill and ham-béchamel), so I made up my own.

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