Aux Lyonnais

Aux Lyonnais

Last Friday, on the eve of my darling Maxence’s 25th birthday, I took him out to dinner. Usually, I know exactly where I want to take him, and like to make the location a surprise. Last year was easy : I had heard great reviews about a restaurant called “Le Maxence”, where the chef was the talented David Van Laer. It fit the bill perfectly and we had a lovely evening with wonderful food.

But this year, for some reason, I was very irresolute about it. There were about twelve different restaurants I wanted to try, but couldn’t decide which one I liked the most or, more importantly, which one Maxence would like the most. I spent a week agonizing over this, researching reviews, changing my mind every few hours, and actually making four (yes, four!) different reservations, three of which I ended up canceling, with apologies and as much notice as my indecisiveness allowed. The good thing is that I now have a fully qualified list of the top-twelve Parisian restaurants I want to go to!

When the whirlwind of doubt ended and the dust settled, the winner turned out to be Aux Lyonnais. This is a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement, close to the Bourse (the Paris stock exchange). It is over a century old : first opened in 1892, it has been operating non-stop ever since, serving dishes typical to the French city of Lyon. Even more interesting is that this place was bought out, renovated and revamped just two years ago by no other than national hero Alain Ducasse. His brilliant idea was to take this somewhat declining old-fashioned restaurant and turn it into a sophisticated version of itself, lightening and sprucing up the traditional menu.

I set my heart on it because I know Maxence is partial to authentic historical settings, and has a weekness for charcuterie and down-to-earth popular dishes : he is known to eat pied de porc, oreille de cochon or croustillant de tête de veau without batting an eyelash, so I thought Aux Lyonnais would cater to this penchant. I gamingly kept the exact address a secret until the very last moment, narrowing it down only when absolutely necessary, to the general area, then to the street, and even then I arranged to meet him at another street corner. You would think I was trying to cover my tracks from mafia thugs or something.

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Velvety Lentil Chestnut Soup

Velouté de Lentilles aux Marrons

[Velvety Lentil Chestnut Soup]

I think I am getting the hang and love and joy of soup. I told you before the odd intimidation it provoked in me, but after preparing a few successful pots of simmering velvety goodness, I think I can declare myself officially and fully over it.

The other day, browsing on Maki’s excellent blog i was just really hungry, one of her soup recipes caught my eye, a Lentil-Chestnut Soup. Lentils and chestnuts are two of my favorite things, it sounded simple and versatile, and I had (almost) everything on hand to make it. When so many elements confer to make you try a recipe, it is usually a good omen!

I set about making this on a weeknight, coming home from work, and it was, as Maki promised, nicely uninvolved, with hardly any peeling and chopping, just a bit of soul-warming dumping, timing and stirring. As always, I didn’t follow the recipe to a T, and subbed or omitted a few things here and there, so I will share with you my take on it. (Maki suggests a few interesting variations too, including using sweet potatoes in place of the chestnuts.)

I have to tell you : this soup we have here, my friends, this soup, is a small masterpiece in its own right. It is creamy with delectable chunks, and has the light and subtle sweetness I adore so much in chestnuts. It is a fantastic dish for a winter night, and reheats to even more greatness (and covetous looks from your coworkers) for lunch the next day. Thank you, Maki, for a wonderful gift of a recipe!

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Oeuf Cocotte : Take 2

Oeuf Cocotte : Take 2

Admittedly, the picture looks like somebody’s idea of a volcanic eruption, but this is really the Oeuf Cocotte I made myself the other night.

This recipe, as described in an earlier post, is a dream of versatility. This time, I made it with strips of ham, a spoonful of sweet confiture d’oignon (onion jam) and a spoonful of crème fraîche, with salt and pepper. As per Jackie‘s advice, I made sure to pour very hot water around the ramequin, and this shortened the cooking time. When I took my little jewel of a dinner out, the yolk’s top half was beginning to harden a little, and this proved very enjoyable.

I ate this along with a tomato (note to self : just because they still sell tomatoes in January doesn’t mean you should buy them), dipping organic oatcakes in the egg. Mmmmh.

Truffle Hazelnut Boudin Blanc, Apple and Potato Mash

White Sausage, Apple and Potato Mash

Boudin Blanc, Deux Pommes en Purée

Boudin blanc is a soft sausage, made with white meat (usually chicken or veal) enriched with pork or veal fat, cream, eggs, flour and mie de pain (the inside of a bread loaf), finely mixed and well seasoned.

It is traditionally a Christmas dish, but in Paris you can find it in charcuteries year round — to my greatest satisfaction, as it is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. It has a very mild taste, a little sweet and a little peppery, and a soft texture underneath the thin casing, making it a sure kid pleaser.

The other day, while out food shopping, Maxence and I stepped into a small charcuterie on rue Lepic, in which we had never been before. It turned out to have a really appetizing selection of pâtés and sausages and traditional prepared dishes.

Among these, their Boudin Blanc Truffé aux Noisettes caught my eye, a variation on boudin blanc that included truffles and hazelnuts. Sunday lunch menu: check!

I prepared the boudin blanc with its typical buddies: mashed potatoes and mashed apples. The potatoes were cooked according to my recipe for Perfect Mashed Potatoes, except I used whipping cream in place of the milk because that’s what I had on hand. For the mashed apples, you’ll find the recipe (hardly a recipe, really) below. As for the sausages, they were simply seared in a skillet with a little butter: they are already cooked, so they only need a little reheating and coloring.

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Coconut and White Chocolate Cake

Gâteau Noix de Coco et Chocolat Blanc

[Coconut and White Chocolate Cake]

As you know, yesterday was Maxence’s birthday : I treated him to a nice dinner out on Friday (review on the way), and we celebrated again yesterday night with a group of friends, in a bar just a block from our apartment – which we more or less took over. This bar is a small place and we were on friendly terms with the owners, so I had decided to bake a cake and share it with our friends there. And since coconut and white chocolate are two of Maxence’s favorite things, I twisted my favorite coffeecake recipe yet again to make a version around this combo, with flaked coconut in the batter, and a white chocolate and coconut frosting.

The birthday cake ceremony was duly held, with the lights off and the song and the clapping and the candles and the blow-them-out-in-one-breath challenge (successfully met). We served the cake on the paper plates we had brought, and I was showered with compliments about it, much to my glee. The cake, as pleasantly moist as ever, has a great coconut flavor and the frosting works really well, making it sweet and rich but not overly so.

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