Paris Grocery News 12/30 Wednesday, Dec 30 2009 

The year 2009 is almost behind us. It was the year in which spring time brought not only daffodils but a letter from E&J Gallo Winery’s attorney, Kristi Whalen, Kristi.Whalen@ejgallo.com . The letter demanded that we cease and desist selling Pastas Gallo fideo and fideuá from Spain even though the Spanish company markets its pasta in thirty countries. Pastas Gallo was established as a brand in 1874 and thus predates E&J Gallo Winery by half a century.

We resisted them until June when their attorney, Paul Reidl, reidl@sbcglobal.net, formally served us with legal documents to appear before the Federal District Court in Fresno, California (E&J Gallo Winery’s home turf). So you don’t, don’t, don’t, get to buy Pastas Gallo fideo at The Spanish Table any longer. The E&J Gallo publicist, Susan Hensley, susan.hensley@ejgallo.com, could explain this madness but probably won’t.

Our new cocker spaniel, Marcello, got a big rubber El Gallo, for Christmas. He calls his new toy E&J Gallo. Something to chew on in 2010.

Back in stock: Kaikou cheese from the French Basque country.

Come and choose from our selection of French grower Champagnes and Cremants. There’s nothing better than a bottle of bubbly on New Year’s Eve!

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au bout de soufflé Wednesday, Dec 23 2009 

It takes a bit of courage, you know.

In the baker’s version of “Never Have I Ever”, there are few things I haven’t done. I’ve bested tiramisu and pulled off a crusty baguette, made platefuls of pound cake and pastry cream, fried beignets and rolled out flaky biscuits. But in my apartment in France, there were two principles I had to observe: never let the American choose the wine, and never let the American make the soufflé.

While bemused by my willingness to eat every regional oddity my roommates dug up (elle aime le bleu ! elle a mangé des escargots! t’as vu? elle ne refuse pas le boudin ! elle boit plus que nous !), certain truths need no interrogation and my inability as an American to create this airy masterpiece was one of them. Not that I begged for a chance to (dis)prove myself; I was more concerned with shocking them, month after month, by demonstrating that my cohorts and I could prepare “American” meals without the aid of McDo’s or Hungry Man. I thus left France, two Thanksgiving turkeys later, having never attempted that lofty, lifted standard of a well-made soufflé.

Which is how I found myself on Monday night, with a bowl full of too many semi-stiff egg whites and not enough ramekins.

I was supposed to be celebrating “Seattle Xmas” with my sister and her boyfriend at the house of his best friend and his best friend’s wife. The idea was to have a retro “Christmas” dinner among friends before we all split off to our respective homes for the real deal, and since I was showing up stag and semi–unannounced, I figured I should bring chocolate soufflés. I prepped the chocolate base at home, brought a tupperware filled with a dozen egg whites and stuck an electric beater in my purse. After dinner and gingerbread house making, I stepped into the kitchen and got to work.

It’s a cheeky sin, preparing a dish you’ve never made before for a dinner party –during said dinner party, no less. And my vanity paid in full. Fifteen minutes of madly beating the whites and I discovered that:

a) the bowl was way too small for a dozen eggs and
b) I was going to need a lot more ramekins

The recipe that professed itself for eight, served, in fact, the eight ramekins I’d dutifully buttered, a dozen muffins cups, and a cake pan. The egg whites never “peaked” in full; the bowl was too small for them to expand and I’d forgotten to take them out of the fridge ahead of time. Moreover, the chocolate base had cooled and stiffened. The resulting soufflés were indisputably edible, in the way chocolate, eggs, sugar and butter can be even when things go woefully awry. Resembling airy muffins with a densely chocolate base, they rose more than a cake but fell deeply short of my expectations. I handled the disappointment the way any mature grown-up would: stuffed my face, cursed my putain cookbook, and ran home to mommy.

Tuesday was supposed to be Christmas baking day with my mom, sister and periodic appearances by my brothers. So in between trays of nut cookies I scoured her copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Joy of Cooking, hoping to find the golden path to a successful soufflé. My own cookbook, a glossy volume given to me by one of the French roommates, was sedately titled “Le meilleur de la France”, and like the best of the French, was matter-of-fact without being explicit. Under the heading of the soufflé recipe, all it stated was, “Soufflé has the reputation of being difficult, which is not accurate.” Thankfully, Child and Bombauer were more expository, and I learned that soufflé is not difficult, as long as you do all of the following:

Let the whites warm to room temperature
Avoid glass bowls
Avoid the smallest speck of yolk in the whites
Grease and flour the molds to the brim, so the batter can “climb” the walls
Set the oven to 400F, but lower it to 375F as soon as you put them in
Place a cookie sheet in the warm oven several minutes before you put the soufflé in, and set the ramekins on it
Beat the egg whites correctly (start slow, don’t under beat the edges and overbeat the center, let stiff peaks form—they should stand up straight when you turn the whisk upside down)
Mix in about a quarter of the whites into the base to lighten it before folding in the rest
Fold the egg whites in quickly – it should take less than a minute
Run your finger along the inside edge of the baking dish to create a groove in the batter and better allow the top to rise
Once the whites are beaten, get the batter done and in the oven, pronto
Et voilà, quoi !

I am not a religious follower of rules, in recipes least of all. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I find myself often lacking in time, ingredients, or equipment. But I recognized that this was one case where you don’t mess with the decrees of the gastronomic gods. By Wednesday morning I had rallied my spirits and was ready to give “Le meilleur de la France” a second go. There was a recipe for bleu d’Auvergne soufflé and I had just grabbed a wedge of it at Paris Grocery over the weekend…

It was not without trepidation that I announced to my family that I’d be serving soufflé for lunch. I memorized every step of the recipe, wrote in all the conversions, measured and set out all the ingredients, and enlisted my mother’s experienced eye while I gave the egg whites the beating of their life. Following the letter of the law was exhausting, but oh my, it was worth it.

the hazy view through the oven door

The bleu d’Auvergne soufflés rose to the occasion, golden and puffing proudly. We crowded around the oven door, my dad claiming the one with the highest crown before they were halfway done. Golden and toastily fragrant, they were, as the best soufflés are, perfectly light in texture and immensely rich in flavor. The bleu d’Auvergne is a bleu made for soufflés; buttery, creamy, with a shade of sweetness, it’s warm pungency was balanced by the fresh green leaf lettuce and red onion salad. It’s no wonder those Auvergnats have no less than five AOC cheeses to their name. My only complaint was that the full height of the crown did not hold quite long enough for me to do it photographic justice. But really, that just means I’ll need try it again, which is perfectly ok with me.

Soufflé au Bleu d’Auvergne
modified from Le meilleure de la France

2 tbsp butter, pus butter for greasing
¼ cup flour
1 cup milk
4.5oz bleu d’Auvergne, crumbled
1/4c finely grated gruyère
4 egg yolks, at room temp
1 tsp nutmeg
6 egg whites, at room temp
6 ramekins, 20 oz ea

Preheat the oven to 400. Generously butter the ramekins or your mold of choice, dust with gruyère. Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan, adding the flour, and stirring it over the med-heat for about two minutes. Take it off the burner, adding the milk slowly and stirring all the while. Put it back on the burner, let it simmer for three more minutes, stirring, until quite thick. Take it off the heat, add the bleu d’Auvergne and stir until the cheese is melted in. Add the yolks one by one, again stirring constantly. Add in the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Place a baking sheet on a rack in the bottom third of the oven.

Beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Lighten the cheese mixture with a generous scoop of the beaten whites, then gently and quickly fold in the rest. Pour the batter into the ramekins until a little over ¾ full. Place the ramekins on the baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tines of a fork come out clean or barely moist.

Serve immediately.

of cider and the miracle of soup Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

I am envious of our customers.

You walk into the store armed with recipes and guests lists, with merry plans of Julie & Julia dinners or office parties or picnics recreated from your travels in Provence. Sometimes you enter with an arsenal of questions: how does one cook blood sausage without it bursting? What makes the Pave Jadis so lemony? which salt is best for caramels? But when you leave our checkered floors, I know you are headed towards infinitely pleasing kitchen successes. I love hearing reports of the lavish spreads you prepare, the delighted praise that your friends bestow on your efforts.


What you may not know is that as often as you come in for advice, I come away the richer. Like this Tuesday, when in a fog of fever I recalled the conversation Rachel and I had with a lady during one of our first weeks. She was making apple onion soup and wanted to serve it with little cheese toasts; I argued for the delicately aged Maitre Seguin while Rachel put her money on a traditional Comté or Beaufort. This memory was a sun-break on a wet and stuffy winter afternoon. I needed nothing more than a hearty soup of onions tempered with the sweet tang of apple.

I bolstered it with unfiltered cider and coriander, and the slice of Macrina baguette (perfection in bread) with toasty Comté soaked up the life-giving liquid. The apples and the onions adopted each others’ best qualities, while the mellow broth took on color and complexity over the steady heat of the stove. It was warm and sweet and sexy enough to break through my stuffed up sinuses, and given that I am sitting here, fever-free no less than 24 hours later, a little bit of a miracle.

Apple Onion Soup

2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tart apple, cored and sliced into ½ inch wedges
6 cups chicken stock
½ Etienne Dupont apple cider
2 tbsp butter
2/3 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
baguette
A gruyère style cheese – Comté or Beaufort

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add the onions, salt, pepper, and coriander, cover. Meanwhile, slice the apples, lay them in a shallow dish and pour the cider over them.

Now that the onions have steamed for a few minutes, uncover and stir occasionally until they have softened and started to yellow, about 20 minutes. Add the apple slices and any cider that has not been soaked up. Cook for an additional 20-30 minutes, until onions and apples are brown and caramelizing. Add the chicken stock, stirring to loosen the bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let simmer for 20 minutes.

Slice and toast the baguette. If you have oven-proof bowls, put two slices on baguette at the bottom, fill with soup, sprinkle with your cheese of choice and put in under the broiler until the cheese is crackly and brown. Watch it like a hawk. If not, broil the cheese on the toast separately, and then lay on top on the filled bowls of soup, letting it sit, soak and expand with liquid goodness for a few minutes before digging in.

Note: I never peel anything, fruit, vegetable or mineral (citrus fruits, melons and bananas being the necessary exceptions to this rule). It seems cruel to strip the poor things of their pretty garments before leading them to consumption. Feel free, however, to peel the apples if that better suits your fancy.

    Paris Grocery News 12/17 Thursday, Dec 17 2009 

    Our new shop features French cheeses and wine, and other foods with a French mood. It’s located 1/4 of a block south of Spanish Table at 1418 Western Avenue.

    FRENCH CHAMPAGNES HAVE ARRIVED! Champagne Duval-Leroy Cuvee Paris NV ($35.00) One of the best values in Champagnes available right now, and it’s got a Leroy Neiman silk screen of a Paris street scene on the bottle. Pop this open over the holidays with your favorite Franco-phile!

    GROWER CHAMPAGNES

    The Champagne region in France is dominated by a handful of brand names.

    These négoçiants and coopératives produce 80% of the total output in Champagne, yet they own only 12% of the vineyards. They bring to marked a mass produced commodity – a Champagne made in a “house style.” By contrast, “récoltant-manipulants” (or RMs) handcraft their limited quantities of Champage from individual villages and parcels where the inherent qualities of the vineyards imprint themselves into the wines. The following two RMs are outstanding, and represent great values in Champagne values as well.

    Margaine Brut Cuvee Traditionelle NV ($45.00) “The NV Brut Cuvee Traditionelle is an exceptional wine at this level. Notes of ash, chalk and crushed rocks dominate this taut, focused Champagne. Medium in body, the wine reveals tons of clarity not to mention significant pedigree. The NV Brut is mostly 2005 juice, with the addition of 40% reserve wines from vintages 2004, 2003, 1999, 1996 and 1994, 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. The relatively high amount of reserve wines undoubtedly contributes to this Champagne’s complexity…Arnaud Margaine’s wines..are Champagnes of extraordinary purity and sheer elegance. Margaine farms 6.5 hectares, 90% planted to Chardonnay, the rest Pinot Noir.”

    90 points Robert Parker

    L. Aubry NV Brut Champagne ($40.00) Twin brothers Pierre and Philippe Aubry handcraft their Champagnes from 60 individual parcels that comprise 16.5 hectares in the heart of Petit Montagne de Reims. Made of 50% Meunier, 25% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, it is vigorous, crackery, and concentrated. “There’s a nice graininess to the texture, making this lively and defining its bread dough, apple and grapefruit flavors. Turns crisp, but stays balanced, with a dry, mouthwatering finish.”

    90 points Wine Spectator

    a different kind of sous-vide Monday, Dec 14 2009 

    Over leftovers lunches in the break room, George and I commented on how our best laid dinner plans of paella can turn easily into pan-fried chicken or something even less ambitious. With roommates who log in long hours at the lab, I find myself unwilling to bake bread, knowing there will be no one to break it with me. Cooking is the art least inclined to solitude I know of, ill-suited to work in a vacuum. I struggle for inspiration, lacking the laughter and chorus of an army of chopping knives, the many hands making light work and other embodied kitchen platitudes. The fleet-footed daylight of winter means I tramp home in frigid darkness, ready to eat something warm long before I cross my threshold.

    It was with these thoughts that I reached for the package of D’Artagnan sausage. The combination of rabbit, pork and ginger piqued my interest, and in my experience, the homey, full flavor of sausage is a ready weapon against listlessness in the kitchen. Still, I dallied too long with vegetarianism not to be daunted at the prospect of eating a whole sausage in its barren glory. I’d stumbled upon a recipe on Orangette—an enticing combination of roasted sausage and red grapes—that seemed like a savory winter supper, low in fussiness yet high in flavor. Being already favorably disposed to the red-grape-red-onion pairing , I decided the three would make good bunkmates.

    The kids played together nicely, indeed. The onions, softened initially in the pan, were then spun into a creamy bed by the heat of the oven. They drank up greedily the meat’s juices, sponging up the splash of Chateau Virgile with a reckless abandon. Against this smoky introduction, the sausage was a crispy counterpoint, while maintaining a succulent interior. The rabbit meat made it softly gamey without being fatty. The grapes were sweet and bright, bringing out the gingery bits of sausage and making dinner seem almost like dessert. A savory scent with notes of mulled wine warmed the apartment, and I heard the slam of the secret side door to our entryway. Which means, I think, that sometimes you just need to cook till the cows (or someone) come home

    Rabbit sausage with red grapes and red onions
    Modified from Orangette

    2 D’Artagnan or Fabrique Delices Rabbit sausage links
    1 med-large red onion, thinly sliced
    one small bunch red grapes
    olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    Heat oven to 475 F. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, salt and pepper. When starting to soften, turn heat to high and add sausage. Brown for about four minutes on each side. In the meantime, was grapes and toss with olive oil to cover lightly and sprinkle with salt. Remove skillet from heat and transfer onions and sausage to a cazuela or baking dish. Pour about a quarter cup of red wine into the skillet to remove browned bits stuck to the
    bottom, and pour over onions. Top with grapes and place on middle rack of oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning sausage once if desired, until grapes are wrinkled and sizzling.

    Serve with potatoes, roasted, mashed or baked in salt a la Paula Wolfert (The Cooking of Southwest France).

    Paris Grocery News 12/10 Thursday, Dec 10 2009 

    NEW WINES
    Take 10% off on six bottles!

    2005 Chateau Bonnet Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux ($9.99) André Lurton’s family has presided over the vineyards of Chateau Bonnet for over one hundred years. Ripe and juicy wild black fruit flavors have structured but accessible tannins. Serve it with a French cheese plate and charcuterie.

    2007 Chateau Virgile Costières de Nîmes ($10.99) Concentrated berry flavors with focused aromatics, it is aged exclusively in tank with minimal fining and filtering. 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre, it is concentrated and lush, an ideal match for the hearty cuisine of Southwestern France. “A juicy, polished palate of fruit pit, cocoa powder, salt, and herb-tinged cherries leads to a long, subtle finish, made more memorable by stony underlying notes and hints of floral perfume.”
    91 points Wine Advocate

    Dolin Vermouth Blanc and Rouge ($13.99) Dolin is the last independent producer of Vermouth de Chambéry and they continue to make the authentic product according to the principles which earned Chambéry France’s only A.O. for Vermouth back in 1932. This means production in Chambéry itself, maceration of real plants grown in the region rather than pre-prepared infusions, and the unique addition of sugar as opposed to other sweetening products. Dolin Vermouths are notably lighter, drier and less pungent than their larger commercial counterparts.

    NEW AND DELICIOUS CHEESES
    Tome Jacquin: a creamy chevre from the Loire Valley.
    Mothais Sur Feuille: a “wrinkly-rind” goat cheese, refined on a chestnut leaf. Sold individually.
    Les Truffiardises: Hor d’oeurves-shaped fresh goat cheeses garnished with truffles and berries.
    Fougerus: a cousin to Coulommiers, it’s a brie-style cow milk cheese and decorated with a fern leaf.
    Bleuet de Savoie: a blue cow milk cheese with very Alpine characteristics- those who don’t usually like blue cheese will love this!

    JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, A NEW SHIPMENT OF D’ARTAGNAN CHARCUTERIE ARRIVED THIS WEEK!

    Back in stock are Duck Bacon, Wild Boar Bacon, Confit Duck Legs.
    Among new items we now have: Pheasant Terrine with herbs, Chicken/Apple Sausage and Jambon de Bayonne. Jambon de Bayonne is thinly sliced French ham, made in USA with only salt, no nitrates. $8.99 (4 oz).
    FRENCH GIFT IDEAS
    Dinner napkins with literary quotes ($35.00, set of four)
    Culinaria France ($24.95) A virtual encyclopedia of French foodstuffs and wines, explanatory text and recipes with great photos on every page.
    The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert ($37.50) We’re big fans of Paula Wolfert’s cookbooks which meld detailed information about ingredients with authentic recipes.
    The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells ($30.00) We used Patricia Well’s guide to Paris wine bars when we visited that city for the first time. An American who has lived in Paris since 1980, this cookbook and gastronomic guide to the City of Light is the next best thing for those who can’t afford a trip to France.

    “Cooking French” 2 set DVD ($11.99) Disc One covers the cuisine of Northern France; Disc Two covers Burgandy and Southern France.

    Compagnie de Provence organic skin care products. Choose from hand cream, soap, or body lotions made from natural and vegetable products.
    Tunisian ceramics with multi colored flower design. We’ve got a whole mix of bowls and serving platters which make beautiful gifts.

    We look forward to helping you in the shop as you stock up for the holidays!

    Paris Grocery News 12/6 Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

    These products will make any Francophile very, very, happy.

    Fleur Verte: This fresh, creamy goat cheese is festively adorned with thyme, tarragon, and pink peppercorns and has clean, lemony, and boldly herbaceous flavor.
    Époisses: Brillat-Savarin dubbed this “The King of All Cheeses.” And the man knew his cheeses! This famously pungent, washed-rind cheese from Burgundy has a distinctly earthy flavor and an irresistibly gooey texture. It will convert you into a stinky cheese lover!
    Monin Pumpkin Spice and Maple Spice syrups: Made with pure cane sugar, these versatile syrups add a splash of holiday flavor to coffee, hot cocoa,  or a warm-you-up cocktail.  Try them in whipped cream for topping seasonal desserts!
    Le Pére Pelletier Sel du Boucher (Butcher’s Salt): Fleur de sel with rosemary, thyme, sage, and marjoram.  Packaged in a handsome wooden box, it makes a terrific gift!
    Christmas Lima Beans: These gorgeous, red- and white-marbled beans from Cassoulets USA make a stunning and healthful, addition to your holiday spread. These beans hold their intricate coloring even after cooking. Make Christmas Lima Bean Soup with D’Artagnan duck bacon, wild mushrooms, and chopped chestnuts.
    Charcuterie:  For the Francophile pork obsessed, these cured products are wonderful on a party table and also make great gifts: Rabbit sausage with prunes, Toulouse Sausage, Pork and Wild Boar, Chicken and Truffle.   We also have Duck Salami, Smoked Duck Breast and Cured Pork Bellies.

    PARIS GROCERY WINES

    2007 Domaine des Domaine des Ouleb Thaleb Syrocco, (Morocco )$17.99  Alain Graillot, a highly regarded Crozes-Hermitage producer, met the owners of Thalvin while cycling through Morocco.  The family has made wine for decades on the black tirss soils near the high elevation town of Rommani. Graillot decided to team up with them to produce this rich syrah.  Lush, and with juicy ripe fruit, it has balance and verve.  This was terrific served  with braised rabbit in mustard sauce! A great gift for bicyclists who like full-bodied red wines. “Packed, in a brawny, muscular style atypical for this lush vintage, with a gravelly undertow to the currant paste, braised fig and dark licorice notes. Picks up even more steam on the finish, with grilled mesquite, mineral and garrigue notes and a long, hot stone-filled finish”
    No 3 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of 2009, 95 points

    2005 Vieux Telegramme Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($31.99)  The second wine from Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe is awesome and drinking beautifully now! “Ripe, with nice kirsch and raspberry fruit backed by darker hints of applewood-smoked bacon, plum sauce and dark licorice. Juicy and long on the finish, this stretches out nicely.”
    91 points Wine Spectator

    2007 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe “La Crau”, Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($85.00) 3 bottles available