Monday, June 29, 2009

Mon Premier Jour

Need I Explain?

Want to know what is more daunting than starting your first new job in your new career field? How about starting that job in a foreign country where you don't have a very good command of the language. As excited as I was to start work this morning, I was just as nervous too. What if I couldn't understand anyone, what if no one spoke English, what if I didn't like it? I crossed my fingers, said a little prayer and stepped through the employee entrance to Le Cafe du Commerce. In my best (and many times rehearsed on my short walk to work) attempt at speaking French, I explained to the first person I met that I was there to see Monsieur Guerraud. I was pointed through the kitchen to the front of the cafe. Thus my day started.

I had nothing to worry about. Everyone was nice and welcoming. It was explained to me in English that the first week would be for me to observe and learn the operations of the kitchen (and see how well I do with the language). Workday proceedures were gone over and then up to the Pastry kitchen on the third floor to start work. The cafe serves a variety of traditional French pastries including a Baba au Rhum, Profiteroles, Pot de Creme, and the Paris-Brest. So today's tasks were making sure the kitchen was fully stocked with all the desserts for the day. I got to assist with making Chocolat Pot de Cremes, soaking the Baba's in the rum syrup and making chocolate sauce for the Profiteroles.

It looks as if my days will be short, and possibly only working 4 days a week. This will allow me to possibly take some classes, visit the important places in Paris, and most of all go on lots of adventures while I am here, while still getting the amazing experience of working in the pastry kitchen at a Paris cafe. I am once again feeling blessed and lucky. Many thanks to M. & Mme. Guerraud for this wonderful opportunity.
Chocolat Pot de Creme

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cherry Clafloutis, French Grocery Stores and a Fantastic book

Cherry Clafloutis

I think I have a problem. It is really hard for me to go a few days without being in the kitchen and cooking something. I suppose maybe a painter might feel the same way if someone were to take his paintbrushes away from him for a few days. And there is something about being in Paris, that makes me want to cook, bake and experiment even more. Maybe it the Fruiteries on almost every corner, or the wonderful open air markets, or the Patisseries displaying their mouth watering wares in the windows. This city could feed my culinary creativity for a very long time; but of course, it's Paris.

Romain and I visited the Rue de Grenelle Market on Sunday and bought some cherries to have with our lunch. I decided the leftovers would make a great Clafloutis. After making a nice Cod with Lemon Caper sauce for dinner on Monday evening, I baked the Clafloutis. But first we had to go to Monoprix to find a pan that would fit in small oven in the apartment. I think this pan is going to get a lot of use while I am here. It will be worth the entire 4,50 Euros I paid for it.

Now Let me tell you about the Grocery stores. Most French people would probably laugh at how much time I spend in the Supermarche. You who know me, know how much time I can spend in a good grocery store in the US, well double that number......maybe triple since I now have to translate everything, or make note of words to look up later. The Grand Epicerie at Le Bon Marche is as exciting for me, as a toy store for a small child. The selection is great, and the store is super clean with wide aisles. I spent a good hour or 2 in there yesterday and only bought 4 items: Levure Boulangere (yeast), Sel Fin (fine grained salt), Ancelly Pudding Powder (the closest thing I can find to Elsay, the French cornstarch we use in school), and a bottle of Orange Fanta (a guilty pleasure, but not the syrupy sweet stuff that is sold in the US, this is much lighter and may even have some fruit juice in it).

The thing I find most fascinating about French grocery stores, is the products that are sold as every day items. Most people in the US, who do not have a culinary background, might have no idea what they are. So far I have seen packages of pre-made blinis and a myriad of spreads to be served on said blinis. Cartons of Creme Anglais; all you have to do is heat and serve. Rolls of Pate Sucree and Pate Brisee in the refrigerated aisle. Plastic packages of Frangipane for filling in your tarts. Ground Almonds, or Almond flour is as common as peanut butter in American stores. Rolls of Almond Paste are stacked right below packages of various nuts. I haven't done the actual conversion on the price yet, but it seems it might be a deal to stockpile it and bring a suitcase full back with me in September. I could go on.

I've considered as an experiment to buy all the pre-made ingredients for a Frangipane fruit tart and assemble it, then make a from scratch one and compare the results.....just for fun of course. (to take it a step further, I could also by the same tart from a Patisserie and do a blind taste test on some French people.....) I'm having too much fun here. I'm still on a mission to buy cornstarch and there are a few specialty cook stores that I may try next.

One thing that I was looking for before I left the US, was a book of French cooking terms and anything to help me learn more kitchen French. Until yesterday I had no idea if the chef I will be training under spoke English at all (Turns out she is fluent, but I still need to learn French). The best thing I found in the Grand Epicerie yesterday was a book. Right near the baking ingredients was a display of some small cocottes, cooking utensils and aprons. At the bottom of the display was a stack of books titled, "Ustensiles de Cuisine". BINGO! I picked up a copy and started flipping through the pages; this is exactly what I need.
My New Paris Guide

It reminds me a lot of a book sold at Sur La Table titled, "Things Cooks Love". This could easily be the French version. It is divided into sections and has nice clear photos of each item and labeled with the French name. Then after the the explaination of the items, the section continues with recipes that you use the utensil to prepare. C'est Magnifique! Not only is it beautifully laid out; the recipes look fantastic as well. I have plenty of reading to do

Description of Spatule

Another bright spot on my day yesterday: if all goes well, I will be going in to the Cafe on Monday to start some training (yes mister painter, you can have your brushes back). I also will be helping prepare some food for a wine dinner on Friday evening. I can barely contain myself.

Monday, June 22, 2009

J'arrive dans Paris

View from my Paris home for the next 2 months

I'm jet-lagged, my body has not adjusted to the 6 hour time difference, and my French language skills have plenty of room for improvement, but I am here. 2 months in Paris should hopefully be enough to remedy all of those problems, along with helping me accomplish a few other goals as well.

So what am I doing otherwise? I arrived at Charles De Gualle airport on Saturday around 9:40 am. Romain and I took the train back into Paris to his apartment. I wasn't able to sleep on the plane at all, so I watched two movies and finished reading David Lebovitz's book. I attempted to take a nap after arriving at the apartment, but was to tired to even sleep. Traveling out of my time zone is always a challenge. The first day or two always feels like a time warp to me.

Not able to sleep, Romain and I decided to go to Pere Lachaise, the lovely old cemetery in Paris. Known to most foreigners because Jim Morrison had been buried there (even my 17yr old nephew knew this, most impressive). It is also the resting place for many other famous people. Aside from this, it is a very beautiful cemetery filled with old monuments, some are very intricately designed. I now understand why so many people had recommended I go see it. I did not take my camera, being so tired, I didn't want to lugg it around with me. I am sure I will get back there this summer to take some photos.

Sunday was the first day of summer, and the French in Paris celebrate it with "Fete de la Musique". Throughout the day and evening bands were playing in the streets of Paris. We walked to the St. Germain area to listen to a few bands and meet up with some friends at a bar for drinks. When one band finished their set, all we had to do was walk a few more blocks and we'd come accross another band to listen to. We finished the evening outside a pub in the 15 arrondissement listening to a band that played a variety of songs ranging from the Bueno Vista Social Club, to Sting, to Seal and James Brown. The band was fun and the crowd was lively.

Today I slept late. My body still wants to be on Boston time. I forced myself out of bed at a quarter till 11am. (That's 5am EST time, yikes!) I'm fighting the urge to take a nap....I really want to sleep tonight. I took a quick trip to the Monoprix to find some of the yummy yogurt I had when I was here in March, and to get a few ingredients for dinner. (I have to start fulfilling my promise of cooking for Romain). I need to look for some places to take some intensive French lessons. But what I really want to do, aside from going to visit a patisserie is, I want to bake! I want to be in the kitchen making stuff. I hopefully will find out this week when I might be able to start working at the cafe. In the meantime I'll work on learning more French and making desserts for Romain and his friends.

Apricot and Mango Yogurt, c'est bon!

Time to go take a walk. The sun is shining and the weather is nice, or as the French say, "Il fait beau!"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Counting down the days

Today is Monday. I leave for Paris on Friday, so you can imagine what a hectic week this is going to be for me. In the midst of my preparations I am aiming to pack light, but I want to be prepared for 2+ months in Paris. Last time I spent this much time out of the country was a 5 week study abroad trip to Germany in 2002. I took one suitcase, small enough to carry on and a backpack. Times have changed. I have since developed a passion for cooking utensils and cute shoes. Both can take up some space.

I know I can buy kitchen supplies in Paris, but there are certain things I feel I absolutely must take with me, that it would be redundant to purchase in Paris just for the short time I'm there. Sadly, my Kitchen Aid mixer is not on the packing list.....1. because it would need it's own suitcase and 2. there's that whole voltage difference thing. Good thing I've had so much practice hand mixing mayonnaise in our savory classes, I'll be in good shape for mixing anything I would normally rely on my mixer for.

For the people who keep telling me I shouldn't take a lot of clothes/shoes with me, that I should buy stuff there, um have you seen the Euro to the Dollar conversation rate lately? Have you ever shopped in Paris? And last but not least, contrary to popular belief this is not a 2 month vacation for me (though there will be some leisure time and activities allotted). I am going to be living off of a budget and hopefully working and learning a lot. Don't worry, I will not go crazy on taking every pair of shoes I own with me; but it is Paris and I will need to dress up once in a while.

I'm also thinking ahead for my blog. Since there won't be weekly classes covering different topics and the menu at the cafe is pretty much set, I am working on some ideas to write about. I recently acquired a copy of Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris (you can also link to her blog Chocolate & Zucchini from my Blogs I like to read section in the side bar). The book covers restaurants, cafes, chocolatiers, pastry shops and markets in Paris. So visiting some of these places should give me some good adventures to write about.

Another book I have picked up for reading is David Lebovitz's, The Sweet Life in Paris. It is an amusing little book about his adventures/misadventures of moving to Paris and becoming acclimated to the culture; and he includes recipes between each chapter. I have to laugh every time he mentions how he gives ice cream to his pharmacist, or how he showed the banker his cookbook and it helps him get what he wants. I am guilty of using my pastries as bartering power. I think maybe I will be ok in Paris.

I am going to take my leave for now. I will need the rest of this week to finishing deciding which shoes and which kitchen utensils make the cut, and make sure everything else is in order before I depart.

I'll be back next week, posting from Paris.

A bientot!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Feasting Continues.....

Steak Night

Sauteed Sirloin Steaks

Last weeks savory components were Beef, Lamb and Pork. I was very excited about cooking steaks. It is the one meal that is so simple in composition, yet so easy to mess up (at least in my mind). What I learned last week was to not fuss over it so much, and make sure to let your steak rest before cutting into it. Of course using a good cut of beef goes a long way too.

Along with our steaks we made some pan sauces and an Espangole sauce. I think everyone's favorite was the horseradish sauce. Made with fresh grated horseradish, a roux, some cream, and the pan drippings from the steak; it was an amazing tangy accompaniment to our steaks. We also made a really good mustard sauce for the tenderloin steaks. I was in steak heaven.

In the midst of all this wonderful savory food, I have to admit, I was starting to miss having something sweet. There is a dessert recipe included in our savory recipes, but often we have not bothered to make it, either due to lack of time or lack of interest. Along with the steak recipes was a recipe for baked apples. Chef Jim insisted we make it, and I'm glad he did. I took charge. The apples were filled with a butter, brown sugar, and currants mixture and baked till soft and wrinkled. Then I reduced the pan juices to a glaze with a touch of Calvados. The cream cheese was whipped with some creme fraiche and some brandy for a nice, slightly tart contrast to the sweet apples. I piped the cream into the centers and drizzled the the glaze over top. They were the best baked apples I have ever had.

Creme-Filled Baked Apples

Tuesday night we covered Lamb and Pork. My classmates made some delicious stuffed pork chops, a roasted leg of lamb and I made braised lamb shanks. I also made French Fries. Several dipping sauces were made including a roasted garlic and rosemary mayonnaise that paired well with the fries. I think I have developed a serious mayonnaise addiction....more on that later.

Braised Lamb Shanks

French Fries

Last night we cooked fish, and I sadly forgot my camera. The dishes included little fingers of Sole breaded in a hazelnut crust with a sherry dipping sauce (mayonnaise), Salmon on a bed of creamy cabbage, and Sea Bass with Tomatoes, Zuchinni and Onions. I sat eating the wonderful fish last night and contemplating how I am going to recreate these dishes in France. I'm sure they would be welcome meals for my host and his friends.

Tonight we are cooking shellfish, and I will try to remember my camera. Next week is Pasta, Pizza and Hor D'oeuvres.....and lots of packing and preparing when I am not at school.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jenni in Paris

This might have to be my temporary new blog name for the summer......

I have been very fortunate this year. I may have mentioned this in previous blogs, but I don't think it can be said enough how blessed and lucky I feel. Some very wonderful and magical things have been happening in my life. And I owe much thanks to several special people.

The latest blessing I have received is an invitation to spend the summer in Paris. During my visit in March, I visited the Cafe du Commerce and had a gracious tour of the restaurant and kitchen. The cafe is owned and run by the uncle of a Romain's good friend Remi. Shortly after I had returned home, Romain mentioned he had talked with the owner and there was a possibility I could come work at the Cafe making pastries for the summer. We are now in the process of setting up my internship. Romain has once again kindly offered to let me stay with him (of course the usual agreement stands, I will do some cooking for him and his roommate). Check out Le Cafe du Commerce here.

I am very excited. Ok, that really doesn't describe it at all, let's say ecstatic. It feels like my dreams are coming true right before my eyes. A summer in Paris; working and learning, and spending time with some lovely people. And this time when I cook dinner for Romain and his friends, I won't forget the bread.

I leave June 19th. I will be taking my camera and computer of course, and will try to update here as much as possible about all my adventures and expeirences.

Espresso cups at Les Deux Moulins